Ethical Realism

July 14, 2011

Do We Experience That Pain is Intrinsically Bad?

Filed under: ethics — JW Gray @ 4:55 am
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We experience that our pain (or suffering) is bad, but is everyone’s pain bad? Is it wrong to cause other people pain (at least some of the time) because their pain is bad? Many philosophers think that (at least some) pain is “intrinsically bad”—bad just for existing and worthy of being avoided for its own sake. If so, it seems reasonable to say that everyone’s pain is bad and it’s wrong to cause needless pain to others. However, this is an interpretation of our experience of pain and not everyone agrees with it. I will discuss various interpretations of what it means to experience that pain is bad: (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.


March 23, 2010

Stoic & Buddhist Arguments Against Intrinsic Values

Nietzsche, Stoics, and Buddhists all have similar potential reasons to reject intrinsic values. Nietzsche wants to embrace all of life including pain, the Stoics believe that everything that happens is for the best, and Buddhism requires us to withhold judgment. I have discussed how Nietzsche’s amor fati (life affirmation) could be seen to conflict with pain’s intrinsic disvalue, and now I will discuss how some people could believe Stoicism and Buddhism conflict with pain’s intrinsic disvalue. However, I do not agree that these perspectives are necessarily incompatible with intrinsic values. (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…)

January 15, 2010

What is the Meaning of Life?

“The meaning of life” actually refers to various intrinsic values—various values that “really matter.” To live a meaningful life is to attain and promote intrinsic goods. I have argued that at least one intrinsic value exists, but I believe that there are more. Let’s consider what philosophers believe to have intrinsic value:

  1. Pain
  2. Pleasure
  3. Happiness
  4. Virtue
  5. Good will
  6. Human existence
  7. Consciousness


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…)

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