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.
This book is a systematic and constructive treatment of a number of traditional issues at the foundation of ethics, the possibility and nature of moral knowledge, the relationship between the moral point of view and a scientific or naturalistic world view, the nature of moral value and obligation, and the role of morality in a person's rational life plan. In striking contrast to many traditional authors and to other recent writers in the field, David Brink offers an (...) integrated defense of the objectivity of ethics. (shrink)
In this major new work, Matthew Kramer seeks to establish two main conclusions. On the one hand, moral requirements are strongly objective. On the other hand, the objectivity of ethics is itself an ethical matter that rests primarily on ethical considerations. Moralrealism - the doctrine that morality is indeed objective - is a moral doctrine. Major new volume in our new series _New Directions in Ethics_ Takes on the big picture - defending the objectivity of (...) ethics whilst rejecting the grounds of much of the existing debate between realists and anti-realists Cuts across both ethical theory and metaethics Distinguished by the quality of the scholarship and its ambitious range. (shrink)
Many people accept, at least implicitly, what I call the asymmetry claim: the view that moralrealism is more defensible than aesthetic realism. This article challenges the asymmetry claim. I argue that it is surprisingly hard to find points of contrast between the two domains that could justify their very different treatment with respect to realism. I consider five potentially promising ways to do this, and I argue that all of them fail. If I am right, (...) those who accept the asymmetry claim have a significant burden of proof. (shrink)
This book offers a ground-up defense of objective morality, drawing inspiration from a wide range of philosophers, including John Locke, Arthur Schopenhauer, Iris Murdoch, Nel Noddings, and David Lewis. The core claim is compassion is our capacity to perceive other creatures' pains, pleasures, and desires. Non-compassionate people are therefore perceptually lacking, regardless of how much factual knowledge they might have. Marshall argues that people who do have this form of compassion thereby fit a familiar paradigm of moral goodness. His (...) argument involves the identification of an epistemic good which Marshall dubs "being in touch". To be in touch with some property of a thing requires experiencing it in a way that reveals that property - that is, experiencing it as it is in itself. Only compassion, Marshall argues, lets us be in touch with others' motivational mental properties. -/- This conclusion about compassion has two important metaethical consequences. First, it generates an answer to the question ";Why be moral?", which has been a central philosophical concern since Plato. Second, it provides the keystone for a novel form of moralrealism. This form of moralrealism has a distinctive set of virtues: it is anti-relativist, naturalist, and able to identify a necessary connection between moral representation and motivation. The view also implies that there is an epistemic asymmetry between virtuous and vicious agents, according to which only morally good people can fully face reality. (shrink)
I address Andrew Moon's recent discussion (2016, this journal) of the question whether third-factor accounts are valid responses to debunking arguments against moralrealism. Moon argues that third-factor responses are valid under certain conditions but leaves open whether moral realists can use his interpretation of the third-factor response to defuse the evolutionary debunking challenge. I rebut Moon's claim and answer his question. Moon's third-factor reply is valid only if we accept externalism about epistemic defeaters. However, even if (...) we do, I argue, the conditions Moon identifies for a valid third-factor response are not met in the case of moralrealism. (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)
Reductionist forms of moralrealism, such as naturalist realism, are often thought immune to epistemological objections that have been raised against nonnaturalist realism in the form of reliability worries or evolutionary debunking arguments. This article establishes that reductionist realist views can only explain the reliability of our moral beliefs at the cost of incurring repugnant first-order conclusions.
This paper considers John Doris, Stephen Stich, Alexandra Plakias, and colleagues’ recent attempts to utilize empirical studies of cross-cultural variation in moral judgment to support a version of the argument from disagreement against moralrealism. Crucially, Doris et al. claim that the moral disagreements highlighted by these studies are not susceptible to the standard ‘diffusing’ explanations realists have developed in response to earlier versions of the argument. I argue that plausible hypotheses about the cognitive processes underlying (...) ordinary moral judgment and the acquisition of moral norms, when combined with a popular philosophical account of moral inquiry—the method of reflective equilibrium—undercut the anti-realist force of the moral disagreements that Doris et al. describe. I also show that Stich's recent attempt to provide further theoretical support for Doris et al.'s case is unsuccessful. (shrink)
SOME THINK THAT MORAL REALISTS CANNOT RECOGNIZE THE PRACTICAL OR ACTION-GUIDING CHARACTER OF MORALITY AND SO REJECT MORALREALISM. THIS FORM OF ANTI-REALISM DEPENDS UPON AN INTERNALIST MORAL PSYCHOLOGY. BUT AN EXTERNALIST MORAL PSYCHOLOGY IS MORE PLAUSIBLE AND ALLOWS THE REALIST A SENSIBLE EXPLANATION OF THE ACTION-GUIDING CHARACTER OF MORALITY. CONSIDERATION OF THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF MORALITY, THEREFORE, DOES NOT UNDERMINE AND, INDEED, SUPPORTS MORALREALISM.
