This paper defends moralrealism against Sharon Street’s “Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value” (this journal, 2006). I argue by separation of cases: From the assumption that a certain normative claim is true, I argue that the first horn of the dilemma is tenable for realists. Then, from the assumption that the same normative claim is false, I argue that the second horn is tenable. Either way, then, the Darwinian dilemma does not add anything to realists’ epistemic (...) worries. (shrink)
MoralRealism is a systematic defence of the idea that there are objective moral standards. Russ Shafer-Landau argues that there are moral principles that are true independently of what anyone, anywhere, happens to think of them. His central thesis, as well as the many novel supporting arguments used to defend it, will spark much controversy among those concerned with the foundations of ethics.
Moralrealism of a paradigmatic sort -- Defending the parallel -- The parity premise -- Epistemic nihilism -- Epistemic expressivism : traditional views -- Epistemic expressivism : nontraditional views -- Epistemic reductionism -- Three objections to the core argument.
The main aim of this thesis is to defend moralrealism. In chapter 1, I argue that moralrealism is best understood as the view that (1) moral sentences have truth-value (cognitivism), (2) there are moral properties that make some moral sentences true (success-theory), and (3) moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties (non-reductionism). Realism is contrasted with non-cognitivism, error-theory and reductionism, which, in brief, deny (1), (2) and (3), (...) respectively. In the introductory chapter, it is also argued that there are some prima facie reasons to assume that non-cognitivism and error-theory are erroneous. In chapters 2 and 3, I suggest that the two main forms of reductionism, analytic and synthetic reductionism, are mistaken. In chapter 4, I argue that the considerations in the previous chapters in relation to non-cognitivism, error-theory and reductionism provide support to moralrealism. It is also suggested that these considerations make it plausible to hypothesise that moral properties depend on non-moral properties in a way I refer to as ‘the realist formula’. The realist formula confirms moralrealism since it implies that moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties. In chapters 5, 6 and 7, I argue that moralrealism, much owing to the realist formula, is able to explain significant meta-ethical issues regarding moral disagreement, moral reason and moral motivation. Among other things, externalism concerning moral motivation is defended. The explanatory value of moralrealism in relation to these meta-ethical issues is taken to suggest that this view is preferable to non-cognitivism, error-theory and reductionism. Some of the meta-ethical issues discussed in these chapters, particularly moral disagreement and motivation, have been thought to provide support to non-cognitivism and error-theory. I maintain that since realism, unlike reductionism, is able to counter these arguments, it justifies us in upholding the view that moral sentences have truth-value and the view that there are moral properties. In chapter 8, various objections against realism with regard to the dependence of moral properties on non-moral properties are responded to. In chapter 9, I consider an influential argument to the effect that moral properties are not involved in causal explanations. I maintain that this argument fails and that it therefore is reasonable to assume that moral properties are natural properties. However, the discussions in chapters 8 and 9 also suggest that moralrealism might face problems that cannot be thoroughly discussed in this thesis. (shrink)
: The dominant interpretation of Kant as a moral constructivist has recently come under sustained philosophical attack by those defending a moral realist reading of Kant. In light of this, should we read Kant as endorsing moral constructivism or moralrealism? In answering this question we encounter disagreement in regard to two key independence claims. First, the independence of the value of persons from the moral law (an independence that is rejected) and second, the (...) independence of the content and authority of the moral law from actual acts of willing on behalf of those bound by that law (an independence that is upheld). The resulting position, which is called not ‘all the way down’ constructivism, is attributed to Kant. (shrink)
Many philosophers argue that the face-value of moral practice provides presumptive support to moralrealism. This paper analyses such arguments into three steps. (1) Moral practice has a certain face-value, (2) only realism can vindicate this face value, and (3) the face-value needs vindicating. Two potential problems with such arguments are discussed. The first is taking the relevant face-value to involve explicitly realist commitments; the second is underestimating the power of non-realist strategies to vindicate that (...) face-value. Case studies of each of these errors are presented, drawn from the writings of Shafer-Landau, Brink and McNaughton, and from recent work in experimental metaethics. The paper then considers weak presumptive arguments, according to which both realist and non-realist vindications of moral practice are possible, but the realist vindications are more natural. It is argued that there is no sense of ‘natural’ available that can make these arguments work. The conclusion is that all extant presumptive arguments for moralrealism fail. (shrink)
The question of moralrealism—whether our ethical beliefs rest on some objective foundation—is one that mattered as much to Aristotle as it does to us today, and his writings on this topic continue to provide inspiration for the contemporary debate. This volume of essays expands the fruitful conversation among scholars of ancient philosophy and contemporary ethical theorists on this question and related issues such as the virtues, justice, and Aristotle’s theory of tragedy.The distinguished contributors to this volume enrich (...) and clarify both Aristotle’s views and the contemporary debates. This book makes an important contribution to both topics, and it will be essential reading for all philosophers and classicists with an interest in moral philosophy and Greek ethics. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Alvin Plantinga has argued that there is good reason to think that naturalism and moralrealism are incompatible. He has done so by arguing that the most important argument for the compatibility of these two theses, which has been provided by Frank Jackson, fails and that any other argument that serves the same purpose is likely to fail for the same reason. His argument against the compatibility of naturalism and more realism, then, is (...) indirect: he argues against it by refuting the most important argument for it. In this paper, I argue that Plantinga’s argument is unconvincing for at least two reasons. First, Jackson’s argument can be revised in such a way that it meets Plantinga’s worry. Second, there is another way of arguing for the compatibility of two propositions which Plantinga does not consider. If the naturalist takes this alternative route, she does not face the problem identified by Plantinga. I thus show not only that Plantinga’s argument does not count against the compatibility of naturalism and moralrealism, but that there is even good reason to think that naturalism and moralrealism are in fact compatible. (shrink)
In this paper I argue (i) that choosing to abide by realist moral norms would be as arbitrary as choosing to abide by the mere preferences of a God (a difficulty akin to the Euthyphro dilemma raised for divine command theorists); in both cases we would lack reason to prefer these standards to alternative codes of conduct. I further develop this general line of thought by arguing in particular (ii) that we would lack any noncircular justification to concern ourselves (...) with any such realist normative standards. (shrink)
This book is a systematic and constructive treatment of a number of traditional issues at the foundations of ethics. These issues concern the objectivity of ethics, the possibility and nature of moral knowledge, the relationship between the moral point of view and a scientific or naturalist world-view, the nature of moral value and obligation, and the role of morality in a person's rational lifeplan. In striking contrast to traditional and more recent work in the field, David Brink (...) offers an integrated defense of the objectivity of ethics. (shrink)
Many believe that objective morality requires a theistic foundation. I maintain that there are sui generis objective ethical facts that do not reduce to natural or supernatural facts. On my view, objective morality does not require an external foundation of any kind. After explaining my view, I defend it against a variety of objections posed by William Wainwright, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland.
This book describes the shape of a Christian ethic that arises from a conversation between contemporary accounts of natural law theory, and virtue ethics. The ethic that emerges from this conversation seeks to resolve the tensions in Christian ethics between creation and eschatology, narrative and natural law, and objectivity and relativity. Black moves from this analytic foundation to conclude that worship lies at the heart of a theologically grounded ethic whose central concern is the flourishing of the whole human person (...) in community with both one another and God. (shrink)
In a recent article, William F. Harms (2000) argues in a novel way for a form of moralrealism. He does not actually argue that moralrealism is true, but rather that if morality is the product of natural selection.
