Moral realism god-independent transcendent truthPresentation Transcript
Moral Realism Starter:
• Moral realism or ___________ is
the ___________ view that ethical
sentences express __________ and can
therefore be true or false. So we can have
Moral Realism Starter: so far…
Moral realism or cognitivism is the meta-
ethical view that ethical sentences
express propositions and can therefore
be true or false. So we can have moral
Metaethics: Moral Realism
• Moral truths = God-independent transcendent truths.
Maths analogy. Platonism. Moral elitism. Acrasia.
• Moral truths = natural facts. The open question argument
and the naturalistic fallacy.
• Moral truths = relational properties which provide
reasons for action. Analogy with secondary properties.
• Issues: How is knowledge of moral truth possible? How
is agreement over moral truth possible? To what extent
can such truths motivate/justify action?
• allows moral utterances to be ‘truth-apt’ (checkable for
truth or falsity)
• …and for some of them to be true.
• …so the domain of moral values can be known.
• …so gives an account of how these values arise.
Discussion Task: establish, criticise
• The analogy between morality and
• Moral Platonism.
• Moral elitism.
• Acrasia or Akrasia
Maths and Morality
• we know some transcendent truths – those of mathematics.
– public/shared, objective/independent of human perception, enduring
• we know these truths through mathematical intuition/ rational insight
– pure thought, in other words
– faculty can be trained/developed
moral values are transcendent/outside space and time.
we know these truths through moral intuition/moral insight
– a.k.a. ‘conscience’
– faculty can be trained/developed
• BUT (analogy fails)
– Public/shared? Objective/independent of human perception?
Moral Platonism/Platonic Realism
• Discussed in Plato’s ‘Parmenides’: ‘
– ‘You see a number of great objects, and when you look at them there
seems to you to be one and the same idea (or nature) in them all; hence
you conceive of greatness as one.’
• Forms are objects of pure thought that are transcendent.
• There are Forms or Universals that relate to moral values
– Forms of Justice, Courage, Kindness, Goodness
– These forms have meaning insofar as they partake of the ‘Form of the
• And empirical moral truths are correct only insofar as they partake
of the ‘Forms’.
– Our values are valuable because what they have in common is ‘Value’
• But Mackie: “queer”
– forms are metaphysically far out entities or properties without a plausible
epistemic story of how we can obtain knowledge of them.
– their existence raises more problems than it solves…
• = special temperament/training needed for access to
• Many moral philosophers are moral elitists:
– Plato’s ‘Philosopher-King’ (knows Forms)
– Nietzsche’s ‘Ubermensch’ (has WTP)
– Moore’s conception of self-evidence/ Ross’s ‘moral intuitions’…
• Is moral ‘elitism’ obviously wrong?
– If there can be moral knowledge, then it is plausible that some
people have it while other people lack it.
– We celebrate e.g. experts in physics. Why not experts in
• Perhaps historical religious figures are examples, or the Philosopher-King
• But! e.g. Kant – moral agency = all being able to
discover moral truths.
Acrasia or Akrasia I
• ‘Weakness of the will’ = How can one know the good
and yet do the bad?
• To be virtuous, Socrates argues in the Protagoras, is
simply to (really) know the truth about what is good and
what is not.
• However, weakness of will does seem to occur.
• So, as no one knowingly does what (they believe) is
wrong, weakness of will = ignorance of the right thing to
– Hence Socrates argues that if a person says doing x is right but does y, they
don’t really (deep down) believe that the right thing to do is x.
– For example, they actually believe that the pleasure of doing y, rather than x,
outweighs what is good about x.
Other accounts of acrasia
• Aristotle argued that virtue is knowledge held in the right way
– so that it has the right effect on motivation.
– So someone who is weak-willed has moral knowledge, but they do not fully grasp
the significance of their knowledge.
• Donald Davidson (in How is weakness of the will possible?) argues
that weakness of will involves a failure of the person to judge that x
is (really) best.
• Non-cognitivists such as Hume can argue that judgment, or reason,
simply does not have the final say on our decisions – our emotions
do. So we be motivated to do things that we do not believe in any
sense are best.
• Modern faculty psychology is at ease with the idea of the self as
having multiple agents – the self is ‘an ecology of souls.
Homework for Thursday
• Read ahead in handout about:
– Moral truths = natural properties
– Moral truths = relational properties which
provide reasons for action. The analogy with