Ethical Realism

November 2, 2011

Review of The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail

Filed under: ethics,philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 7:16 am
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Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist, wrote the essay “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail” where he introduces his “social intuitionist model” of moral judgment and discusses four reasons to doubt the causal importance of reason for moral judgments. The social intuitionist model proposes that moral judgments are created from various factors including intuition and emotion, and only rarely due to a reasoning process. “Rationalist models” supposedly claim that that moral judgments are mainly created by a reasoning process. (more…)

October 21, 2011

My Review of Lawrence Becker’s A New Stoicism

Filed under: ethics,philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 9:21 am
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In A New Stoicism Lawrence C. Becker attempts to develop a new form of Stoicism compatible with current scientific assumptions concerning reality—without the Ancient Stoic metaphysical or psychological assumptions (such as the existence of a deity). Becker argues that his new Stoicism will agree that virtue is the greatest good and that all virtuous people are happy. Becker does not spell out his new Stoicism’s moral psychology in detail, but he does describe his new Stoicism’s understanding of virtue as “ideal agency.” I will discuss his understanding of virtue and offer my objection to it. In particular, I find this understanding of virtue to be impractical. (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.


December 1, 2010

An Analysis of the GRE Analytical Writing Test (Analyze an Argument Task)

Filed under: philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 1:29 am
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The general GRE exam requires us to “analyze an argument” but I find the demands of this “test” to be highly mysterious to downright deceptive. In particular we are asked to do (or not do) the following: (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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

July 14, 2010

A Review of Moral Realism by Torbjörn Tännsjö

One of the defenses for moral realism that makes use of common sense was given by Torbjörn Tännsjö in his book Moral Realism published in 1979 and revised in 1990. The reason that his argument makes use of common sense is because it demystifies the strangeness of morality by opening us up to the fact that moral observation is possible. Tännsjö technically mainly only defends moral realism because he argues that there is no good reason to reject moral realism of the sort he defends. If his defense succeeds and we can fully justify his beliefs, then the following argument for moral realism is implied:

  1. If we have moral knowledge, then moral realism is true.
  2. We have moral knowledge.
  3. Therefore, moral realism is true.


July 1, 2010

A Review of The Normative Web: An Argument for Moral Realism by Terance Cuneo

Many of my next posts will involve meta-ethics and moral realism. I define moral realism here and moral realism is discussed in greater detail in my ebook, Is There A Meaning of Life?

Terence Cuneo wrote The Normative Web: An Argument for Moral Realism back in 2007. Actual arguments that attempt to show moral realism to be true (or probably true) are not easy to find, but Cuneo is up to the challenge. I will describe and challenge Cuneo’s argument. I think his argument might be one of the best reasons to support moral realism, but there is much left unsaid and lingering questions. (more…)

April 12, 2010

A Nietzschean Argument From Disagreement: An Objection to Moral Realism

In “Moral Skepticism and Moral Disagreement: Developing an Argument from Nietzsche1 Brian Leiter argues that Nietzsche gives us a good reason to reject moral realism: Philosophers have been lead to inevitable disagreement about the foundations of ethics and we have no reason to think any of them are right. They are probably all false because “right” and “wrong” probably don’t exist. I will present Leiter’s argument as I understand it and provide my objections to it. (more…)

February 11, 2010

William Lane Craig’s Moral Argument for God

William Lane Craig argues that intrinsic values (real objective moral value) requires God. We can be nice to each other if God doesn’t exist, but it wouldn’t “really matter.” (You can find his argument in text format here or as a free streaming video here.) He basically argues that we have to either be reductionistic materialists or theists, but reductionistic materialists can’t believe in intrinsic values. We know intrinsic values exist, so we have to be theists (believe in God). (more…)

February 10, 2010

Practical Arguments for the Existence of God

Filed under: ethics,philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 12:00 am
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The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy presents some practical arguments for the existence of God. These arguments don’t claim that intrinsic values require God’s existence, and they don’t claim that it is irrational for atheists to try to be moral. Instead, they argue that there is some sort of benefit to believing in God. This is a very modest argument and it could corroborate the conviction many people have that believing in God is helpful in various ways. I will take a look at two arguments. (more…)