This chapter surveys work in meta-ethics in the past fifty years which explicitly deals with issues associated with evil. It discusses two examples from secular discussions: the argument developed by Gilbert Harman on the explanatory role of moral facts, and the argument developed by Gilbert Harman and John Doris on the empirical inadequacy of the virtues. The chapter then turns to two topics related to theistic meta-ethics: the problem of evil and moralrealism, and theological voluntarism and (...) evil. (shrink)
To enhance the plausibility of naturalistic moralrealism, David Copp develops an argument from epistemic defeaters aiming to show that strongly a priori synthetic moral truths do not exist. In making a case for the non-naturalistic position, I locate Copp’s account within the wider literature on peer disagreement; I identify key points of divergence between Copp’s doctrine and conciliatorist doctrines; I introduce the notion of ‘minimal moral competence’; I contend that some plausible benchmarks for minimal (...) class='Hi'>moral competence are grounded in substantive moral considerations; and I discuss two forms of spinelessness that Copp’s moral naturalism could result in. (shrink)
The familiar argument from disagreement has been an important focal point of discussion in contemporary meta-ethics. Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of interdisciplinary work between philosophers and psychologists about moral psychology. Working within this trend, John Doris and Alexandra Plakias have made a tentative version of the argument from disagreement on empirical grounds. Doris and Plakias present empirical evidence in support of premise 4, that ethics is beset by fundamental disagreement. They examine Richard Brandt on (...) Hopi ethics and, especially, Richard E. Nisbett & Dov Cohen on cultures of honor to make a prima facie version of this case. This raises important questions. Are Doris and Plakias correct that there is even a prima facie empirical basis for moral anti-realism? What sort of empirical contribution can be made to such debates in meta-ethics? I argue that we should have reservations about the prospects of empirical contributions to the argument from disagreement. Specifically, before empirical results from psychology can be used to offer conclusions about meta-ethical issues, more careful attention must be paid to normative ethics, and especially to normative theory. There are two parts to this position. First, there is good reason to think that the evidence we currently have about moral disagreement is irrelevant to the meta-ethical debate. Second, the relevant evidence is useless for meta-ethical purposes on its own. Instead, it must be combined with normative theorizing about value pluralism. (shrink)
Non-reductive moralrealism is the view that there are moral properties which cannot be reduced to natural properties. If moral properties exist, it is plausible that they strongly supervene on non-moral properties- more specifically, on mental, social, and biological properties. There may also be good reasons for thinking that moral properties are irreducible. However, strong supervenience and irreducibility seem incompatible. Strong supervenience entails that there is an enormous number of modal truths (specifically, truths about (...) exactly which non-moral properties necessitate which moral properties); and all these modal truths must be explained. If these modal truths can all be explained, then it must be a fundamental truth about the essence of each moral property that the moral property is necessarily equivalent to some property that can be specified purely in mental, social and biological terms; and this fundamental truth appears to be a reduction of the moral property in question. The best way to resist this argument is by resorting to the claim that mental and social properties are not, strictly speaking, natural properties, but are instead properties that can only be analysed in partly normative terms. Acceptance of that claim is the price of non-reductive moralrealism. (shrink)
Moralrealism and antirealist-expressivism are of course incompatible positions. They disagree fundamentally about the nature of moral states of mind, the existence of moral states of affairs and properties, and the nature and role of moral discourse. The central realist view is that a person who has or expresses a moral thought is thereby in, or thereby expresses, a cognitive state of mind; she has or expresses a belief that represents a moral state (...) of affairs in a way that might be accurate or inaccurate. The view of antirealist-expressivism is that such a person is in, or expresses, a conative state of mind, one that consists in a certain kind of attitude or motivational stance toward something, such as an action or a person. Realism holds that moral thoughts have truth conditions and that in some cases these truth conditions are satisfied so that our moral thoughts are true. Antirealist-expressivism holds, to a first approximation, that the distinctive moral content of a moral thought does not have truth conditions. (shrink)
In 1971, Simon Blackburn worked out an argument against moralrealism appealing to the supervenience of the moral realm on the natural realm.1 He has since revised the argument, in part to take account of objections,2 but the basic structure remains intact. While commentators3 seem to agree that the argument is not successful, they have not agreed upon what goes wrong. I believe this is because no attempt has been made to see what happens when Blackburn's argument (...) is addressed to particular varieties of moralrealism. As I see it, we must look to these various brands if we want to understand just where the concept of supervenience can be usefully employed. (shrink)
This essay explains for a general philosophical audience the central issues and strategies in the contemporary moralrealism debate. It critically surveys the contribution of some recent scholarship, representing expressivist and pragmatist nondescriptivism (Mark Timmons, Hilary Putnam), subjectivist and nonsubjectivist naturalism (Michael Smith, Paul Bloomfield, Philippa Foot), nonnaturalism (Russ Shafer-Landau, T. M. Scanlon) and error theory (Richard Joyce). Four different faces of ‘moralrealism’ are distinguished: semantic, ontological, metaphysical, and normative. The debate is presented as taking (...) shape under dialectical pressure from the demands of (i) capturing the moral appearances and (ii) reconciling morality with our understanding of the mind and world. (Formerly “Explaining MoralRealism”. Updated 7-16-07). (shrink)
In this paper, I develop a neglected puzzle for the moral realist. I then canvass some potential responses. Although I endorse one response as the most promising of those I survey, my primary goal is to make vivid how formidable the puzzle is, as opposed to offering a definitive solution.
