What Are the Strongest Arguments for Moral Realism and Are They Conclusive

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What are the strongest arguments for moral realism and are they conclusive. Moral realism is a metaphysical standpoint that states the existence of objective moral facts, in light of which moral judgements are true or false. These moral facts have determinate truth values that exist independent of mental states, by which I mean beliefs about what those truth values are and whether one can discover them. For some contemporary moral realists like Boyd, moral realism is analogous to scientific theo
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  What are the strongest arguments for moral realism and are they conclusive.Moral realism is a metaphysical standpoint that states the existence of objective moralfacts, in light of which moral judgements are true or false. These moral facts havedeterminate truth values that exist independent of mental states, by which I mean beliefs about what those truth values are and whether one can discover them. For some contemporary moral realists like Boyd, moral realism is analogous to scientifictheories, such as physics, which are composed of primary laws that are notdetermined by our attitudes, but can explain other phenomena, independent of howone correctly or incorrectly theorizes about them 1 .I am going to consider Richard Boyd’s argument for moral realism. I consider thisto be a strong argument in the sense that it cannot only be used to solve the two problems Mackie presents in relation to the objectivity of morals but also shows the parallels that can be drawn between scientific realism and moral realism in acquiringknowledge about the moral good making moral realism a more plausible doctrine.However, I am also going to consider some examples to show the incompatibilities of human needs and morality that highlight how this account is far from conclusive.Before considering the strengths of Boyd’s argument let us first understand Mackie’s problems known as the metaphysical and epistemological queerness problems. Theformer states that the existence of objective moral values would be relations or entities that would be unlike anything else one could conceive of in the world. Hecites the example of Plato’s Form of the Good to show what these objective valueswould have to be like in the world. If these strange moral properties were to beinstantiated, then, in relation to the knowledge of the good, they would have to provide one with 2 ;“...both a direction and an overriding motive, something being good both tell the person who knows this to pursue it and makes him pursue it. An objective moral goodwould be sought by anyone who was acquainted with it, not because of anycontingent fact that this person, or every person, is so constituted that he desires thisend, but just because this end has to-be-pursuedness built into it.”This suggests a sort of magnetic property within objective values that prescribes to theknower what they ought to do. For example, human happiness is good, its objective 1 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p163, Blackwell Publishing,2007 2 The Subjectivity of Values, John Mackie, Foundations of Ethics, p20 Blackwell Publishing,2007   property, and thus should be pursued. Mackie asks how is this “to-be-pursuedness” built into happiness? How can these moral facts have the sort of magnetic propertythat are both an objective characteristic of reality and that internally generate reasonsfor action independent of our attitudes and desires 3 .His position is further supported by his epistemological argument 4 ;“If there were objective values and if we were aware of them, it would have to be bysome special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing anything else.”Mackie argues that we do not have this special sense to discern these objective values,since this implies that we possess a “faculty of moral intuition” that allows one to perceive the objective rightness or wrongness of something. Furthermore, Mackieasserts that to postulate a faculty of moral intuition is not sufficient in understandingthe rightness or wrongness of something. Mackie asks 5 ;“What is the connection between the natural fact that an action is a piece of deliberatecruelty say, causing pain just for fun-and the moral fact that it is wrong?”Postulating this faculty does not help us to understand the “consequential link  between the two. 6 ” As a result Mackie believes that it makes more sense to postulate asubjective retort “which could be causally related to the detection of the naturalfeatures on which the supposed quality is said to be consequential. 7 ”Let us now consider Boyd’s argument as a response to these problems. Boyd wantedto demonstrate how our moral beliefs and methods are similar, in relation to their objectivity and inter-subjectivity, to our conception of our scientific beliefs andmethods. He therefore attempted to demonstrate how scientific realism and moralrealism share common features. He asserts that scientific realism is the doctrine thatscientific methodology is adept in supplying knowledge of “unobservable(theoretical) entities 8 ”, for example electromagnetic fields and knowledge concerninghow observable phenomena behave. By understanding this scientific methodologyand applying it to our moral reasoning he believed that this would help us with a“reliable method for obtaining and improving moral knowledge. 