So I have been real busy preparing for next weeks ethis conference at Felician College in New Jersey. I will post the virtual presentation later this week if anyone is interested. Part of the argument that I make is that moral truths are analytic. Below are some thoughts on a different argument to that effect.
One common relativist argument starts from the observation that there is widespread disagreement on matters of morality. This is taken to be some kind of evidence that there is no real fact of the matter here. Where there are facts, like in math, we do not see this kind of disagreement. It is not as though we expect to find some tribe in some remote part of the world that thinks 2+2=5. Now, this is a bad argument, as I think is well known. The fact that there is disagreement about something does not imply that there is no fact of the matter about that thing. If anything it implies that we do not know the truth (that is, if both parties to the dispute know all the relevant facts and are rational).
But even so, it is often pointed out that there is less disagreement than there seems (James Rachels is one classic source for this kind of point) So, to take one kind of example, the Eskimo who leaves their child out on the ice to die does not think that they are commiting a murder. They think that they are performing an action that is justified. What we argue about when we disagree with the Eskimo is about whether the killing is justified or not. Both parties make a distinction between justified and unjustified killings. Both parties think that murder is wrong; the Eskimo denies that putting the child out on the ice is a murder (it is justified by the lack of resources, the length of the winter, and the belief that it is better to die quickly when you are less likely to notice than to have a long drawn out death with a lot of conscious suffering), we assert that it is a murder (it is not justified).
‘murder’ just means ‘unjustified killing’, ‘lie’ just means ‘unjustified falsehood/untruth’ and so ‘murder is wrong’ and ‘lying is wrong’ are analytic truths and mean ‘unjustified killing is unjustified’ and ‘unjustified falsehoods are unjustified’. All rational people know that these are definitional truths just like they know that bachelors are unmarried males or that brothers are male siblings. So the claim that the moral truths are analytic and that what people argue about is whether or not some action is a (say) murder or not, actually better captures what people do when they argue about morality.