Ethical Realism

May 26, 2013

Can ethics be a scientific domain?

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 2:59 am
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Science has occasionally appropriated philosophical fields. Physics and psychology were originally discussed by philosophers rather than scientists. Right now ethics is considered to be a philosophical domain, but we could imagine science taking over the field. Will ethics ever be taught in a science class? Will we learn right and wrong from natural science?

People who reject that we could one day have a moral science generally do so due to skepticism, the gap between facts and values, and the is-ought fallacy. I will respond to these concerns and explain why I don’t think any of them are conclusive. (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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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.


June 17, 2010

Morality, God, Relativism, and Nihilism

Although most people have no idea what philosophers have to say about morality that doesn’t deter them from discussing philosophical ramifications of morality. In particular many people want to argue for one of the following:

  1. Objective morality requires God.
  2. Morality is relative.
  3. Nothing really matters.


June 15, 2010

14 Arguments That Intrinsic Values Exist

If anything has intrinsic value, then something really matters.1 When we make decisions we often hope that our action will be as beneficial as possible and we hope our actions aren’t harmful. We often think some of our actions can produce truly good consequences. Making people happy seems to be really good and causing people suffering seems to be really bad. I suggest that we often assume happiness is intrinsically good and suffering is intrinsically bad. I have already given one argument that intrinsic values exist, but I now want to give more. I will present 14 arguments that help us understand why intrinsic values can make sense to a rational person. These are merely simple arguments that could be worthy of consideration and expanded in the future. I have discussed some of these arguments is more detail in the past. (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…)

March 25, 2010

The Persistence of Moral Disagreement: An Objection to Moral Realism

Many people believe that morality is little more than cultural traditions. One culture can say that revenge is right and another can say it’s wrong. There is no “moral fact” of the matter. This view is known as “cultural relativism” and it’s a form of “moral anti-realism,” which is the view that moral truth consists in our opinions rather than reality itself. One important reason to endorse cultural relativism is Mackie’s Argument from Relativity, and the argument based on the “Persistence of Moral Disagreement” is a variation of the Argument from Relativity. It is claimed that even ideal people would disagree about moral facts, so moral realism is false. Everyone is entitled to their own moral opinions. (more…)

March 22, 2010

Are Intrinsic Value Beliefs Unhealthy? A Nietzschean Argument

Some people could think that intrinsic values should be rejected because it will lead to a negative attitude. If we think that pain is bad, then it will just make our lives worse. I think that some Nietzscheans could come to this conclusion. Nietzsche argued that we should embrace pain and suffering. However, I suspect that he doesn’t reject that “pain is  intrinsically bad” based on the argument I will present. Instead, he finds that pain is (1) only of superficial concern, (2) it brings us benefits, and (3) a healthy person would embrace pain. Of these issues, the third is Nietzsche’s primary concern. He doesn’t tell us “the truth” about reality. Instead, he tells us what he believes is healthy (or unhealthy). Although “embracing pain” might seem incompatible with the view that pain is intrinsically bad, I disagree. We can embrace pain when we experience it and still prefer to avoid pain when possible based on the belief that it’s intrinsically bad. I will discuss each of these issues. (more…)

March 18, 2010

Is Moral Realism Dangerous? (What about Relativism?)

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:42 am
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Moral realism states that there are true moral statements that aren’t just a “matter of taste.” Some people think that moral realism encourages us to be oppressive, intolerant, and vengeful. Anti-realism (e.g. relativism) is supposedly much more “open minded” and encourages us to be tolerant of others. I disagree. I agree that certain forms of moral realism could lead to egregious forms of intolerance, but not all forms of moral realism. Although uneducated moral realist views can lead to problems, these problems can be avoided with careful philosophical consideration. Additionally, anti-realism itself could help people rationalize horrific actions. (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 3, 2010

A Moral Realist Point of View Part 1

I have given a general outline of a moral realist perspective, but there is much more to be said. We have many moral concepts that seem relevant for morality that I have not discussed sufficiently. We need to know how these concepts relate to intrinsic values (moral realism). I do not have a fully developed account of our moral vocabulary, but I can discuss my current thoughts on these concepts. I will start my discussion of moral concepts with the following:

  1. Good & Bad
  2. Oughts
  3. Right & Wrong


January 22, 2010

Searle’s Philosophy of the Mind

Filed under: metaphysics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:47 am
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Some philosophers believe that the mind is a real and separate domain of reality, and this view seems analogous to the belief that morality is a real and separate domain of reality. I will present an example of mental realism and compare it to moral realism. Part of the moral debate is centered around the analogy of moral realism with mental realism. In particular, I will describe John Searle’s realist philosophy of the mind and relate it to moral realism. His philosophy of the mind will be taken from his books Mind and Rationality in Action. To be a mental realist is to accept that minds exist as an irreducible part of the world. I will do the following:

  1. Define mental realism.
  2. Describe Searle’s account of mental causation.
  3. Discuss the analogy between moral and mental realism.


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