Realism, Naturalism, and Moral Semantics

Social Philosophy and Policy 18 (2):154 (2001)
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Abstract

The prospects for moral realism and ethical naturalism have been important parts of recent debates within metaethics. As a first approximation, moral realism is the claim that there are facts or truths about moral matters that are objective in the sense that they obtain independently of the moral beliefs or attitudes of appraisers. Ethical naturalism is the claim that moral properties of people, actions, and institutions are natural, rather than occult or supernatural, features of the world. Though these metaethical debates remain unsettled, several people, myself included, have tried to defend the plausibility of both moral realism and ethical naturalism. I, among others, have appealed to recent work in the philosophy of language—in particular, to so-called theories of “direct reference” —to defend ethical naturalism against a variety of semantic worries, including G. E. Moore's “open question argument.” In response to these arguments, critics have expressed doubts about the compatibility of moral realism and direct reference. In this essay, I explain these doubts, and then sketch the beginnings of an answer—but understanding both the doubts and my answer requires some intellectual background.

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David Brink
University of California, San Diego

Citations of this work

A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value.Sharon Street - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 127 (1):109-166.
How is Moral Disagreement a Problem for Realism?David Enoch - 2009 - The Journal of Ethics 13 (1):15-50.
A Moral Argument Against Moral Realism.Melis Erdur - 2016 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (3):591-602.

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References found in this work

Reference and Definite Descriptions.Keith S. Donnellan - 1966 - Philosophical Review 75 (3):281-304.
Naming and Necessity.Saul A. Kripke - 1985 - Critica 17 (49):69-71.
Moral Realism.Peter Railton - 1986 - Philosophical Review 95 (2):163-207.
“How to Be a Moral Realist.Richard Boyd - 1988 - In G. Sayre-McCord (ed.), Essays on Moral Realism. Cornell University Press. pp. 181-228.

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