Ethical Realism

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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…)


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…)

September 22, 2009

A Moral Anti-Realist Perspective

There are many different moral anti-realist perspectives. On one extreme an anti-realist could just say that morality is entirely delusional. Nothing matters. Go ahead and do whatever you want. This perspective is not very satisfying and it certainly won’t satisfy anyone who finds moral realism to be worthy of consideration. On the other hand an anti-realist could try to preserve our ethical beliefs, intuitions, and experiences without claiming that morality is irreducible. Morality is part of our lives, but it might be reducible to our psychology and culture. This is a kind of constructivist perspective, and it is the kind of perspective that I will present here. Constructivists believe that morality is in some sense constructed (created) by people. We have moral rules because we tend to agree to them. (Constructivism can be compatible with cultural relativism, which states that moral statements are true when they are approved of within a culture.)

I will attempt to relate anti-realism to our everyday life and experiences by discussing how an anti-realist perspective will relate to moral knowledge, reality, and psychology. (more…)

September 10, 2009

Contemporary Metaethics Part 1 Table of Contents

Filed under: ethics,metaethics — JW Gray @ 9:18 am
Tags: ,

I have finished reviewing Essays on Moral Realism edited by Geoffrey Sayre-McCord. This is a table of contents for my reviews and thoughts related to that anthology. (more…)

September 8, 2009

Conclusion: Ethical Naturalism

Naturalists believe that science is the most appropriate way to learn about the world and tend to be materialists, and they are the dominant philosophical community. Naturalism has its origins in empiricism and science: We wanted a way to learn about the world without prejudice and fantasy. Philosophy and religion tends to suffer from our psychological tendency to see the world in human psychological terms. There has to be a “reason” for everything to happen in the sense that there has to be a motive. The scientific process offered a way to avoid anthropomorphizing the world by reducing everything to thoughtless bits of matter. (We might start to worry when scientists offer us a non-anthropomorphic understanding of human beings and try to reduce us to thoughtless bits of matter.) (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…)

February 12, 2009

Chapter 3.5 “The Subjectivity of Values” by J. L. Mackie

This article by J. L. Mackie presents one of the most extreme views about moral realism: Ethical judgments are are all false. This is known as nihilism or “error theory.” For example, ethical judgments about “goodness” are metaphysical (a claim about reality), but we are mistaken to think that our idea of “goodness” approximates reality. Even though Mackie’s view is an extreme, I find it to be one of the most plausible anti-realist positions to have. (That isn’t to say that I agree with it.) (more…)

February 4, 2009

Chapter 3.4 “Ethics, Mathematics, and Relativism” by Jonathan Lear

Jonathan Lear presents challenges to two forms of moral relativism: Cognitivist and noncognitivist. (more…)

January 31, 2009

Chapter 3.3 “Supervenience Revisited” by Simon Blackburn

Simply put, moral supervenience is the view that a description of nonmoral facts (such as physical and mental facts) is enough to determine whether an action is good or bad. If this is true, then that fact in itself seems like a problem for morality because we want to think that morality is about something more than just physical and mental facts. Let’s put that aside for a moment and take a look at the one of the important essays about moral supervenience: (more…)

January 14, 2009

Chapter 3.1 “Critique of Ethics and Theology” by A. J. Ayer

The first contemporary essay that I will discuss is “Critique of Ethics and Theology” by A. J. Ayer.

A. J. Ayer provides us with the first noncognitive theory that is called “emotivism” (28-40) (Noncognitivists believe that moral statements have no truth value.) He suggests that everyday ethical judgments are not what we think. We think they are cognitive, but they are actually emotional expressions. To say, “Murder is wrong,” is actually something like saying, “murder!” in an angry voice. It shows an emotional dislike of murder. (more…)

January 12, 2009

Chapter 3: Contemporary Metaethics

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?) (more…)

January 5, 2009

Chapter 2: Modern Metaethical Philosophy

The “required reading list” for philosophy tends to start with the ancient Greeks, and then it skips to the modern period. Much of the best modern metaethical philosophy (between¬† the 17th and early 20th centuries) involved moral skepticism. In particular, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Frederich Nietzsche. (more…)

January 3, 2009

Book I: Metaethics Part 1 (What is Metaethics?)

Ethics is the philosophy of morality and values. Parts of ethics includes the following: (more…)

Blog at