Ethical Realism

December 20, 2011

Five Tips For Better Debates

Debate can be an educational opportunity (for hopefully at least one participant), but many people find it to be a “waste of time.” This is likely due to the fact that many people have bad habits and know very little about how to debate well. Nonetheless, the Internet gives us new opportunities to debate using message boards, blogs, and so on. I want to encourage people to debate informally in everyday conversation whether face-to-face or online, and I will discuss five argumentative virtues that can help us have better debates—charity, relevance, clarity, modesty, and justification. These virtues apply to any sort of debate including philosophical essays, but I will also discuss certain flaws I’ve encountered in informal debates. (more…)

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June 8, 2010

An Argument Against God, a Teapot, and Garvey’s Objection Part 2

Filed under: epistemology,metaphysics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 2:33 am
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Read part 1 first.

About a week ago I discussed Bertrand Russell’s teapot argument that concludes that we should disbelieve in God. In particular, I posted some objections to an essay by Brian Garvey, “Absence of Evidence, Evidence of Absence, and the Atheist’s Teapot,” which attempted to show that Russell’s argument was not a serious one. Garvey was nice enough to defend his essay and we had a short debate, which can be found here.1 I will now attempt to explain Garvey’s response to my objections and make it clear why I am not satisfied by his response. I don’t know if the teapot argument succeeds as a sufficient reason to disbelieve in God, but I find the argument to be a threat to theism, and in need of further research. I will now explain my current position and attempt to refute Garvey’s responses. (more…)

June 2, 2010

My Defense of the Argument From Evil, an Argument Against God

Filed under: metaphysics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 7:52 am
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The argument from evil (or “problem of evil”) was originally developed by Epirucus, and it is now often taken as an argument against the existence of God(s). If successful, the argument shows that a group of beliefs about God are incompatible (an all powerful and all good God doesn’t exist because then evil couldn’t exist). Although it is possible for a theist (believer in God) to avoid the argument from evil just by adjusting one’s beliefs about God, some theists don’t think that the argument from evil is a problem in the first place. In particular, some argue that God might have a good reason to allow evil to exist. I will attempt to show that it seems either impossible or unlikely that God allows evil to exist for a good reason. (more…)

May 26, 2010

An Argument Against God, a Teapot, and Garvey’s Objection (Part 1)

We want to know, Does God probably exist? Is the belief in god rational? Many people disbelieve in God because there isn’t enough evidence. Some people argue that this is no different than the fact that we think that there probably is no teapot in outer space revolving around the sun.1 We have to admit that a teapot might be revolving around the sun because we haven’t done an extensive search, but we shouldn’t just abstain from judgment. It is most rational to reject the belief of such a teapot and to think such a teapot probably doesn’t exist. In the same way it might be most rational to reject the belief in God and to think that God probably doesn’t exist.2 (more…)

February 22, 2010

What You Need From Formal Logic

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 11:30 pm
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It can be extremely helpful to know some formal logic in order to visualize how arguments work. Formal logic shows how the form of an argument can be valid or invalid. Assuming that the premises of an argument are true, a valid argument form guarantees that the conclusion is true. An invalid argument doesn’t. In other words, a valid argument can give us a complete reason to agree to a conclusion and an invalid argument can’t. Knowledge about argument form helps us achieve clear thinking and relevant arguments. (more…)

January 21, 2010

Is There A Meaning of Life? Free Ebook (Updated 6-26-10)

I updated many of my essays to create a free ebook that features my argument that there is a meaning of life (intrinsic values exist). The essays can be found on this website. It is still in the rough draft stage, but you might get something out of it. Read on to see the abstract. (more…)

December 6, 2009

Denying the Meaning of Life

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 8:27 am
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Imagine that you will no longer exist within the next two seconds. If done properly, you will think about what your existence really means and appreciate the fact that you still exist. You will realize how amazing it is to be alive. Expect to no longer exist every moment and you will appreciate your life every moment. This is evidence that either our life really matters, or our life is worth living for some other reason. If we are not deluded when we imagine the value of our own existence, then we have evidence that something really does matter. However, it isn’t easy to be sure.