Metaethics is a perennially popular subject, but one that can be challenging to study and teach. As it consists in an array of questions about ethics, it is really a mix of (at least) applied metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and mind. The seminal texts therefore arise out of, and often assume competence with, a variety of different literatures. It can be taught thematically, but this sample syllabus offers a dialectical approach, focused on metaphysical debate over moralrealism, (...) which spans the century of debate launched and framed by G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica. The territory and literature are, however, vast. So, this syllabus is highly selective. A thorough metaethics course might also include more topical examination of moral supervenience, moral motivation, moral epistemology, and the rational authority of morality. Authors Recommend: Alexander Miller, An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003). This is one of the few clear, accessible, and comprehensive surveys of the subject, written by someone sympathetic with moral naturalism. David Brink, MoralRealism and the Foundations of Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Brink rehabilitates naturalism about moral facts by employing a causal semantics and natural kinds model of moral thought and discourse. Michael Smith, The Moral Problem (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994). Smith's book frames the debate as driven by a tension between the objectivity of morality and its practical role, offering a solution in terms of a response-dependent account of practical rationality. Gilbert Harman and Judith Jarvis Thomson, Moral Relativism & Moral Objectivity (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996). Harman argues against the objectivity of moral value, while Thomson defends it. Each then responds to the other. Frank Jackson, From Metaphysics to Ethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). Jackson argues that reductive conceptual analysis is possible in ethics, offering a unique naturalistic account of moral properties and facts. Mark Timmons, Morality without Foundations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Timmons distinguishes moral cognitivism from moralrealism, interpreting moral judgments as beliefs that have cognitive content but do not describe moral reality. He also provides a particularly illuminating discussion of nonanalytic naturalism. Philippa Foot, Natural Goodness (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001). A Neo-Aristotelian perspective: moral facts are natural facts about the proper functioning of human beings. Russ Shafer-Landau, MoralRealism: A Defence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003). In this recent defense of a Moorean, nonnaturalist position, Shafer-Landau engages rival positions in a remarkably thorough manner. Terence Cuneo, The Normative Web (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007). Cuneo argues for a robust version of moralrealism, developing a parity argument based on the similarities between epistemic and moral facts. Mark Schroeder, Slaves of the Passions (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007). Schroeder defends a reductive form of naturalism in the tradition of Hume, identifying moral and normative facts with natural facts about agents' desires. Online Materials: PEA Soup: http://peasoup.typepad.com A blog devoted to philosophy, ethics, and academia. Its contributors include many active and prominent metaethicists, who regularly post about the moralrealism and naturalism debates. Metaethics Bibliography: http://www.lenmanethicsbibliography.group.shef.ac.uk/Bib.htm Maintained by James Lenman, professor of philosophy at the University of Sheffield, this online resource provides a selective list of published research in metaethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu See especially the entries under 'metaethics'. Sample Syllabus: Topics for Lecture & Discussion Note: unless indicated otherwise, all the readings are found in R. Shafer-Landau and T. Cuneo, eds., Foundations of Ethics: An Anthology (Malden: Blackwell, 2007). (FE) Week 1: Realism I (Classic Nonnaturalism) G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, 2nd ed. (FE ch. 35). W. K. Frankena, 'The Naturalistic Fallacy,'Mind 48 (1939): 464–77. S. Finlay, 'Four Faces of MoralRealism', Philosophy Compass 2/6 (2007): 820–49 [DOI: [DOI link]]. Week 2: Antirealism I (Classic Expressivism) A. J. Ayer, 'Critique of Ethics and Theology' (1952) (FE ch. 3). C. Stevenson, 'The Nature of Ethical Disagreement' (1963) (FE ch. 28). Week 3: Antirealism II (Error Theory) J. L. Mackie, 'The Subjectivity of Values' (1977) (FE ch. 1). R. Joyce, Excerpt from The Myth of Morality (2001) (FE ch. 2). Week 4: Realism II (Nonanalytic Naturalism) R. Boyd, 'How to be a Moral Realist' (1988) (FE ch. 13). P. Railton, 'MoralRealism' (1986) (FE ch. 14). T. Horgan and M. Timmons, 'New Wave MoralRealism Meets Moral Twin Earth' (1991) (FE ch. 38). Week 5: Antirealism III (Contemporary Expressivism) A. Gibbard, 'The Reasons of a Living Being' (2002) (FE ch. 6). S. Blackburn, 'How To Be an Ethical Anti-Realist' (1993) (FE ch. 4). T. Horgan and M. Timmons, 'Nondescriptivist Cognitivism' (2000) (FE ch. 5). W. Sinnott-Armstrong, 'Expressivism and Embedding' (2000) (FE ch. 37). Week 6: Realism III (Sensibility Theory) J. McDowell, 'Values and Secondary Qualities' (1985) (FE ch. 11). D. Wiggins, 'A Sensible Subjectivism' (1991) (FE ch. 12). Week 7: Realism IV (Subjectivism) & Antirealism IV (Constructivism) R. Firth, 'Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer' (1952) (FE ch. 9). G. Harman, 'Moral Relativism Defended' (1975) (FE ch. 7). C. Korsgaard, 'The Authority of Reflection' (1996) (FE ch. 8). Week 8: Realism V (Contemporary Nonnaturalism) R. Shafer-Landau, 'Ethics as Philosophy' (2006) (FE ch. 16). T. M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), ch. 1. T, Cuneo, 'Recent Faces of Moral Nonnaturalism', Philosophy Compass 2/6 (2007): 850–79 [DOI: [DOI link]]. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that the explanationist argument in favour of moralrealism fails. According to this argument, the ability of putative moral properties to feature in good explanations provides strong evidence for, or entails, the metaphysical claims of moralrealism. Some have rejected this argument by denying that moral explanations are ever good explanations. My criticism is different. I argue that even if we accept that moral explanations are (sometimes) good explanations (...) the metaphysical claims of realism do not follow. (shrink)
This paper argues for the view that moralrealism is irrelevant to ethics. It recalls Aristotle's claim that the Platonic Form of the Good is irrelevant because it is not the sort of thing we can desire or pursue. Moore's account of ethics in relation to conduct and of the Ideal is woefully inadequate as a morality to live by. Peter Railton's moralrealism also involves a very weak first-order moral theory. These failures are due, (...) I claim, to the fact that Plato, Moore and Railton regard morality as a science; it is not a science, it is an art. (shrink)
The author considers how constructivism, presently known to us essentially as a theory for generating rules of social cooperation, embodies a certain conception of justification that in turn may be thought of as a general theory. It is argued that moralrealism and projectivism are by turns platitudinous and unsatisfactory as conceptions of justification; by contrast the general conception of justification in constructivism makes sense of reason giving and coherent rivalry. The author argues that once the right picture (...) of justification is in place, the picture constructivism illustrates or embodies, the problem of moral ontology disappears. (shrink)
There have been times in the history of ethical theory, especially in this century, when moralrealism was down, but it was never out. The appeal of this doctrine for many moral philosophers is apparently so strong that there are always supporters in its corner who seek to resuscitate the view. The attraction is obvious: moralrealism purports to provide a precious philosophical good, viz., objectivity and all that this involves, including right answers to (most) (...)moral questions, and the possibility of knowing those answers. In the last decade, moralrealism has re-entered the philosophical ring in powerful-looking naturalistic form. ln this paper we provide a dialectical overview: we situate the new wave position itself, and also our objections to it, in the context of the evolving program of philosophical naturalism in 20th century analytic philosophy. We seek to show that although this new contender might initially look like championship material, it succumbs to punches surprisingly similar to those that knocked out the old-fashioned versions of naturalist moralrealism. (shrink)
G. E. Moore famously argued on the basis of semantic intuitions that moral properties are not reducible to natural properties, and therefore that moral predicates refer to nonnatural properties. This clearly represents a version of “moralrealism,” but it is a testament to the strength of naturalist intuitions in contemporary philosophical debate that, insofar as one accepts Moore’s arguments, this is typically seen as a boon for antirealists rather than realists. For many philosophers worry that putative (...) nonnatural properties would be too metaphysically and epistemologically queer to be admissible into our ontology. These philosophers conclude that if moral properties cannot be understood as natural properties, then it is more reasonable to abandon commitment to moral properties than to follow Moore into nonnaturalism. -/- In this dialectical milieu, three positions have become popular. Naturalists argue that Moorean arguments are bunk; moral properties can be understood as natural properties. Constructivists argue that Moore was right that moral properties cannot be understood as objective natural properties—that is, the properties that are logically independent of the attitudes of human agents—however, quasi‐objective moral properties can be constructed out of the attitudes of human agents. And noncognitivists argue that moral predicates are nonreferential, and so the best understanding of moral discourse is one which does not construe it as committed to the existence of moral properties. -/- Russ Shafer‐Landau’s new book is distinctive in that it argues against each of these three popular positions while developing and defending a contemporary nonnaturalist version of moralrealism. (shrink)
