Sunday 30 June 2013

Why I am a Moral Realist

What I mean by moral realism is that some moral judgements are in fact true, and are true in virtue of some feature of the external world and not as mere projections of our own values upon reality. That there are reasons to behave in a certain way that extend beyond self interest or personal preference. That, for example, you ought to help a neighbor in need not because some day the tables may be turned, but simply because it's the right thing to do. The fact that someday you might need help yourself, and burning bridges could have negative future consequences is good motivation for doing the right thing. It makes it a rational thing to do, something that we should do if we value self preservation (which of course everyone does). But it doesn't make the action something we ought to do simplicter. You could always nullify this reason to help your neighbor by simply discarding the preference for self-preservation. And so this is a conditional reason: if you value having a friend to count on, then you ought to be dependable yourself. If you don't, then the bridge will be burned and may someday find yourself alone in a desperate situation. But moral reasons are not conditional on our values or goals or preferences. One cannot, for example, escape the obligation to not murder by discarding whatever self-serving reasons we might have that prevent us from murdering.

So that is what it means for morality to be real; for there to be a moral reality. Why, then, do I believe it? Because I find it prima facie plausible that rape, murder, child abuse, racism, malice, and so on, are evil. That at face value Hitler an the Nazi's were evil, did objectively evil things, things they shouldn't have done. That the Holocaust was a moral blemish on human history, not that it's something that we simply prefer never to have happened. This is not easy to deny; it really does appear to most people as if some things are good and evil, some actions that are right and wrong. Notice, though, that if child abuse is actually wrong as my intuitions lead me to believe, then moral realism must be the case; some things must actually be obligatory. Indeed, every moral belief I have entails moral realism. And so I have a multitude of beliefs which are each individually prima facie plausible, and each individually entailing moral realism. This would turn out, then, to be very good evidence for moral realism. What I'm doing here isn't simply saying that moral realism is intuitive, as this could be parodied by the nihilist whose intuitions lead him to believe that everything is permissible. What I'm doing is using the intuitions for each individual moral principle I believe as evidence in a cumulative case for moral realism; that while each ethical principle may only be weakly supported by intuition, that weak support accumulates into something much stronger. The nihilist might think that rape is permissible, murder is permissible, and so on, but none of these things entail nihilism, and so the same option to form a cumulative case isn't available to them. The point of my argument, then, is simply to show how much force our moral intuitions carry, and the a-symmetrical support they offer moral realism (something I believe many nihilists have not noticed).

And so the argument may be laid out as follows:
  1. There are a great many ethical principles which are prima facie plausible
  2. Every ethical principle entails moral realism
  3. Therefore, since there are a sufficient number of these ethical principles, the prima facie plausibility of each ethical principle cumulates into a significantly strong case for moral realism.
Of course I'm not exactly holding a contrarian view that would call for an extensive defence. Far from it, at 56% the majority of philosophers are moral realists. I think an appeal to academic authority is enough to rationally reject moral nihilism.

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