Ethical Realism

March 31, 2011

Arguments for Intuition

Philosophers often discuss what beliefs are intuitive or counterintuitive to support their conclusions. I will argue that we should prefer theories and beliefs that are intuitive or sensitive to our intuitions rather than ones that aren’t.1 The fact that a theory or belief is intuitive isn’t conclusive proof and a theory or belief being counterintuitive isn’t a conclusive refutation, but it is one important element when evaluating the plausibility of a theory or belief. Intuitive beliefs range from things we know with high degrees of confidence—such as “at least two people exist”—to beliefs that are merely plausible enough to take seriously as possibly true. When a theory isn’t intuitive, then we call it counterintuitive, absurd, or revisionistic. I will argue that, all else equal, we should prefer that our theories are intuitive rather than revisionistic for at least the following three reasons: (more…)

March 26, 2011

Is Knowledge Impossible?

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 12:13 am
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Some people have thought that knowledge is impossible. It might seem implausible to think knowledge is impossible, but there are important philosophical concerns we can have about knowledge and challenges to the possibility of knowledge can be illuminating. First, I will discuss what ‘knowledge’ means and suggest three different definitions: (a) justified true belief, (b) certainty, and (c) a deep understanding. Second, I will discuss why the belief that knowledge is impossible seems to be self-defeating. Third, I will discuss an argument against the possibility of knowledge known as the Münchhausen Trilemma and explain where it might go wrong. The Trilemma supposedly shows how unsatisfying any proof is in order to show that none of our beliefs are proven—and knowledge is taken to be impossible as a result. I reject the Trilemma because it is too demanding about what counts as a justified belief. Perhaps proof or evidence is not always necessary to have a justified belief. (more…)

March 24, 2011

Why Theistic Religion Might Go Extinct

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 12:50 am
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Successful religions have historically been appealing to both the educated and the uneducated. They have appealed to the greatest minds and “experts” (the most distinguished philosophers and scientists) and people who aren’t especially interested in fully understanding life’s greatest mysteries. First, I will argue that the success of religions partially depends on appealing to both of these groups because (a) the religion needs educated people to join and persuade others that the religion is probably true (b) sometimes only the greatest minds can convince educated people that the religion is probably true. Second, I will argue that religions have lost the support from the experts that they need. This doesn’t mean that all religion will die off forever, but it does mean that truly successful religions of the future will probably have to regain support from the experts. These will probably be either revised versions of current religions or entirely new religions. (more…)

March 23, 2011

A Discussion of Philosophy’s Importance

Filed under: outreach,philosophy — JW Gray @ 5:19 am

Philosophy is the “love of wisdom”–an attempt to deliberately become more reasonable and wise. Philosophy professors know a lot about what it means to be reasonable, and we have a lot we can learn from them. I created a new section to discuss the importance of philosophy called “Why Philosophy is Important.” I list 11 reasons that philosophy is important, provide evidence that philosophy is beneficial, and defend philosophy from objections. Much of the discussion is reused from previous things I’ve written. Go here to take a look at what I have to say.

March 21, 2011

Theoretical Virtue Epistemology: A Common Sense Philosophy

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 10:30 am
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What makes a belief justified or reasonable? We think we know many things, but we can’t always explain how we know they are true. Some of these beliefs might be self-evident, some of them are based on experience, some are “successful assumptions,” and others are unjustified prejudice. However, we have little choice but to do philosophy in the face of uncertainty and take certain beliefs as “common sense” before we can conclusively understand how we justify those beliefs.1 This is why philosophy makes such heavy use of what’s intuitive (beliefs that do not seem to be absurd and seem compatible with our knowledge). I currently believe that the most modest form of justification is through the creation of successful assumptions similar to “working hypotheses” and that is all we usually need when we argue within the philosophical tradition. I will describe self-evidence, coherence, experience, working hypotheses, and theoretical virtues.2 I will then explain my current understanding of justification (epistemological theory)—a form of common sense philosophy that I call “theoretical virtue epistemology.”3 (more…)

March 17, 2011

A Study Finds That Formal Logic Can Help High School Students

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 1:05 am
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A study provides strong evidence that an applied logic class significantly helped improve high school students’ critical thinking skills. The study was conducted by Dan Bouhnik and Yahel Giat from the Jerusalem College of Technology (in Jerusalem, Israel) and information about the study was published online in a PDF file entitled, “Teaching High School Students Applied Logical Reasoning.” (You can download it for free here.1) This study is of the utmost importance because high school students in the United States are not taught about good reasoning in high school, and logic in particular is highly relevant to good reasoning. A better understanding of good reasoning can help us achieve our goals, become more ethical, avoid deception, and think for ourselves. Nonetheless, I don’t think a single news organization has published information about this study.2 (more…)

March 14, 2011

Does Morality, Meaning, or Knowledge Require God?

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:12 am
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I was a guest contributor at Camels With Hammers by posting “Philosophy can Debunk Myths about Atheism.” In particular, many theists argue that atheists must reject morality, meaning, and knowledge because these things can only exist if God exists. Or of course, the atheist must convert to theism precisely because we know morality, meaning, and knowledge exist–and God is required for these things to exist.

Rather than prove that atheism is compatible with morality, meaning, and knowledge I merely discuss my personal understanding about why the natural world seems sufficient to explain the existence of these things. The theist will have to prove my personal understanding to be false or we have no reason to think God is required for such “facts” after all.

Go here to find out what I have to say on these issues.

March 10, 2011

Six Uncontroversial Moral Beliefs

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:50 am
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There are highly plausible uncontroversial moral beliefs, such as the belief that slavery and racism are wrong. These beliefs are important to philosophy because they help justify our theories and arguments. Arguments that are compatible with such beliefs are more plausible than those that conflict with them. I will define “highly plausible uncontroversial beliefs,” briefly discuss why such beliefs are important in philosophy, and explain why I think the following six beliefs fit this description: (more…)

March 2, 2011

Should Philosophy be a Requirement In High School & College?

Filed under: outreach,philosophy — JW Gray @ 10:50 am

I added a new piece to the Philosophy Campaign section of this site called, “Philosophy Should Be An Educational Requirement in High School & College.” I argue that philosophy is of the utmost importance because it helps us be reasonable and moral. We should help everyone become more reasonable and moral through philosophy.

I would like people to spread the word. I think this is important.

Blog at