1. Evolutionary MoralRealism. On most contemporary approaches to evolution and ethics, morality is not a real part of the environment in which social and intelligent creatures evolve.1 According to such approaches, certain cooperative behavioural patterns develop, and thus become biologically real, but morality doesn’t become possible until creatures evolve a sophisticated enough cognitive ability to mistake the goals of such behavioural patterns for objective moral values. At a metaethical level, this line of thought has led evolutionary (...) biologists and moral philosophers alike to the conclusion that objective moral values are illusory. At an ethical level, the same line of thought has led most moral philosophers to suppose that evolutionary biology tells us nothing very important about ethics. Ethics is possible because of our evolutionary heritage as cooperative primates, but ethics itself only begins as we humans begin to talk, argue and reason about how we ought to live our lives together. With the standard view, we think morality is tied to cooperative behavioural patterns that.. (shrink)
In 1903 G.E. Moore celebrated a robust nonnaturalistic form of moralrealism with the publication of his Principia Ethica. Subsequent years have witnessed the development and refinement of a number of views motivated at least in part by a deep resistance to the metaphysical and epistemological commitments of nonnaturalism. Over time, Moore’s view arguably has become the position of last resort for philosophers working in metaethics. Exactly one hundred years later, analytic metaethics has come full circle with the (...) publication of Russ Shafer-Landau’s MoralRealism: A Defence. Shafer-Landau confidently elaborates and defends a form of nonnaturalism about moral facts and properties, and conjoins his moral metaphysics with an anti-Humean theory of motivation, motivational externalism, reasons externalism, moral rationalism, and a hybrid of selfevident justification and reliabilism in moral epistemology. Needless to say, Shafer-Landau’s book is highly ambitious with respect to both the number of controversial theses it tries to defend as well as the antecedent skepticism it attempts to overcome. Regardless of whether its arguments are ultimately successful, MoralRealism deserves to be taken very seriously by anyone interested in metaethics, moral psychology, and the philosophy of action.1 In what follows, I will consider all five parts of MoralRealism in order, offering a brief summary of some of the main ideas in each section as well as raising a few objections (although without being able, in the space available, to do justice to all or even the majority of the interesting arguments with which the book is filled). (shrink)
Mark Timmons and Terry Horgan have argued that the new moralrealism, which rests on the causal theory of reference, is untenable. While I do agree that the new moralrealism is untenable, I do not think that Timmons and Horgan have succeeded in showing that it is. I will lay out the case for new moralrealism and Horgan and Timmons’ argument against it, and then argue that their argument fails. Further, I will (...) discuss Boyd’s semantic theory as well as attempts to improve upon it, raise serious problems for these semantic accounts, and suggest an alternative view that accounts for our use of moral terms. (shrink)
This paper argues that we can acknowledge the existence of moral truths and moral progress without being committed to moralrealism. Rather than defending this claim through the more familiar route of the attempted analysis of the ontological commitments of moral claims, I show how moral belief change for the better shares certain features with theoretical progress in the natural sciences. Proponents of the better theory are able to convince their peers that it is (...) formally and empirically superior to its rivals, and the better theory may be promoted to the status of the truth. Yet there is no 'decision-procedure' for ethics any more than there is for molecular biology. The betterness of true theories can be grasped through what I term 'undirectional narratives' of progress. And while there are true moral claims and perhaps numerous moral truths yet to be discovered, we should reject currently popular forms of moralrealism with bivalence. Some moral claims lend themselves to the construction of fully reversible, bi-directional narratives and are likely neither true nor false. (shrink)
Alexander Miller has recently considered an ingenious extension of Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit's account of 'program explanation' as a way of defending non-reductive naturalist versions of moralrealism against Harman's explanatory criticism. Despite the ingenuity of this extension, Miller concludes that program explanation cannot help such moral realists in their attempt to defend moral properties. Specifically, he argues that such moral program explanations are dispensable from an epistemically unlimited point of view. I show that (...) Miller's argument for this negative claim is inadequate, and that he has, in spite of himself, identified a promising defence of moralrealism. (shrink)
Ethics and mathematics are normally treated independently in philosophical discussions. When comparisons are drawn between problems in the two areas, those comparisons tend to be highly local, concerning just one or two issues. Nevertheless, certain metaethicists have made bold claims to the effect that moralrealism is on “no worse footing” than mathematical realism -- i.e. that one cannot reasonably reject moralrealism without also rejecting mathematical realism. -/- In the absence of any remotely (...) systematic survey of the relevant arguments, however, the prima facie plausibility of such claims cannot be usefully judged. There is no way to guess whether the few local parallels that have been observed are symptomatic of pervasive ones. What is needed is a general overview of the relevant dialectical landscape – one which serves to suggest the likely extent of commonality between arguments in ethics and arguments in the philosophy of mathematics. -/- In this survey, I offer such an overview. I consider a wide array of arguments for mathematical realism, and against moralrealism, and indiacte analogs to each. I argue that, while nothing definitive can be said at this point, the aforementioned bold claims do have significant prima facie plausibility. In particular, parallels between arguments in metaethics and arguments in the philosophy of mathematics seem to be much more systematic than is commonly supposed. (shrink)
Conventional wisdom has it that evolution makes a sham of morality, even if morality is an adaptation. I disagree. I argue that our best current adaptationist theory of meaning offers objective truth conditionsfor signaling systems of all sorts. The objectivity is, however, relative to species – specifically to the adaptive history of the signaling system in question. While evolution may not provide the kind of species independent objective standards that (e.g.) Kantians desire, this should be enough for the practical work (...) of justifying our confidence in the objectivity of moral standards. If you believe morality is an adaptation, you should be a moral realist. (shrink)
Book Information MoralRealism: A Defence. MoralRealism: A Defence Russ Shafer-Landau , Oxford : Clarendon Press , 2003 , x + 322 , £35 ( cloth ) By Russ Shafer-Landau. Clarendon Press. Oxford. Pp. x + 322. £35 (cloth:).
In this paper, I hope to provide an account of the conditions of moralrealism whereby there are still significant metaphysical commitments made by the realist which set the view apart as a distinct position in the contemporary meta-ethical landscape. In order to do so, I will be appealing to a general account of what it is for realism to be true in any domain of experience, whether it be realism about universals, realism about unobservable (...) scientific entities, realism about artifacts, and so forth. (shrink)
Hilary Putnam's Twin Earth thought experiment has come to have an enormous impact on contemporary philosophical thought. But while most of the discussion has taken place within the context of the philosophy of mind and language, Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons (H8cT) have defended the intriguing suggestion that a variation on the original thought experiment has important consequences for ethics.' In a series of papers, they' ve developed the idea of a Moral Twin Earth and have argued that its (...) significance is that it has the resources to undermine naturalistic versions of moralrealism.' H8t T don't hold back in their assessment. "Moral Twin.. (shrink)
Russ Shafer-Landau’s MoralRealism: A Defence is a refreshingly clear, straightforward, and elegant search for the truth about whether there are any objective, universal truths in ethics. The book’s jargon-free writing style, clarity in argumentation and comprehensive coverage of the issues make it an ideal main text for upper-division undergraduate courses and seminars in ethics. It is also accessible also to bright students with just a few philosophy courses who are interested in the issues (Shafer-Landau’s entry-level..
