Moral realism

From Academic Kids

Moral realism is the philosophical doctrine that moral claims are cognitive claims that are at least sometimes true. Moral realism, therefore, contrasts with non-cognitivism (which variously holds that moral claims are prescriptions, commands, or expressions of one's emotions, affective disposition, or acceptance of norms) and "error-theories" of morality (which hold that moral claims are indeed cognitive, but are all completely mistaken). It is in direct opposition to moral relativism. Some moral realists include David Brink, John McDowell, Peter Railton, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Michael Smith, and Thomas Nagel.

What emphasis is there for attempting to support a standpoint of moral realism? An assessment of human societal use and understanding of moral values shows an intuitive emphasis on certain actions or moral statements as having truth-value. A societal standpoint on torture as being impermissible in all situations for example, suggests that torture is considered morally 'wrong' or unacceptable, furthermore it suggests that if a person makes the claim: "torture is wrong" they will either be correct or false, and that at least in some situations it is possible for a moral claim to be true. A moral theory ought to try to account for the tendency to use moral statements that appear at least syntactically and perhaps intuitively to be making a truth claim, the obvious way to account for it is to support moral realism and suggest that moral statements can be true or false. A society in which the possibility exists that certain moral statements are true and false would appear to have certain obvious advantages over a society where this is not the case. For example, if a society wishes to propound and justify the claim that murder should be restricted, it might claim that "murder is 'wrong'" or "murder is impermissible", under moral realism the possibility exists that these statements are true, hence they are at least justifiable, and justified if they can be shown to be true (which may of course be a very difficult task). A society that rejects any form of moral realism will find it difficult if not impossible to show why any action or standpoint is of higher or lesser value than another. Moral realism has intuitive advantages of this sort, people often look, or wish to look, no further in everyday life than the idea that some moral statements or standpoints are right or valuable or true when constructing a moral structure. Justification of moral realism is reasonably desirable, however in some forms and accounts of moral realism, meet with significant difficulties, the most desirable defence of moral realism will survive most or all of these difficulties.

Use of morality is carried out as if moral value is part of the fabric of the world, as opposed to simply being a relation amongst moral beings, it is evident and characterised in every-day speech by sentences like "you shouldn't do such-and-such because it is wrong" over "you shouldn't do such-and-such because I dislike it". Humanity's use of morality exhibits the behaviour of a situation whereby an agent experiences moral properties. The moral striving of a person or society appears to be aiming at 'discovering' the truth concerning what is 'right' and 'wrong' rather than, for example, a consistency of moral choices. Humans tend to act as though the criterion of morality is external as opposed to internal. There seems to be some sense in which morality would be unintelligible without a degree of externally existing moral properties, as the majority of moral action appears to assume their existence.


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