Moral Realism: A Defense

Dissertation, Cornell University (1985)

Authors
David Brink
University of California, San Diego
Abstract
I defend moral realism against various metaphysical and epistemological objections and develop a utilitarian specification of moral realism. ;Chapter 1. Moral realism is the claim that there are moral facts whose existence and nature are independent of our evidence for them. Moral realism derives appeal from the plausibility of realism about other disciplines and from the way we deliberate in moral matters. ;Chapter 2. Moral realism is not undermined by general epistemological objections. Realists can and should degend a coherentist epistemology. ;Chapter 3. Moral realism in not undermined by special epistemological objections. Neither the role of considered moral beliefs nor that of theories of the person in the justification of moral theories undermines moral realism. ;Chapter 4. Moral realism is not undermined by the existence of an is/ought gap. Even if there is an is/ought gap, consideration of analogous is/is gaps demonstrates that there can be moral facts and properties and that there can be evidential relations between moral and nonmoral beliefs. ;Chapter 5. Moral realism is neither metaphysically nor epistemologically queer. Moral facts and properties can be constituted by and so supervene upon facts and properties in other disciplines . Moral facts fulfill whatever explanatory obligation an a posteriori defense of moral realism imposes, and genuine moral disputes are resolvable in principle upon the basis of coherentist reasoning. ;Chapter 6. Although the defense of moral realism in chapters 1 through 5 requires no one moral theory, I develop a kind of utilitarian moral theory. This illustrates the kind of specific metaphysical and epistemological commitments which substatntive moral theories bring. Moreover, this utilitarian theory is plausible. The standard objections to utilitarianism fail to undermine this version of utilitarianism. This version of utilitarianism may not be uniquely reasonable, but it provides a plausible program for a realist view of ethics
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