This article raises a problem for Cornell varieties of moralrealism. According to Cornell moral realists, we can know about moral facts just as we do the empirical facts of the natural sciences. If this is so, it would remove any special mystery that is supposed to attach to our knowledge of objective moral facts. After clarifying the ways in which moral knowledge is to be similar to scientific knowledge, I claim that the analogy (...) fails, but for little-noticed reasons. A preliminary conclusion of the article will be that this positive comparison to scientific knowledge hurts, rather than helps, the realist position. Yet, rather than spell trouble for moralrealism altogether, I suggest that the apparent failure of Cornell realist moral epistemology points to a better way forward for moralrealism. (shrink)
In this paper I draw on some of the work of John McDowell in order to develop a “realist” account of normative reasons for action. On the view defended here, there can be correct moral judgments that capture the reasons there are for acting in certain ways; and the reasons themselves are just some of the morally relevant facts of the situation about which the judgment is made. Establishing this account relies crucially, I argue, on an appeal to substantive (...) ethical theory, to a theory that allows for the attribution of truth to the judgments in question. The account defended here can in fact be equally well supported by ethical theories as otherwise diverse as those of Aristotle and Kant. The resulting account is a version of moralrealism, but one that is not committed to defending a realist account of the nature of moral value. (shrink)
In this paper I defend a ‘culturalist’ but nevertheless non-relativistic moral theory, taking Charles Taylor’s writings on this topic as my guide.1 Taylor is a realist concerning natural sciences, the ontology of persons and the ontology of goods (or meanings, significances or values). Yet, his realisms in these three areas differ significantly from one another, and therefore one has to be careful not to presuppose too rigid views of what realism must be like. Taylor’s moralrealism (...) can be called culturalist, phenomenological, hermeneutical or even ‘expressivist’.2 According to culturalist moralrealism, cognitivism is the correct view of our ordinary moral and evaluative reactions and responses to situations. In the realm of evaluative judgements, genuinely correct and incorrect (and better and worse) judgements are possible. These judgements can be implicit in our moral emotions and tacit agent’s knowledge, or more explicit in different articulations (section 1). What makes evaluative judgements correct are evaluative properties or ‘imports’ of the situation, and both the evaluative features of situations and our correct responses to them can be further understood in terms of a plurality of (conflicting and incommensurable) goods, ideals or values (section 2). The evaluative realm is not accessible from a disengaged perspective, but only from within an engaged, lifeworldly perspective. Evaluative properties are not merely a matter of subjective projection nor merely a matter of objective properties independent of valuers. Evaluative properties are relational, and neither the objective nor the subjective pole has priority (Section 3). The evaluative realm is in some sense dependent on social forms (concepts and practices), which are historically changing. Yet the validity of goods is (potentially) universal, goods that are valid in our culture would be valid in other cultures as well and vice versa. The correctness of evaluative judgements is not restricted by one’s own (or one’s culture’s) evaluations, framework or orientation (i.e.. (shrink)
An increasingly popular moral argument has it that the story of human evolution shows that we can explain the human disposition to make moral judgments without relying on a realm of moral facts. Such facts can thus be dispensed with. But this argument is a threat to moralrealism only if there is no realist position that can explain, in the context of human evolution, the relationship between our particular moral sense and a realm (...) of moral facts. I sketch a plausible evolutionary story that illuminates this relationship. First, the sorts of adaptive pressures facing early humans would have produced more than just potent prosocial emotions, as evolutionary antirealists like to claim; it would have produced judgments?often situated within emotions?to the effect that others could reasonably disapprove of some bit of conduct, for an early human who cared deeply about how others might respond to her action enjoyed the benefits of more cooperative exchanges than those early humans who did not. Second, according to objectivist versions of moral constructivism, moral facts just are facts about how others, ideally situated, would respond to one's conduct. Thus if any objectivist moral constructivism story is true, then we can intelligibly assert that a) our capacity for moral judgment is the product of adaptive pressures acting on early humans and b) some moral judgments are objectively true. (shrink)
In chapter 8 of Miller 2003, I argued against the idea that Jackson and Pettit's notion of program explanation might help Sturgeon's non-reductive naturalist version of moralrealism respond to the explanatory challenge posed by Harman. In a recent paper in the AJP[Nelson 2006, Mark Nelson has attempted to defend the idea that program explanation might prove useful to Sturgeon in replying to Harman. In this note, I suggest that Nelson's argument fails.
What can a moral realist say about why we should take morality seriously and about the relation between morality and rationality? I take off from Christine Korsgaard's criticism of moralrealism on this score. The aim is to achieve an understanding of the relation between moral and rational properties and of the role of practical deliberation on a realist view. I argue that the justification for being concerned with rational and moral normative properties may not (...) be an aspect of our minds to which we have access. I argue against a view that gives automatic pride of place to the rational properties of our mind by drawing attention to valuable non-rational modes of thought such as creative, imaginative and instinctive thought. Thus the value of taking account of rationality is contingent on its benefits. But this is not why we should be taking account of morality. (shrink)
In this paper I construct Confucian moralrealism as a metaethical theory that is compatible with, or even derivable from, traditional Confucianism. The paper is at once interpretative and constructive. In my analysis, Confucians can establish the realist's claims on moral properties because they embrace the view of a moralistic universe. Moral properties in Confucian ethics not only are presented as objective, naturalistic properties, but also are seen as 'causally efficacious'. There are several theses commonly endorsed (...) by contemporary moral realists. I will explain how many of the remarks by Confucius, Mencius, in Yijing, The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean can be understood as implicit endorsements of these theses. I will also analyze the theses specific to Confucian moralrealism. The paper will end with a brief defense of this form of realism. (shrink)
1. What is moralrealism? The paper rejects standard answers (Sayre-McCord, Railton) in terms of truth and meaning. These standard answers are partly motivated by the phenomenon of noncognitivism. Noncognitivism does indeed cause trouble for a straightforwardly metaphysical answer but still such an answer can be given.2. Why believe moralrealism? It is prima facie plausible and its alternatives are not. Major worry: How can moralrealism be fitted into a naturalistic world view?3. But (...) what about the arguments against moralrealism? The paper looks critically at the argument from “queerness”, the argument from relativity, the argument from explanation, and epistemological arguments.4. The paper concludes with some brief and inadequate remarks on fulfilling the naturalistic project. (shrink)
Only God, or a very god-like being, can provide both the objectivity and the normative power necessary for a really robust moralrealism. Further, I argue that the classical theist position—the view of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas—that morality is grounded in the nature of God, supplies a better metaphysical background for a strong moralrealism than Divine Command Theory does. I respond briefly to the criticism that belief in God can have no positive role to play (...) in solving ethical problems, and I conclude with the observation that if the argument is correct, it entails that there is an argument from evil for the existence of God. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to show that David Brink’s influential version of moralrealism cannot give a convincing explanation of moral supervenience. Section twocontains an outline and discussion of Brink’s view of moral properties. Section three explicates Brink’s notions of strong and weak supervenience. In sections four and five, Brink’s explanation of moral supervenience is discussed. It is argued that his functionalist view of moral properties means that the explanation of moral (...) supervenience that he explicitly offers is not satisfactory. A suggestion is also made about what the exact nature is of the explanatory challenge that Brink faces inrelation to moral supervenience. Finally, it is argued that Brink cannot meet this challenge. (shrink)
Although scientific naturalistic philosophers have been concerned with the role of scientific psychology in illuminating problems in moral psychology, they have paid less attention to the contributions that it might make to issues of moral ontology. In this paper, I illustrate how findings in moral developmental psychology illuminate and advance the discussion of a long-standing issue in moral ontology, that of moralrealism. To do this, I examine Gilbert Harman and Nicholas Sturgeon's discussion of (...) that issue. I contend that their explorations leave the issue unresolved. To break the stalemate, I appeal to empirical psychological findings about moral internalization—the process by which children acquire the capacity to act in terms of moral norms. I contend that these findings illuminate the issue, suggest a way to advance it, and tend to support a moral realist position. (shrink)
