Ethical Realism

December 23, 2013

The View That Objective Morality Requires God

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,metaphysics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 8:48 am
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Theists often say that atheism is incompatible with objective morality. This point is not that atheists are bad people or can’t understand morality. The point is that they think there has to be a basis (found in reality) for morality to be objective, and they think only God can be that basis. Many atheists don’t think there’s objective morality, and they might agree that atheism is incompatible with objective morality. However, I will argue that atheism and objective morality are compatible.

I will provide some important terminology, introduce Plato’s “Euthyphro,” explain the possible connection between theism and objective morality, describe other types of objective morality, argue that atheism and objective morality are compatible, and briefly illustrate a view of objective morality. (more…)

September 6, 2013

Interpreting Our Experience of Pain

Filed under: epistemology,ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 4:05 am

I recommend that you read “Do We Experience that Pain is Intrinsically Bad?” before reading this. If you don’t know what ‘intrinsically bad’ means, you should also read my FAQ on Intrinsic Values.

The question is how to properly interpret and describe our pain experiences. We say that there’s at least some sense that (intense) pain experiences are bad. What does ‘bad’ mean in this context? Could we ever experience that pain is intrinsically bad? I will define what ‘bad’ means and consider some examples of pain experiences. I will say a little about how I interpret the various pain experiences. (more…)

August 29, 2011

The Is/Ought Gap Part II

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:34 am
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This is part 2 of “The Is/Ought Gap.” If you don’t know anything about the is/ought gap, then you should read part 1 first.

I have already discussed how we might be able to get what morally ought to be the case from what is the case (via bridging premises). These are known as “solutions to the is/ought gap.” Even after we answer (or try to answer) how to get what morally ought to be the case from what is the case, there are more troubling questions left over. In particular: (more…)

July 19, 2011

The Is/Ought Gap: How Do We Get “Ought” from “Is?”

The is/ought gap illustrates the difficulty in understanding what it means to say that we ought to do something, and how we can know what we ought to do. What is the is/ought gap and what’s it all about? I will describe the is/ought gap, discuss its implications in meta-ethics, and discuss various solutions to the is/ought gap. (more…)

May 21, 2011

Five Meta-Ethical Theories

Meta-ethical theories are meant to explain moral psychology, moral reality, and moral reason. Moral psychology considers the actual moral judgments, moral interests, and moral motivation people experience. Moral reality refers to the nature behind true moral statements—what makes our statements true. Moral reason describes our moral knowledge and how we can decide which moral beliefs are best or “most likely true.” Moral realists believe that there are moral facts (moral elements of reality) and they are often optimistic about how well we can understand such facts, but moral anti-realists reject moral realism and don’t think we need moral facts to understand morality. I will briefly discuss five meta-ethical theories, two of which are forms of moral realism and three that are forms of moral anti-realism: Moral naturalism and moral intuitionism are both forms of moral realism; noncognitivism, relativism, and error theory are forms of moral anti-realism. There are many forms of each of these theories, but I will concentrate on one version of each theory. (more…)

May 20, 2011

The Debate Over Moral Realism

The question over what morality refers to has lead to two groups of philosophers. One group describes itself as being “moral realists” and other other as “moral anti-realists.” Moral realists think that there’s more to morality than anti-realists. In particular, the moral realists believes that there’s at least one moral fact. I will describe these two groups then briefly describe why someone might accept or reject moral realism. (more…)

April 29, 2011

An Intuitive Argument for Intrinsic Value

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 10:36 pm
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Intrinsic value is the kind of value something has if it good just for existing. I have already argued that intrinsic values are intuitive and that intuition can be a reliable form of justification—we can decide what we should believe based on our intuitions. I will now discuss my intuitive argument for intrinsic value. First, I will briefly discuss my argument and the justification for it. Second, I will discuss objections to it. Third, I will discuss whether or not it’s rational to believe in intrinsic values. (more…)