If what we want from moral inquiry were the obtainment of objective moral truths, as moralrealism claims it is, then there would be nothing morally unsatisfactory or lacking in a situation, in which we somehow had access to all moral truths, and were fundamentally finished with morality. In fact, that seems to be the realists’ conception of moral heaven. In this essay, however, I argue that some sort of moral wakefulness – that (...) is, always paying attention to the subtleties of life and people, and never taking for granted what their moral significance can possibly be – is an essential moral value, and, therefore, moralrealism, which promotes a moral ideal that allows such moral lethargy and inattentiveness is morally objectionable. (shrink)
People disagree about whether “moral facts” are objective facts like mathematical truths (moralrealism) or simply products of the human mind (moral antirealism). What is the impact of different meta-ethical views on actual behavior? In Experiment 1, a street canvasser, soliciting donations for a charitable organization dedicated to helping impoverished children, primed passersby with realism or antirealism. Participants primed with realism were twice as likely to be donors, compared to control participants and participants primed (...) with antirealism. In Experiment 2, online participants primed with realism as opposed to antirealism reported being willing to donate more money to a charity of their choice. Considering the existence of non-negotiable moral facts may have raised the stakes and motivated participants to behave better. These results therefore reveal the impact of meta-ethics on everyday decision-making: priming a belief in moralrealism improved moral behavior. (shrink)
Are moral terms semantically plastic—that is, would very slight changes in our patterns of use have shifted their meanings? This is a delicate question for moral realists. A 'yes' answer seems to conflict with the sorts of intuitions that support realism; but a 'no' answer seems to require a semantics that involves hefty metaphysical commitments. This tension can be illustrated by thinking about how standard accounts of vagueness can be applied to the case of moral terms, (...) and also by considering how realists should respond to the Moral Twin Earth problem. After presenting the puzzle, I will argue that moral realists can accept the semantic plasticity of moral expressions while accounting for contrary intuitions in a way that is nearly cost-free. (shrink)
Moral realists believe that there are objective moral truths. According to one of the most prominent arguments in favour of this view, ordinary people experience morality as realist-seeming, and we have therefore prima facie reason to believe that realism is true. Some proponents of this argument have claimed that the hypothesis that ordinary people experience morality as realist-seeming is supported by psychological research on folk metaethics. While most recent research has been thought to contradict this claim, four (...) prominent earlier studies indeed seem to suggest a tendency towards realism. My aim in this paper is to provide a detailed internal critique of these four studies. I argue that, once interpreted properly, all of them turn out in line with recent research. They suggest that most ordinary people experience morality as “pluralist-” rather than realist-seeming, i.e., that ordinary people have the intuition that realism is true with regard to some moral issues, but variants of anti-realism are true with regard to others. This result means that moralrealism may be less well justified than commonly assumed. (shrink)
According to robust moralrealism, there exist objective, non-natural moral facts. Moral facts of this sort do not fit easily into the world as illuminated by natural science. Further, if such facts exist at all, it is hard to see how we could know of their existence by any familiar means. Yet robust realists are not moral skeptics; they believe that we do know the moral facts. Thus robust moralrealism comes with (...) a number of hard-to-defend ontological and epistemological commitments. Recently, Sharon Street has claimed, in light of these commitments, that robust moralrealism requires a kind of faith and “has become a strange form of religion.” I believe that Street is right. I argue at some length that robust moralrealism does require faith, and is a religion. However, I further argue that it is an excellent religion. I argue that it has three principal advantages: it is avoids wishful thinking, is guaranteed not to contradict the results of natural science, and is profoundly simple in its ontological commitments. Further, robust moralrealism may be rationally defensible on evidentialist grounds. Consequently, even if the standard arguments for traditional religions are not compelling, there might still be compelling arguments for robust moralrealism. (shrink)
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)
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)
Evolutionary moralrealism is the view that there are moral values with roots in evolution that are both specifically moral and exist independently of human belief systems. In beginning to sketch the outlines of such a view, we examine moral goods like fairness and empathetic caring as valuable and real aspects of the environments of species that are intelligent and social, or at least developing along an evolutionary trajectory that could lead to a level of (...) intelligence that would enable individual members of the species to recognize and respond to such things as the moral goods they in fact are. We suggest that what is most morally interesting and important from a biological perspective is the existence and development of such trajectories, rather than the position of one particular species, such as our own, on one particular trajectory. (shrink)
Moralrealism and some of its constitutive theses, e.g., cognitivism, face the following challenge. If they are true, then it seems that we should predict that deference to moral testimony is appropriate under the same conditions as deference to non-moral testimony. Yet, many philosophers intuit that deference to moral testimony is not appropriate, even in otherwise ordinary conditions. In this paper I show that the challenge is cogent only if the appropriateness in question is disambiguated (...) in a particular way. To count against realism and its constitutive theses, moral deference must fail to be appropriate in specifically the way that the theses predict it is appropriate. I argue that this is not the case. In brief, I argue that realism and allied theses predict only that deference to moral testimony is epistemically appropriate, but that the intuitive data plausibly show only that it is not morally appropriate. If I am right, then there is reason to doubt the metaethical relevance of much of the skepticism regarding moral deference in recent literature. (shrink)
