J. L. Mackie  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

John Leslie Mackie (25 August 1917 – 12 December 1981) was an Australian philosopher, originally from Sydney. He made significant contributions to the philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language, and is perhaps best known for his views on meta-ethics, especially his defence of moral scepticism.

He authored six books. His most widely known, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (1977), opens by boldly stating that "There are no objective values." It goes on to argue that because of this ethics must be invented, rather than discovered.

Work

Mackie was most well known for his contributions to the fields of meta-ethics, philosophy of religion, and metaphysics. In meta-ethics, he took a position that he called moral scepticism (though, arguably, it would be better termed "moral nihilism"), arguing against the objective existence of right and wrong as intrinsically normative entities on fundamental grounds as unsure about what kinds of things such entities would be, if they existed.

His perhaps most widely known work, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, bluntly begins with the opening sentence "There are no objective values". He uses several arguments to support this claim that objective values are false. He argues that some aspects of moral thought are relative, and that objective morals require an absurd intrinsic action-guiding feature. Most of all, he thinks it is very unclear how objective values could supervene on features of the natural world (see the Argument from queerness). Fourth, he thinks it would be difficult to justify our knowledge of "value entities" or account for any links or consequences they would have. And, finally, he thinks it is possible to show that even without any objective values, people would still have reason to firmly believe in them (hence, he claims that it is possible for people to be mistaken or fooled into believing that objective values exist). The Times called the book "a lucid discussion of moral theory which, although aimed at the general reader, has attracted a good deal of professional attention."

Concerning religion, he was well known for vigorously defending atheism, and also arguing that the problem of evil made untenable the main monotheistic religions (see, for example, Mackie 1982). His criticisms of the free will defence are particularly significant. He argued that the idea of human free will is no defense for those who wish to believe in an omnicompetent being in the face of evil and suffering, as such a being could have given us both free will and moral perfection, thus resulting in us choosing the good in every situation. In 1955 he published one of his most reprinted articles, "Evil and Omnipotence", summarizing his view that the simultaneous existence of evil and an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good God was "positively irrational". Mackie's views on this so-called logical problem of evil prompted Alvin Plantinga to respond with his version of the Free Will Defense to which Mackie later responded to in his The Miracle of Theism.

In metaphysics, Mackie made significant contributions relating to the nature of causal relationships, especially regarding conditional statements describing them (see, for example, Mackie 1974) and the notion of an INUS condition.

Upon being given a copy of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene as a Christmas present, he in 1978 wrote an article in the journal Philosophy praising the book and discussing how its ideas might be applied to moral philosophy. Philosopher Mary Midgley responded in 1979 with "Gene-Juggling", an article arguing that The Selfish Gene was about psychological egoism, rather than evolution. This started a dispute between Mackie, Midgley, and Dawkins that was still ongoing at the time of Mackie's death.

Publications

Books
Anthologies
  • Logic and Knowledge: Selected Papers, Volume I (1985), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824679-X.
  • Persons and Values: Selected Papers, Volume II (1985), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824678-1.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "J. L. Mackie" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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