The “Open Question Argument” is supposed to establish something important for (meta)ethics; namely, that the property of being good (or value, or of what one ought to do, etc.) is not entailed by, and thus not identical to, any natural property like pleasure or knowledge. It goes something like this:
For all natural properties N, settling questions about whether some A is N leaves open whether A is good.
So, goodness is not entailed by any natural property N.
One way of replying to this argument is to deny the validity of the argument, by appeal to a concept/property distinction like that between water and H2O. Another way, with which I have some sympathy, is to say the argument is confused because there is no such thing as goodness simpliciter. But a third way is to deny the premise, which seems easier than it’s alleged to be:
Someone asks me whether dousing a cat in gasoline and lighting it on fire for fun is good. I reply, No, that’s not good. “Are you sure? Isn’t that an open question?” Yes, I am quite sure; no, it’s not an open question. Likewise, I am pretty certain that raping young girls in front of their parents in order to humiliate them is not good. And I am pretty certain that taking the time to help an elderly person open a heavy door, for its own sake and when nothing else is pressing, is good. When I think about cases like this, it seems like there are all sorts of areas in which goodness or its lack is not an open question at all. (Also, AFAICT, anyone who thinks the problem of evil is a serious issue for theism is committed to the same view.) Arguments to the contrary would strike me as theory-driven. In short, the OQ argument strikes me as far more powerful in the abstract, and for general properties, than for more particular, concrete cases.
What I don’t have (much of) is any kind of systematic account of how all these closed questions about goodness fit together. What does that show? That I have no comprehensive ethical theory. (This is why, presumably, the more abstract questions about goodness remain open for me.) But it seems to me that it also shows that, were I to get a theory, it would be one which equated goodness with natural properties.
There is another, anti-theoretical, option too: perhaps ‘good’ is a family-resemblance term like Wittgenstein’s ‘game’: I am quite sure in a number of cases whether some activity is a game; there are another bunch of cases in which I am not sure; and there is no over-arching theory about games because the term isn’t a rigorous one that way. This does not show that games are non-natural entities or that calling something a game is expressive of my non-cognitive attitudes. Perhaps something along these lines is the right way to understand “value pluralism.”
At any rate, however, the premise of the OQ argument seems to me just plain false for a wide range of cases. Am I missing something important? Thoughts?