Review of Shafer-Landau's Moral Realism [Book Review]
Ethics 116 (1):250-255 (2005)
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 “moral realism,” 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 moral realism.
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