February 9, 2010

A Moral Argument for the Existence of God Based on Skepticism

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 7:30 am
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Many people claim that morality requires God. There are multiple arguments that attempt to infer that God exists because morality exists. I haven’t extensively read the current literature, but I am familiar with contemporary metaethics, which gives me a good idea why many of these arguments don’t work. Additionally, some of these arguments are discussed on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I will discuss an argument by Linda Zagzebski that “we either know little to nothing about morality or we get moral knowledge from God. Our intention of being moral requires us to know a lot about morality, so we must accept that God exists.” I believe that this argument reflects a sort of ethical skepticism that has historically plagued Christianity, and we have very little reason to agree with it. (more…)

September 10, 2009

Contemporary Metaethics Part 1 Ebook PDF (Updated 6/24/2011)

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 11:16 am
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I organized my reviews and opinions in a free ebook (PDF file). All of the reviews and opinions are from this website, but someone might find it convenient to be able to view it as an ebook. It discusses the basics of metaethics and provides several reviews of contemporary essays.

I spent a couple of hours to make the ebook. Several typos were fixed, but there are probably a lot more. Formatting is not as consistent as I would like, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. My opinions involving metaethics are also inconsistent because I wrote my reviews within a stream of consciousness. I often changed my mind one day to the next based on the readings. (more…)

August 25, 2009

Chapter 3.12 “Moral Reality” by Mark Platts

Mark Platts is mostly concerned with defending moral realism from various objections, but he also endorses a specific form of moral realism, intuitionism, in order to make his defense of moral realism more specific. He makes it clear that he is interested in a form of moral realism in which moral facts are not reducible to nonmoral facts (283). He agrees that moral facts supervene (are dependent on) on nonmoral facts, but moral facts do not merely consist in the nonmoral facts (283). He lists three main aspects of intuitionism: First, intuitionism makes it clear that moral facts are not reducible to nonmoral facts. Two, intuitionism is compatible with a moral realist use of language. Three, intuitionism can admit that genuine moral dilemmas are possible. (more…)

July 24, 2009

Chapter 3.11 “Moral Theory and Explanatory Impotence” by Geoffrey Sayre-McCord

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord argues that we can confirm moral facts through observation, and that moral facts can be confirmed in a meaningful way. He admits that there is still some room for doubt. In order to justify moral facts, he takes a close look at epistemology in general. He suggests that theories must be able to explain our observations better than alternatives. In order to do this pragmatic considerations seem relevant, and if so, moral theories could be justified.

In the final section of Sayre-McCord’s article, he suggests a strategy to argue that moral values exist: If we accept epistemological values, then we might be able to prove that we also have to accept moral values. (more…)

June 21, 2009

Chapter 3.10 “Moral Explanations” by Nicholas L Sturgeon

Many philosophers of our past wanted philosophy to be as much like mathematics as possible. That would give us the highest form of knowledge and certainty. This task is now considered unrealistic. Instead, philosophers want philosophy to be as much like natural science as possible. Nicholas L Sturgeon provides an argument that ethics can be like science because moral facts can have causal power and can therefore be necessary facts in determining our observations. (more…)

May 24, 2009

Chapter 3.9 “How to be a Moral Realist” by Richard N Boyd Part 2

Objections to Moral Realism

In order to show that moral realism can be appealing, Boyd must first show why moral realism isn’t unappealing.

Right now moral antirealism is popular and there are many objections people give to moral realism in order to prove that realism is implausible. Boyd considers several objections and shows how the same kinds of objections could be used against scientific realism, but would fail. Boyd will argue that these objections fail against moral realism for the same reason that they would fail against scientific realism.

This section will only discuss the objections to moral realism. The next section will be Boyd’s response to the objections. (more…)

May 11, 2009

Chapter 3.9 “How to be a Moral Realist” by Richard N Boyd Part 1

We need to know how we thought of moral ideas, like good and bad. If we just made it up, then we should be moral antirealists. If we discovered that things can really be good or bad, then we should be moral realists.

If you think electrons are real, then you are a scientific realist. Entities theorized about science can be real despite the fact that we can’t experience the entities with our five senses. There are very plausible philosophical arguments that we should be scientific realists. Richard Boyd argues that in order to understand a plausible account of moral realism, we should understand a plausible account of scientific realism. (more…)

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