The question is: Are there any true ethical statements? If we think so, then we are moral realists. (Also, what are the metaphysical implications? Does “moral reality” require Platonic forms? Are there intrinsic values?)
The sophists questioned the moral realism that ancient philosophers would argue for. Originally there was no philosophical basis for moral realism, but the ancient philosophers attempted to create such a theoretical basis. Then modern philosophers, such as David Hume and Frederich Nietzsche, questioned our basis for moral realism.
I recently decided that I wanted to know what contemporary philosophers have to say about moral realism, so I bought an anthology entitled Essays on Moral Realism edited by Geoffrey Sayre-McCord. I will examine each of these essays.
Contemporary philosophers continued to question moral realism and even attempted to create a basis for moral antirealism. The skepticism of the sophists was reinterpreted under the philosophical tradition and it peaked with the logical positivists, the most skeptical philosophers the world has ever seen. Contemporary philosophy has continued to be very skeptical of moral realism, but it has only recently become a tenable position. Moral realist positions are becoming just as plausible as the antirealist positions.
Essays on Moral Realism begins with the peak of moral skepticism in the first half, then continues with moral realist essays in the seond half.
The book starts off with an essay by A. J. Ayer, a logical positivist. Logical positivists were concerned with the problem that philosophy often lacks evidence. Logical positivists were empiricists and would reject any evidence other than empirical evidence (observation). They also endorsed a “principal of verification,” which meant that each statement is meaningless unless it can be “verified” (has empirical evidence.) Some logical positivists decided to only ask that a theory (or statement) be at least be disprovable. Any statement that isn’t verifiable is “meaningless.” Such meaningless statements will be noncognitive (they will have no truth value).
Right off the bat I can see that logical positivists should have a problem with ethics. I don’t think that we “observe” ethical truths. The same goes for mathematics, logic, and metaphysics. We don’t “observe” logical truths, so there can’t be any.