Good morning, afternoon, and night to the world. Today we’re talking about why our children don’t think there are moral facts.
What’s your first impression of that sentence? Besides my obvious P.C inclusivity for the entirety of the world (brownie points?), what do you think of the term “moral facts?” This would ultimately require you to believe that there are absolutes: a fact is, after all, absolutely true. So then, is it absolutely true that murder is wrong? Is right and wrong all there is to morality? There are questions you must ponder. Does this make it subjective? We could go through this all morning, afternoon, and night.
But first, let’s start with the essay I read entitled “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts” by Justin P. McBrayer, written back in 2015.
McBayer starts with the definitions of facts and opinions provided by his son’s second grade classroom, which can be easily googled:
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
At first glance, this feels, sounds, and looks right. McBayer gives reasons why it’s dead wrong.
Firstly, he says that truth and proof have very different features. For example, it can be true that I am feeling sad, but you can’t prove that; you can’t see inside of my head, and I’m excellent at hiding my feelings. McBayer also says that many things which have been “proved” have turned out false. This is the limitation of our physical experience. He also states that if proof is “required for facts, then facts become person-relative.” This means that if I can prove E=MC^2 as a physicist, and you cannot, that equation becomes fact for me but not for you, a non-physicist.
What’s worse, McBayer says, is that “students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions.” Remember those quizzes back in school, usually life science or something, where they made you sort phrases into facts or opinions? I remember them. I remember getting half of them wrong consistently. Do you?
McBayer asked his son a very simple question to show how mixed up this sort of black and white thinking is: he said, “I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that fact or opinion?” His son said it’s a fact. McBayer replies, “but I believe it, and you said what someone believes is an opinion.” His son says but it’s true, and McBayer replies, “so it’s both a fact and an opinion?”
So, some things that were classified as an opinion in his son’s homework were:
“Copying homework assignments is wrong.”
“All men are created equal.”
“It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.”
Value claims, the worksheet says, are not facts. McBayer claims this means that public schools teach students there are no moral facts, by way of understanding all value and moral claims call into opinion category. The problem is, in the real world, it’s required of us to “acknowledge the existence of moral facts,” otherwise we could murder and justify not being outraged.
The issue here isn’t what’s being taught really, in my OPINION, but the inconsistencies: either we acknowledge morals or we don’t. Either we teach them or we don’t. Lending mixed signals is what confuses children, and once they get old enough to truly critically think about philosophy, we’ll introduce the big topics.
What do you all think? Are there moral facts? Are there universal truths? What have you learned?
Until next time.
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