It sometimes happens that advances in one area of philosophy can be applied to a quite different area of philosophy, and that the result is an unexpected significant advance. I think that this is true of the philosophy of time and meta-ethics. Developments in the philosophy of time have led to a new understanding of the relation between semantics and metaphysics. Applying these insights to the field of meta-ethics, I will argue, can suggest a new position with respect to (...) class='Hi'>moral discourse and moral reality. This new position retains the advantages of theories like moralrealism and naturalism, yet is immune to many of their difficulties. (shrink)
The paper argues that a particular version of moralrealism constitutes an important basis for ethics in medicine and health care. Moralrealism is the position that moral value is a part of the fabric of relational and interpersonal reality. But even though moral values are subject to human interpretations, they are not themselves the sole product of these interpretations. Moral values are not invented but discovered by the subject. Moralrealism (...) argues that values are open to perception and experience and that moral subjectivity must be portrayed in how moral values are discovered and perceived by the human subject. Moral values may exist independent of the particular subject’s interpretative evaluations as a part of reality. This epistemological point about normativity is particularly significant in medical care and in health care. The clinician perceives moral value in the clinical encounter in a way that is important for competent clinical understanding. Clinical understanding in medical care and health care bears on the encounter with moral values in the direct and embodied relations to patients, with their experiences of illness and their vulnerabilities. Good clinical care is then partly conditioned upon adequate understanding of such moral realities. (shrink)
In this article the author criticizes Michael Devitt’s Naturalistic MoralRealism, as well as that program in general. The author argues the following: moral explanations do not work; the fact that moral featuressupervene on the non-moral ones does not support the thesis of Realism; moral principles can not be tested like factual ones; Moral Realists Naturalists water down their thesis so much that it ceases to be a form of realism; there (...) are no moral observations in any interesting sense. (shrink)
In recent metaethics there has been a great deal of discussion regarding moralrealism. Moralrealism in the tradition of ethical naturalism has been revitalized in the form of a synthetic ethical naturalism. This brand of moralrealism has interesting theoretical implications for individualistic and holistic models of environmental ethics. In this paper I argue that most theorists of environmental ethics presuppose an irrealist metaethic out of fear of violating Hume's law and Moore's naturalistic (...) fallacy (e.g., Callicott, Taylor, Elliot, and Sterba, while Rolston is a notable exception). But if we take moralrealism (in the form of synthetic ethical naturalism) seriously, then environmental ethics has more options than the conventional metaethical maxims of Hume's law and Moore's naturalistic fallacy would allow. Accordingly, I lay out various prospects for a realist environmental metaethic. Environ-moralrealism is an attempt to ground nonanthropocentrism in a realist metaethic. (shrink)
Moralrealism is defined here as the ontological view that there are moral facts. This is compared with traditional views in moral philosophy, such as naturalism, nonnaturalism, and noncognitivism. It is argued that we have no good reasons to avoid inconsistencies among our moral views unless (we believe that) moralrealism is true. Various counter-arguments to this claim are criticized. Moreover, it is argued that, since we do not want to give up the (...) practice of moral reasoning, we have a good reason to believe that moralrealism is true. (shrink)
Moral realists can, and should, allow that the truth-conditional content of moral judgments is in part attitudinal. I develop a two-dimensional semantics that embraces attitudinal content while preserving realist convictions about the independence of moral facts from our attitudes. Relative to worlds “considered as counterfactual,” moral terms rigidly track objective, response-independent properties. But relative to different ways the actual world turns out to be, they nonrigidly track whatever properties turn out to be the objects of our (...) relevant attitudes. This theory provides realists with a satisfactory account of Moral Twin Earth cases and an improved response to Blackburn’s supervenience argument. (shrink)
We discuss the implications of the findings reported in the target article for moral theory, and argue that they represent a clear and genuine case of fundamental moral disagreement. As such, the findings support a moderate form of moral anti-realism – the position that, for some moral issues, there is no fact of the matter about what is right and wrong.
In this paper I discuss Taylor's criticism of contemporary moral philosophy and the role which this plays in his wider account of the development of Western moral consciousness, an account which I compare with Hans Blumenberg's The Legitimacy of the ModernAge. While I endorse Taylor's rejection of ?naturalism?, I deny that this entails the rejection of non?realism and I maintain that, indeed, the non?realist conception of a social foundation for morality represents the most cogent response to the (...) contemporary dilemmas Taylor identifies. (shrink)
Moral Projectivism must be able to specify under what conditions a certain inner response counts as a moral response. I argue, however, that moral projectivists cannot coherently do so because they must assume that there are moral properties in the world in order to fix the content of our moral judgements. To show this, I develop a number of arguments against moral dispositionalism, which is, nowadays, the most promising version of moral projectivism. In (...) this context, I call into question both David Lewis’ dispositionalist account of colour and Chistine Korsgaard’s procedural realism. (shrink)
A number of philosophers defend naturalistic moralrealism by appeal to an externalist semantics for moral predicates. The application of semantic externalism to moral predicates has been attacked by Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons in a series of papers that make use of their “Moral Twin Earth” thought experiment. In response, several defenders of naturalistic moralrealism have claimed that the Moral Twin Earth thought experiment is misleading and yields distorted and inaccurate (...) semantic intuitions. If they are right, the intuitions generated by Moral Twin Earth cannot be appealed to in arguments against externalist moral semantics. The most developed case against the Moral Twin Earth argument that follows this strategy is found in a paper by Stephen Laurence, Eric Margolis and Angus Dawson. Here I argue that their attack on the Moral Twin Earth thought experiment fails. Laurence, Margolis and Dawson have not shown that we have reason to distrust the semantic intuitions it generates. (shrink)
There are striking parallels, largely unexplored in the literature, between skeptical arguments against theism and against moralrealism. After sketching four arguments meant to do this double duty, I restrict my attention to an explanatory argument that claims that we have most reason to deny the existence of moral facts (and so, by extrapolation, theistic ones), because such putative facts have no causal-explanatory power. I reject the proposed parity, and offer reasons to think that the potential vulnerabilities (...) of moralrealism on this front are quite different from those of the theist. Key Words: causal power explanatory power Gilbert Harman moral facts moralrealism theism. (shrink)
We typically assume that the standard for what is beautiful lies in the eye of the beholder. Yet this is not the case when we consider morality; what we deem morally good is not usually a matter of opinion. Such thoughts push us toward being realists about moral properties, but a cogent theory of moralrealism has long been an elusive philosophical goal. Paul Bloomfield here offers a rigorous defense of moralrealism, developing an ontology (...) for morality that models the property of being morally good on the property of being physically healthy. The model is assembled systematically; it first presents the metaphysics of healthiness and goodness, then explains our epistemic access to properties such as these, adds a complementary analysis of the semantics and syntax of moral discourse, and finishes with a discussion of how we become motivated to act morally. Bloomfield closely attends to the traditional challenges facing moralrealism, and the discussion nimbly ranges from modern medical theory to ancient theories of virtue, and from animal navigation to the nature of normativity. Maintaining a highly readable style throughout, Moral Reality yields one of the most compelling theories of moralrealism to date and will appeal to philosophers working on issues in metaphysics or moral philosophy. (shrink)
Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons have recently provided an updated presentation and defense of a metaethical view that they call cognitivist expressivism. Expressivists claim that moral judgments express propositional attitudes that do not represent or describe the external world. Horgan and Timmons agree with this claim, but they also deny the traditional expressivist claim that moral judgments do not express beliefs. On their view, moral judgments are genuine, truth-apt beliefs, thus making their form of expressivism a cognitivist (...) one. In this essay, I argue that Horgan and Timmons have failed to demonstrate that moral judgments express sui generis, nondescriptive content by showing that at least some moral content is descriptive. In addition, I show how the descriptivist can account for those properties that Horgan and Timmons consider distinctive of moral belief. In doing so, I remove one of the expressivist's most important lines of motivation for positing nondescriptive moral content in the first place. At the end of the essay, I briefly sketch a view that I call partial or modest moralrealism. (shrink)
Nicholas Sturgeon has claimed that moral explanations constitute one area of disagreement between moral realists and noncognitivists. He claims that the correctness of such explanation is consistent with moralrealism but not with noncognitivism. Does this difference characterize all other anti-realist views. This paper argues that it does not. Moral relativism is a distinct anti-realist view. And the correctness of moral explanation is consistent with moral relativism.
