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Old 07-11-2009, 09:12 PM
Jay J Jay J is offline
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Little Rock, AR
Posts: 436
Default Civil War, Moral Realist Style

Of course, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek, when I use the word "war." Even the word debate would probably be a little strong for describing the discussion Bloggin and me are going to take up again. Hopefully this summary will be sufficient to the task of rekindling the discussion we were engaged in last summer (it was quite a long one, it would be a pity for it to go to waste).

Bloggin, if memory serves correctly, I was skeptical of the possibility that the view you were advancing could be properly classified as realist, in meta-ethics.

I'm less hung-up on disputes involving the proper place to draw these categorical lines, but I'm still interested in seeing where your view fits within the moral realist spectrum. I believe you may have offered me an olive branch by allowing your view to be called "minimal moral realism," at least temporarily. So I'm interested in seeing what your view is, for its own sake, and I'm also interested in seeing how a person who may consider their moral realism robust, (say, a Moorean non-naturalist) would respond.

I believe one way to start is by talking about normativity in general, and the interesting ways normativity permeates our lives and guides our concepts (am I on the right track here?).

The beef I expressed with your view is that I believe I saw morality as being something that is more... axiomatic, than, dare I say, "mere" normativity. For example, it seems to me that answering the moral skeptic is more difficult than answering the radical skeptic about the external world. The external world is very stubborn in that it comes back every time we're awake. I've never met a person who was genuinely skeptical about the external world.

However we do know of people, it seems, who are either completely violent and unfeeling (and thereby unresponsive to any ostensible moral facts) or are genuinely unconvinced that there are any such things as moral facts (moral skeptics). If someone is skeptical of the outside world, we can just tell them to use their senses to apprehend it, and assert that in the absence of contrary evidence, the most warranted position is to accept the existence of the external world. Of course I suppose it's within the realm of possibility that a person would deny that they sense the same thing we do, in which case there is no knock-down argument, just the fact that the vast majority of the people seem to apprehend the external world, and in a way that is virtually exactly similar to the way other people do, so it seems that the most warranted position is to accept the existence of the external world.

On the other hand, when someone denies the existence of moral facts, what are we to do?

Perhaps we can point to the explanatory power of noticing that Hitler's cruelty caused many of the events of WWII, but people like Gilbert Harmon believe that understanding the psychological facts of the individual participants will be sufficient (and I believe Harmon is a reductionist here, so it seems that a denial of reductionism is in order here for the moral realist, yes?).

But even if (hypothetically) we could all agree to be non-reductionists, the dispute would still pivot on what we expected from morality. I agree that if appeal to normative facts turn out to be explanatorily potent, that would be significant, but I wonder if the Moorean would agree that it's sufficient. The reason I wonder this is that morality seems to have to do with things like goodness, evil, etc, not just cruelty, bravery, etc. It also seems to have to do with more than a crude utilitarian calculus, since we have to figure out what good is in the first place (or accept that happiness is the real measure of goodness, in which case we have to let everyone decide what makes them happy, but we probably won't be content with just anything the greatest number declares worthy of happiness).

I'm afraid that if I continue I may go even further off the rails... so for now, I'll leave it here, and hope that this gives you something to work with. I'm particularly interested in how your view is an effective reply to moral skepticism. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jay J
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