This chapter explores the possibility of a metaphysically deflationist, explanatorily robust version of moralrealism. The view has no truck with inquiries into the naturalness, constitution, or reducibility of moral properties, and purports to dissolve, rather than solve, the “placement problem.” But it offers a general explanation from outside the ethical domain of how we can accurately represent the world in moral thought and talk; this distinguishes it from some versions of expressivism and constitutivism, and from (...) quietism. It is often claimed that defenders of non-quietist moralrealism “owe us” an account of what moral properties are like, how they fit into the world described by science, how we can “reach out to them” in thought and language, and how they can exert an influence on us so we can know of them. It is not clear, this chapter argues, that the robust realist is under any such obligation. (shrink)
This paper takes up an important epistemological challenge to the naturalistic moral realist: that her metaphysical commitments are difficult to square with a plausible rationalist view about the epistemology of morality. The paper begins by clarifying and generalizing this challenge. It then illustrates how the generalized challenge can be answered by a form of naturalistic moralrealism that I dub joint-carving moralrealism. Both my framing of this challenge and my answer advertise the methodological significance (...) of non-fundamental epistemological theorizing, which defends and deploys epistemological claims without adverting to the most fundamental epistemological facts. (shrink)
Evolutionary debunking arguments move from a premise about the influence of evolutionary forces on our moral beliefs to a skeptical conclusion about those beliefs. My primary aim is to clarify this empirically grounded epistemological challenge. I begin by distinguishing among importantly different sorts of epistemological attacks. I then demonstrate that instances of each appear in the literature under the ‘evolutionary debunking’ title. Distinguishing them clears up some confusions and helps us better understand the structure and potential of evolutionary debunking (...) arguments. (shrink)
This book examines the issue of moralrealism from a pragmatist point of view, drawing attention to our human practices of ethical evaluation and deliberation. It defends the essentially ungrounded and humanly fundamental place of ethics in our thought and action. Ethics must remain beyond justification and ubiquitous in our human form of life.
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)
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)
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 paper reconstructs what I take to be the central evolutionary debunking argument that underlies recent critiques of moralrealism. The argument claims that given the extent of evolutionary influence on our moral faculties, and assuming the truth of moralrealism, it would be a massive coincidence were our moral faculties reliable ones. Given this coincidence, any presumptive warrant enjoyed by our moral beliefs is defeated. So if moralrealism is true, (...) then we can have no warranted moral beliefs, and hence no moral knowledge. In response, I first develop what is perhaps the most natural reply on behalf of realism namely, that many of our highly presumptively warranted moral beliefs are immune to evolutionary influence and so can be used to assess and eventually resuscitate the epistemic merits of those that have been subject to such influence. I then identify five distinct ways in which the charge of massive coincidence has been understood and defended. I argue that each interpretation is subject to serious worries. If I am right, these putative defeaters are themselves subject to defeat. Thus many of our moral beliefs continue to be highly warranted, even if moralrealism is true. (shrink)
It is sometimes claimed that if moralrealism is true, then rational and informed individuals would not disagree about morality. According to this line of thought, the moral realist is committed to an extremely substantive convergence thesis, one that might very well turn out to be false. Although this idea has been accepted by prominent moral realists as well as by antirealists, I argue that we have no reason to think that it is true, and that (...) the only convergence claims to which the realist is committed are trivial ones. (shrink)
In his highly engaging book, Speech and Morality, Terence Cuneo advances a transcendental argument for moralrealism from the fact that we speak. After summarizing the major moves in the book, I argue that its master argument is not as friendly to non-naturalist versions of moralrealism as Cuneo advertises and relies on a diet of insufficient types of speech acts. I also argue that expressivists have compelling replies to each of Cuneo's objections individually, but taken (...) together, Cuneo's objections provide the resources for issuing a new and interesting challenge to expressivists. (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)
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 (...) class='Hi'>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)
This paper concerns a prima facie tension between the claims that agents have normative reasons obtaining in virtue of the nature of the options that confront them, and 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 and by yielding 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)
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.
Evolutionary debunking arguments, notably Sharon Street’s Darwinian Dilemma (2006), allege that moral realists need to explain the reliability of our moral judgments, given their evolutionary sources. David Copp (2008) and David Enoch (2010) take up the challenge. I argue on empirical grounds that realists have not met the challenge and moreover cannot do so. The outcome is that there are empirically-motivated reasons for thinking moral realists cannot explain moral reliability, given our current empirical understanding.
The essay argues that while there is no general agreement on whether moralrealism is true, there is general agreement on at least some of the moral obligations that we have if moralrealism is true. Given that moralrealism might be true, and given that we know some of the things we ought to do if it is true, we have a reason to do those things. Furthermore, this reason is itself an (...) objective moral reason. Thus, if moralrealism might be true, then it is true. (shrink)