The purely retributive moral justification of punishment has a gap at its centre. It fails to explain why the offender should not be protected from punishment by the intuitively powerful moral idea that afflicting another person (other than to avoid a greater harm) is always wrong. Attempts to close the gap have taken several different forms, and only one is discussed in this paper. This is the attempt to push aside the â€˜protectingâ€™ intuition, using some more powerful intuition (...) specially invoked by the situations to which criminal justice is addressed. In one aspect of his complex defence of pure retributivism, Michael S. Moore attempts to show that the emotions of well-adjusted persons provide evidence of moral facts which justify the affliction of culpable wrongdoers in retribution for their wrongdoing. In particular, he appeals to the evidential significance of emotions aroused by especially heinous crimes, including the punishment-seeking guilt of the offender who truly confronts the reality of his immoral act. The paper argues that Moore fails to vindicate this appeal to moralrealism, and thus to show that intrinsic personal moral desert (as distinct from â€˜desertâ€™ in a more restricted sense, relative to morally justified institutions) is a necessary and sufficient basis for punishment. Other theories of the role of emotions in morality are as defensible as Mooreâ€™s, while the compelling emotions to which he appeals to clinch his argument can be convincingly situated within a non-retributivist framework, especially when the distinction between the intuitions of the lawless world, and those of the world of law, is recognised. (shrink)
Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons's Moral Twin Earth thought experiment poses a serious challenge for an influential kind of moralrealism. It presents us with a case in which it is intuitive that two speakers are expressing a substantive disagreement with one another. However, the meta-semantics associated with this relevant form of moralrealism entails that the speakers' moral predicates express different semantic contents, and thus, the moral sentences they utter do not express (...) conflicting propositions. Consequently, this variety of moralrealism implies, wrongly, that the speakers do not express substantive disagreement after all. Some philosophers have objected to the Moral Twin Earth argument on the grounds that is possible for two speakers to express disagreement with one another, even if the moral sentences they utter do not express conflicting propositions. Heimer Geirsson supports this claim by appeal to the distinction between semantic reference and speaker reference. David Merli supports the same claim by noting that speakers whose moral sentences do not express conflicting propositions may nevertheless express a non-moral, practical disagreement over what to do. In this article, I argue that neither Geirsson nor Merli provides moral realists with a satisfying response to the Moral Twin Earth argument. (shrink)
For moral realists moral judgments will be a kind of factual judgment that involves the basically reliable apprehension of an objective moral reality. I argue that factual judgments display at least some degree of conceptual sensitivity to error, while moral judgments do not. Therefore moral judgments are not a kind of factual judgment.
This paper concerns a prima facie tension between the claims that (a) agents have normative reasons obtaining in virtue of the nature of the options that confront them, and (b) there is a non-trivial connection between the grounds of normative reasons and the upshots of sound practical reasoning. Joint commitment to these claims is shown to give rise to a dilemma. I argue that the dilemma is avoidable on a response dependent account of normative reasons accommodating both (a) and (b) (...) by yielding (a) as a substantial constraint on sound practical reasoning. This fact is shown to have significance for the contemporary dialectic between moral realists and their opponents. (shrink)
Some moral realists claim that moral facts are a species of natural fact, amenable to scientific investigation. They argue that these moral facts are needed in the best explanations of certain phenomena and that this is evidence that they are real. In this paper I present part of a biological account of the function of morality. The account allows the identification of a plausible natural kind that could play the explanatory role that a moral kind would (...) play in naturalist realist theories. It is therefore a candidate for being the moral kind. I argue, however, that it will underdetermine the morally good, that is, identifying the kind is not sufficient to identify what is good. Hence this is not a natural moral kind. Its explanatory usefulness, however, means that we do not have to postulate any further (moral) facts to provide moral explanations. Hence there is no reason to believe that there are any natural moral kinds. (shrink)
Moral disagreement is widely held to pose a threat for metaethical realism and objectivity. In this paper I attempt to understand how it is that moral disagreement is supposed to present a problem for metaethical realism. I do this by going through several distinct (though often related) arguments from disagreement, carefully distinguishing between them, and critically evaluating their merits. My conclusions are rather skeptical: Some of the arguments I discuss fail rather clearly. Others supply with a (...) challenge to realism, but not one we have any reason to believe realism cannot address successfully. Others beg the question against the moral realist, and yet others raise serious objections to realism, but ones that—when carefully stated—can be seen not to be essentially related to moral disagreement. Arguments based on moral disagreement itself have almost no weight, I conclude, against moralrealism. (shrink)
It might be expected that it would suffice for the entry for “moral anti-realism” to contain only some links to other entries in this encyclopedia. It could contain a link to “moralrealism” and stipulate the negation of the view there described. Alternatively, it could have links to the entries “anti-realism” and “morality” and could stipulate the conjunction of the materials contained therein. The fact that neither of these approaches would be adequate—and, more strikingly, that (...) following the two procedures would yield substantively non-equivalent results—reveals the contentious and unsettled nature of the topic. (shrink)
In this paper I analyze the tension between realism and antirealism at the basis of Kantian constructivism. This tension generates a conflictive account of the source of the validity of social norms. On the one hand, the claim to moral objectivity characteristic of Kantian moral theories makes the validity of norms depend on realist assumptions concerning the existence of shared fundamental interests among all rational human beings. I illustrate this claim through a comparison of the approaches of (...) Rawls, Habermas and Scanlon. On the other hand, however, objections to moralrealism motivate many Kantian constructivists to endorse the antirealist claim that reasonable agreement is the source of the validity of social norms. After analyzing the difficulties in the latter strategy, I try to show how a balance between the realist and antirealist elements of Kantian constructivism can be reached by drawing a sharper distinction between the justice and the legitimacy of social norms. (shrink)
A common first reaction to expressivist and quasi-realist theories is the thought that, if these theories are right, there's some objectionable sense in which we can't be wrong about morality. This worry turns out to be surprisingly difficult to make stick - an account of moral error as instability under improving changes provides the quasi-realist with the resources to explain many of our concerns about moral error. The story breaks down, though, in the case of fundamental moral (...) error. This is where the initial worry finally sticks - quasi-realism tells me that I can't be fundamentally wrong about morality, though others can. (shrink)
In this paper I trace the development of one of the central debates of late twentieth-century moral philosophy—the debate between realism and what Rawls called “constructivism.” Realism, I argue, is a reactive position that arises in response to almost every attempt to give a substantive explanation of morality. It results from the realist’s belief that such explanations inevitably reduce moral phenomena to natural phenomena. I trace this belief, and the essence of realism, to a view (...) about the nature of concepts—that it is the function of all concepts to describe reality. Constructivism may be understood as the alternative view that a normative concept refers schematically to the solution to a practical problem. A constructivist account of a concept, unlike a traditional analysis, is an attemptto work out the solution to that problem. I explain how the philosophies of Kant and Rawls can be understood on this model. (shrink)
