Ethical Realism

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…)

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…)

June 22, 2010

Can We Reason About Morality?

Filed under: epistemology,ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 5:14 am
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One common objection against just about any philosophical argument is considered by philosophers to be amateurish – Philosophy can’t give us the truth. The implication is supposed to be, “Philosophy can’t give us the truth, so we might as well give up on arguing about such things.” This is especially a popular objection to moral philosophy in general, but it is little more than a declaration of one’s ignorance and distrust towards philosophy. The main problem with this argument is merely that philosophical arguments are usually not intended to actually give us the truth once and for all, and even natural science fails to do so. The point of philosophy tends to be to tell us what it is most rational to believe, or what is probably true given our current information. (more…)

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…)

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 14, 2009

Should We Want Morality to Require God?

Plato may have been the first philosopher to suggest that ethics requires a “foundation,” which ended up being his theory of the Forms: A realm quite unlike the physical world (eternal, unchanging, perfect, and so on). An action is virtuous if it resembles the nature of the perfect human being. The Stoics and Epicureans did not agree with Plato because they only believed in the physical world. They found the Forms to require unnecessary commitments concerning reality. The physical world seemed sufficient to explain ethics. Then for a couple thousand years Christians dominated meta-ethical philosophy and agreed with Plato that a special foundation is necessary for ethics. In particular, God must exist (which, like the forms, is eternal, unchanging, and perfect). An action is virtuous if it resembles the nature of God. The Christians argued that if God doesn’t exist, then nothing really matters. (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…)

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 16, 2009

What is Moral Realism?

(I wrote a new introduction to moral realism — “The Debate Over Moral Realism [5/20/2011])”

Before I create an argument that Moral Realism is plausible, I want to take a close look at what exactly Moral Realism and Anti-Realism entail. First, I will take a look at what moral realism and anti-realism mean. How do we know if someone is a moral realist or not? I will later take a look at what it would be like to adopt a moral realist or anti-realist perspective. We need to know how these perspectives relate to everyday life. (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…)

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 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…)

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