Do you want people to stop doing horrible crimes? Do you want to live a meaningful life? Do you want to make the world a better place? If so, you need to know if “anything really matters.” Philosophers have been trying to find out if “anything really matters” for thousands of years, and we have a lot we can learn from them. I am not going to currently attempt to prove that “something really matters.” Instead, I want to prove to you that the question, “Does anything really matter?” is something we should be asking ourselves, and we should want to know the best answers to the question available. (more…)

November 10, 2009

Objections to Moral Realism Part 4: Moral Beliefs Can’t Motivate

There is evidence that moral values involve desires. When we say “human life has intrinsic value,” we expect a desire to promote human life and a pro-attitude towards human life. The connection between moral beliefs and desires is not clear, and some people have argued that morality is only about desires. If morality is only about desires, then we should reject the existence of intrinsic values because our intrinsic value beliefs would merely state our desires. These concerns reflect Humean psychology, which states that there are beliefs and desires, and beliefs can’t motivate. Mark Platts, John Searle, and others have disputed Humean psychology. Although not all philosophers agree with Humean psychology, I will not question it here. Instead, I will attempt to prove that Humean psychology is compatible with moral realism. (more…)

November 6, 2009

Objections to Moral Realism Part 3: Argument from Queerness

If morality is irreducible to nonmoral facts, it might still be part of the materialist worldview like any other domain, but we would merely be unable to fully describe morality in nonmoral terms. (To say that moral facts are reducible is to say that we can find out that moral facts “are really something else.”) I have argued that morality must be irreducible, but this is a substantial metaphysical claim. Such a metaphysical claim must be especially justified due to Occam’s razor—We must not multiply entities beyond necessity.1 (Or, more specifically, we shouldn’t multiply irreducible domains of reality beyond necessity.) I will present three objections against the claim that morality is irreducible, then I will attempt to reply to those objections in order to show them to be unconvincing. In particular I want to show that morality’s irreducibility is just as justified as psychology’s irreducibility, that we have reason to believe psychology is irreducible, and that we have more reason to accept that morality is irreducible than to reject it. (more…)

October 27, 2009

Objections to Moral Realism Part 2: Intuition is Unreliable

Many ethicists agree that moral philosophy requires the use of intuition. My argument for moral realism itself requires the use of intuition. However, philosophers will require that we justify our use of intuition. Some philosophers have argued that intuition is too mysterious or unreliable to be used for philosophy. I will present the case that intuition represents our tendency to be unable to verbalize various justifications. I will explain how our intuitions makes use of relatively reliable justifications, consider four objections against intuition, and I will attempt to explain why the objections are not convincing. (more…)

October 19, 2009

Objections to Moral Realism Part 1: The Is/Ought Gap

Although I have already discussed several objections to moral realism, some of them are worth discussing in more detail. In particular, the is/ought gap has proven to be a source of confusion. The is/ought gap is ambiguous and there are at least two main interpretations: One is ontological and one is epistemological. In other words, one says that the is/ought gap is a description of reality and another says that it is a description of our evidence. (more…)

October 7, 2009

An Argument for Moral Realism

Moral realism is the view that some things “really matter” and have intrinsic value. I will argue that we have good reason to believe that at least one thing has intrinsic value, so we have good reason to believe moral realism is true. In particular, I will argue that we have good reason to accept that pain has intrinsic value. The evidence of intrinsic value requires us to accept that anti-realists will fail to explain our moral experiences involving pain. We have more reason to accept realism than anti-realism in so far as moral realism can better account for our moral experiences involving pain. (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…)

March 25, 2009

Chapter 3.8 “Values and Secondary Qualities” by John McDowell

John McDowell’s article presents an argument that (intrinsic) values are real. (more…)

February 26, 2009

Chapter 3.7 “Truth, Invention, and the Meaning of Life” by David Wiggins

David Wiggins wrote the first moral realist essay that I will discuss. In particular, Wiggens wants to know what it means to live a meaningful life and what kinds of things could have intrinsic value. (more…)

February 22, 2009

Chapter 3.6 “Ethics and Observation” by Gilbert Harman

Harman examines whether or not we can “observe” moral facts in the sense that we can observe scientific facts (119). If so, we can treat ethics as a natural science. Harman’s essay is related to a very important philosophical problem: Is the truth about moral facts relevant to our beliefs about moral facts? If our moral beliefs are unrelated to the truth about moral facts, then we have little reason to trust our moral beliefs. (more…)

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