A prominent argument for moralrealism notes that we are inclined to accept realism in science because scientific inquiry supports a robust set of critical practices—error, improvement, explanation, and the like. It then argues that because morality displays a comparable set of critical practices, a claim to moralrealism is just as warranted as a claim to scientific realism. But the argument is only as strong as its central analogy—and here there is trouble. If (...) the analogy between the critical practices of science and morality is loosely interpreted, the argument does not support moralrealism—for paradigmatically constructivist discourses like fashion display the relevant critical practices just as well. So if the argument is to have force, the realist must say more about why the critical practices of morality are sufficiently like those of science to warrant realism. But this cannot be done—moral inquiry differs from scientific inquiry in too many important ways. So the analogy with the critical practices of science fails to vindicate moralrealism. But there are further lessons: in looking closely at the critical practices of our moral discourse—and in comparing them to the critical practices of science and fashion—we gain insight into what is distinctive about morality objectivity and moral metaphysics. (shrink)
Among the many virtues of Facts, Values and Norms, is the articulation of an especially subtle and detailed form of naturalistic value realism. The theory aspires to vindicate the objective purport of value discourse while granting, indeed insisting, that value is subjective in important respects. Evaluative thought and inquiry are understood to be continuous with empirical inquiry in the human sciences, so that ethical and evaluative conclusions can ultimately be defended on a posteriori grounds. Railton argues that talk of (...) what is good for a person, of what is morally right and morally valuable, and perhaps even of what is beautiful, may be shown to concern evaluative facts that are part of the natural world—a mind-independent world that is causally responsible for our experience. Yet each of these forms of value, he thinks, depends in essential ways on subjects who value them. They depend, that is, upon the existence of beings from whose subjective points of view things can matter; because a world without a locus of valuing or concern would be a world in which nothing mattered. One task Railton sets himself is to develop an understanding of the distinct respects in which value can be at once objective and subjective that could unseat the sort of skepticism about objective value that has seemed to many the inevitable upshot of a sober, naturalistic view of human life and thought: “a dark unease over what sort of thing value is and how it might find a place in the world” (86). While I find much to agree with and still more to admire in these excellent essays, I confine my attention here to an area where I have some misgivings. I want to explore the puzzling category that Railton calls “moral value,” and try to understand how the balance between subjectivity and objectivity is supposed to be achieved in that particular case. For this reason, and because they have not yet received the widespread attention.. (shrink)
I distinguish two different arguments against cognitivism in Bernard Williams’ writings on moral dilemmas. The first turns on there being a truth of the matter about what we ought to do in moral a dilemma. That argument can be met by appealing to our epistemic shortcomings and to pro tanto obligations. However, those responses make no headway with the second argument which concerns the rationality of the moral regret that we feel in dilemma situations. I show how (...) the rationality of moral regret can be explained on an ‘independent desire’ model. And I show how Williams’ second argument only appears to have force because of a certain faulty way of conceiving of the issue over cognitivism. But Williams’ argument rightly alerts us to the rational role of desire in our moral thought. (shrink)
Hutchesonʹs theories offer an objective referent for beauty linked with a subjective determination to be pleased. As Kenneth Winkler’s terminology suggests, Hutcheson is an eighteenth‐century aesthetic realist, a beauty realist, because the aesthetic object need not be identified with the natural object. I argue that this aesthetic realism helps to settle key disputes concerning moral qualities in the moral sense theory. The natural and automatic operation of the aesthetic and moral senses allows a role for new (...) experiences of beauty and virtue beyond their root forms, and permits a cultural refinement that remains true to a widely held, even if not universal, set of moral parameters for virtuous motivation. (shrink)
In this paper, I motivate skepticism about the causal efficacy of moral properties in two ways. First, I highlight a tension that arises between two claims that moral realists may want to accept. The first claim is that physically indistinguishable things do not differ in any causally efficacious respect. The second claim is that physically indistinguishable things that differ in certain historical respects have different moral properties. The tension arises to the extent to which these different (...) class='Hi'>moral properties are supposed to have different effects on people. I will introduce a class of cases in which this tension arises and suggest that the moral properties in these cases have no causal power. I will also question whether there are differences between the moral properties in these cases and moral properties in other cases that do not involve physically indistinguishable things that could make the latter moral properties causally efficacious. The second way that I motivate skepticism consists in pointing out a unique feature of cases in which moral properties are supposed both to supervene on historical properties and to be causally efficacious. These cases allow us to change moral properties with alleged effects while we hold constant the nonmoral candidates for causal contribution to those effects. This feature of these cases is unique because in most other cases the moral properties supervene on the physical properties in the nonmoral candidates, such that we cannot change the former while holding constant the latter. This way of changing moral properties provides empirical grounds for testing their causal efficacy. (shrink)
Creeping minimalism threatens to cloud the distinction between realist and anti-realist metaethical views. When anti-realist views equip themselves with minimalist theories of truth and other semantic notions, they are able to take on more and more of the doctrines of realism (such as the existence of moral truths, facts, and beliefs). But then they start to look suspiciously like realist views. I suggest that creeping minimalism is a problem only if moralrealism is understood primarily as (...) a semantic doctrine. I argue that moralrealism is better understood instead as a metaphysical doctrine. As a result, we can usefully regiment the metaethical debate into one about moral truthmakers: in virtue of what are moral judgments true? I show how the notion of truthmaking has been simmering just below the surface of the metaethical debate, and how it reveals one metaethical view (quasi-realism) to be a stronger contender than the others. (shrink)
As Dworkin puts it: moral scepticism is a moral view. This is in contrast to the more popular idea that the real challenge for moralrealism is external scepticism, scepticism which arises because of non-moral considerations about the metaphysics of morality. I, too, do not concur with Dworkin’s strongest conclusions about the viability of external scepticism. But, I think his criticism of error scepticism offers a much needed corrective to more traditional metaethical projects. My aim (...) in this paper is to split the difference between Dworkin’s view and more traditional views, concluding that Dworkin’s work in Justice for Hedgehogs contributes to metaethics for everyone. (shrink)
Mackie drew attention to the distinct semantic and metaphysical claims made by metaethical realists, arguing that although our evaluative discourse is cognitive and objective, there are no objective evaluative facts. This distinction, however, also opens up a reverse possibility: that our evaluative discourse is antirealist, yet objective values do exist. I suggest that this seemingly farfetched possibility merits serious attention; realism seems committed to its intelligibility, and, despite appearances, it isn‘t incoherent, ineffable, inherently implausible or impossible to defend. I (...) argue that reflection on this possibility should lead us to revise our understanding of the debate between realists and antirealists. It is not only that the realist‘s semantic claim is insufficient for realism to be true, as Mackie argued; it‘s not even necessary. Robust metaethical realism is best understood as making a purely metaphysical claim. It is thus not enough for antirealists to show that our discourse is antirealist. They must directly attack the realist‘s metaphysical claim. (shrink)
It is a common idea that morality, or moral truths, if there are any, must have some sort of source, or grounding. It has also been claimed that constructivist theories in metaethics have an advantage over realist theories in that the former but not the latter can provide such a grounding. This paper has two goals. First, it attempts to show that constructivism does not in fact provide a complete grounding for morality, and so is on a par with (...)realism in this respect. Second, it explains why it seems that morality in fact couldn't have a source. (shrink)