9 ” Moral properties 3 The Subjectivity of Values, John Mackie, Foundations of Ethics, p20 Blackwell Publishing,2007 4 The Subjectivity of Values, John Mackie, Foundations of Ethics, p19 Blackwell Publishing,2007 5 The Subjectivity of Values, John Mackie, Foundations of Ethics, p20 Blackwell Publishing,2007 6 The Subjectivity of Values, John Mackie, Foundations of Ethics, p20 Blackwell Publishing,2007 7 The Subjectivity of Values, John Mackie, Foundations of Ethics, p20 Blackwell Publishing,2007 8 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p166, Blackwell Publishing,2007 9 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p163, Blackwell Publishing,2007  such as good, wrong, just and unjust, exist in people’s actions, events, states of affairs.The relationship between these can be ascertained through moral reflection anddisputation, in the same way as improvements in scientific knowledge can be madethrough similar procedures 10 .This is the nature of the process of dialectic. Sincescientific explanation must stop at a set of basic facts, the moral realist will claim thatthe same is true for morality. Consequently we should consider Boyd’s argument for moral realism as an analogical argument.This dialectical procedure is also present in his theory of knowledge. He believedknowledge was an a posteriori matter  11 ,and proposed a type of causal theory of knowledge that included no foundational beliefs, but a reliable regulation of beliefs.He believed that in order to attain a closer approximation to the truth we shouldmaintain our beliefs over time, since one cannot be certain that the beliefs they mayhold will result in yet more precise beliefs. Instead he asserts a dialectical method inrelation to belief regulation 12 ,that would allow one to obtain and improve their knowledge, whatever the theory they were considering, which would in turn allowthem to improve their chosen methodology used to discover and assess thisknowledge. Improvement is made in both because the dialectical method allows oneto incorporate the elements of truth from past beliefs while at the same time removingthe errors from these, thus allowing one to not only increase their knowledge aboutthe relevant subject but also improve their methodology for obtaining it 13 .Indemonstration of this, Boyd cites the example of “folk biology” prior to Darwin thatattributed the plant and animals adaptive and organizational features to God. However this did not stop them from;“accumulating the truly astonishing body of knowledge about anatomy, physiologyand animal behaviour upon which Darwin’s discovery of evolution by naturalselection dependent, nor did it prevent them recognizing the profound biologicalinsights of Darwin’s theory. 14 ” 10 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p163, BlackwellPublishing,2007 11 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p166, BlackwellPublishing,2007 12 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p168, BlackwellPublishing,2007 13 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p167, BlackwellPublishing,2007 14 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p178, BlackwellPublishing,2007  Science demonstrates the relationship between dialectic and reliable belief regulation.For example the interaction between observing different phenomena and theoreticalconsiderations about unobservable entities allows scientists to “routinely modify or extend operational measurements or detection procedures for theoretical magnitudesor entities on the basis of new theoretical developments 15 .”The new methodological procedures that result from these theoretical considerationsreliably regulate our scientific beliefs which reflect improvements in knowledge.In order to demonstrate the analogous nature of scientific realism and moralrealism, Boyd has to demonstrate what our initial moral beliefs are. He believed thatthese were concerned with “the important human goods, things which satisfyimportant human needs 16 .” Whether these needs are approximately true enough, thatthey will better our moral knowledge, is dependent upon on whether or not one canreliably demonstrate that we have knowledge of these needs. In order to do this, wemay appeal to history that demonstrates that our understanding of human needs hasimproved, for example the abolition of slavery in most of the civilized world. InAncient Greece, the fact that some people were considered just slaves, seemed perfectly natural, but over time, we have examined these beliefs through this dialectic procedure and have realized the importance of individuals social and psychologicalneeds, for example, “cultivated attitudes of mutual respect” and the “need to engagein cooperative effort. 17 ”Thus both scientific realism and moral realism epitomize how the dialectical processstarts from approximately true beliefs and after successive approximations leads us toan accurate account of truth in the world.Furthermore, having seen the analogous nature of these doctrines in relation to their  procedures for obtaining knowledge, we might further consider that since scientificterms refer to natural kinds, this could be equally true for moral concepts. ThusBoyd’s moral realism should be considered naturalistic, since he holds that moral properties are constituted by natural properties that we can only discover andunderstand through a posteriori methods. However an initial problem for Boyd in this 15 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p166, BlackwellPublishing,2007 16 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p175, BlackwellPublishing,2007 17 How to be a moral realist, Richard N. Boyd, Foundations of Ethics, p175, BlackwellPublishing,2007
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