A Moral Argument Against Moral Realism
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If what is morally right or wrong were ultimately a function of our opinions, then even such reprehensible actions as genocide and slavery would be morally right, had we approved of them. Many moral philosophers find this conclusion objectionably permissive, and to avoid it they posit a moral reality that exists independently of what anyone thinks. The notion of an independent moral reality has been subjected to meticulous metaphysical, epistemological and semantic criticism, but it is hardly ever examined from a moral point of view. In this essay I offer such a critique. I argue that the appeal to an independent moral reality as a ground for moral obligations constitutes a substantive moral mistake. However, I do not conclude from this that we must therefore embrace the opposite view that moral truths are ultimately dependent on our attitudes. Rather, I suggest that we reject both of these views and answer the classic meta-ethical question “Is what we morally ought to do ultimately a function of our actual attitudes, or determined independently of them?” with Neither.
KeywordsMorality Realism Anti-realism Metaethics Grounding Objectivity
I am grateful to David Velleman, Sharon Street, Hartry Field, and David Enoch, for extensive comments on earlier versions of this paper. I have also greatly benefited from conversations with Ayca Boylu, and from the feedback I received at presentations at the philosophy departments of Johns Hopkins University, New York University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Colgate University, Bogazici University, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, as well as at the 2015 British Society for Ethics Conference at the University of Southampton.
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