February 25, 2011

Why Intrinsic Values Are Common Sense

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 5:42 am
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I will argue that the belief in intrinsic value—that at least one thing is good or bad just for existing—is common sense.1 It’s not only intuitive and compatible with our moral beliefs and emotions, but the denial of intrinsic value seems to be highly counterintuitive and lead to absurdities. (I don’t know how an alternative hypothesis could avoid being counterintuitive, but it might be possible.) (more…)

January 29, 2011

Luke Nix’s Concerns About Atheistic Moral Absolutism

Luke Nix thinks that a satisfying sort of morality requires God. Without God, morality would be a matter of opinion, mere consensus, or cultural customs. Such an unsatisfying sort of morality is “relativism” or a form of “moral anti-realism.” He thinks a satisfying morality should be in some sense “absolute” (of a moral realist variety).1 We both mainly agree what a satisfying morality should look like. It shouldn’t be relativistic or a form of anti-realism. However, I don’t agree that God is required for moral realism. I have already responded to his argument in “An Argument Against Atheistic Moral Realism.” However, my response doesn’t answer all his concerns. I had a discussion with him on his blog and I found out many of his concerns. I wasn’t able to post my reply on his website (perhaps because of my use of html), so I will post it here. (more…)

January 25, 2011

An Argument Against Atheistic Moral Realism

Filed under: epistemology,ethics,metaethics,philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 11:11 am
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Luke Nix argues that atheistic moral realism (the view that there are moral facts) is impossible because atheistic evolution wouldn’t make it possible to know the truth about anything other than the empirical (observable) world. I will defend atheistic moral realism and object to his argument by saying that (a) atheism does not necessarily require empiricism and (b) empirical moral realism can be consistent.


November 25, 2010

Can Morality Be Known Through Science?

Can science lead to moral knowledge? If so, moral naturalism is true.

Naturalism is the philosopher’s jargon for saying “based on natural science.” “Moral naturalism” is the view that morality is part of the reality studied by science (physical reality) and can be known by science, but “moral naturalism” has more specifically become jargon for the view that there are moral facts and they can all be studied by science.1 “Empirical” knowledge (or justification) is knowledge attained through observation and experimentation (the scientific method).2 Naturalism is almost synonymous with “empiricism,” which is the view that we can know everything from observation—and “moral empiricists” would think that all moral knowledge is attained through observation and experimentation. (more…)

November 19, 2010

Review of Nathan M. Nobis’s Truth in Ethics and Epistemology

This review is available as a free ebook (PDF file) here. (Right click/save as to download).

Terance Cuneo argued that moral realism is true (moral facts exist) based on the fact that (a) epistemic facts exist1; and (b) if moral facts don’t exist, then epistemic facts don’t exist. Around the same time Nathan Nobis wrote his doctoral thesis, Truth in Ethics and Epistemology: A Defense of Normative Realism (2004), that contained a similar argument (and it is available for free on his website). Nobis argues the following: (more…)

November 4, 2010

What are Moral Facts?

If you merely look at the world of tables, chairs, and atoms, you won’t find moral facts anywhere. Some people have suggested that moral facts are utterly mysterious—that we have no idea what could make something right or wrong. Some people decide that moral facts can’t exist because they are too “spooky.” Other people decide that moral facts could only be true with an independently existing moral realm of Platonic forms or with the existence of God. I don’t think moral facts are utterly mysterious or offensively spooky because we do have some ideas concerning what could make something good, bad, right, or wrong without being overly spooky—and I don’t think moral facts require anything like Platonic forms or God. That’s not to say that there is no mystery surrounding moral facts. I suggest that moral facts are primarily concerned with intrinsic values, but we are also interested in alternate possibilities. (more…)

October 19, 2010

Review of Robert Audi’s The Good in the Right

Robert Audi’s The Good in the Right (2004) attempts to offer a comprehensive understanding of morality that incorporates W. D. Ross’s moral intuitionism, Kant’s categorical imperative, and intrinsic values. I will summarize Audi’s major claims and assess their plausibility. The moral realist view that morality is irreducible to non-moral properties is traditionally the “intuitionist” project, and “intuitionism” is traditionally based on the idea that we know moral facts from “intuition”—and “intuition” is traditionally viewed as a realization that something is true based on self-evidence.1 First, Audi argues that Ross’s intuitionism is “intuitive” and can help us determine our “prima facie duties.” He defends a moderate form of intuition and argues that many arguments against self-evidence are based on misunderstandings. Second, he argues that the categorical imperative can be used as a way to ground intuitionism and help us choose between conflicting duties. Third, he argues that an understanding of intrinsic value can be used as a way to further ground our duties. (more…)

September 26, 2010

A Moral Realist Point of View Free Ebook (PDF)

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 7:01 pm
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I have organized some of my essays (blog entries) to make a free ebook that tries to answer the question, How can a moral realist understand the world? It can be difficult to understand why moral realism is important unless we can see how it relates to our worldview, ethics, and our lives as a whole. This is a sequel to, Is There A Meaning of Life? (more…)

September 23, 2010

Ravi Iyer’s Argument Against “Moral Absolutism”

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 1:45 am
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I just read “Sam Harris’ TED video and the danger of liberal atheist moral absolutism” by Ravi Iyer. He argues that moral absolutism – the belief that there are right and wrong actions – is dangerous based on some data that was collected.1 He uses this argument as a response to Sam Harris’s suggestion that science can help us find answers to moral questions. I find several problems with Iyer’s essay and argument. For example, Iyer seems to think that there are no true moral beliefs, which would imply that he disagrees that “torturing babies is wrong.” (more…)

September 18, 2010

Joel Marks’s Moral Anti-Realism: An Atheistic View that Morality Requires God

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 10:06 am
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I am unimpressed by atheists giving theism too much credit by assuming that morality requires God, and now I have read An Amoralist Manifesto by Joel Marks, where he discusses how he found himself persuaded by such horrible theistic arguments. The fact is that people had morality long before they thought the supernatural had anything to do with it. The reason to believe in morality has little to do with God, but a two thousand year old Christian tradition made people depend on religion and supernatural sources for morality. Many people then became unsure how morality could work without God.  (Hence, Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead.”) Aristotle, Epicurus, and many Buddhists had no problem having moral theories without requiring the supernatural. (More information here.) (more…)

August 17, 2010

A Review of Moral Reality by Paul Bloomfield

Paul Bloomfield presented an argument for moral realism in his book, Moral Reality (2001). He argues that it is possible (or very likely) that we don’t know everything about morality, and therefore moral reality exists beyond our moral judgments and attitudes.1 This argument was discussed in the introduction, but then it appears to be ignored throughout the rest of the book, which turns its attention to four riddles (24): (more…)

August 6, 2010

10 Myths About Morality

Although philosophers disagree about many elements of morality, they agree about quite a bit as well. Philosophers disagree about whether capital punishment or the war on drugs are right, but they agree that slavery and torture are almost always wrong (if not always wrong). Philosophers also agree quite a bit about what views about morality are false, and for good reason. These myths are untenable views about morality, and they are often very popular among the nonphilosophers. I think it’s important that everyone find out that these views are untenable. I will discuss ten of these myths about morality:


July 22, 2010

A Review of Commitment, Value, and Moral Realism by Marcel S. Lieberman

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 11:24 pm
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Marcel S. Lieberman’s book, Commitment, Value, and Moral Realism (1998), provides us with a practical argument for moral realism. Lieberman argues that substantive commitments (such an the commitment avoid cruelty) require us to believe in values of a moral realist variety. People who deny moral realism and have stable substantive commitments are incoherent. It is impossible for them to sincerely deny moral realism and simultaneously have substantive commitments. (more…)

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