The Normative Web: An Argument for Moral Realism

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Suppose that one held the view i that our concept of a moral fact is a concept of a reason for action. Suppose also that one held that ii if our concept of a moral fact is a concept of a reason for action then it is a concept of a categorical reason for action.

A Simple Argument for Moral Realism

Then, if one was an instrumentalist about reasons, holding that there are no categorical reasons for action, one would be committed to an error-theory of moral judgement, according to which nothing in reality falls under our concept of a moral fact. Railton is an instrumentalist about reasons, but even though he agrees that if our concept of a moral fact is a concept of a reason for action then it is a concept of a categorical reason for action, he avoids embracing the error-theory by denying that our concept of a moral fact is a concept of a reason for action.

So, in a sense, for Railton there are no moral reasons as such, only reasons that some — but not all — agents have to act morally. However, according to Railton moral requirements as opposed to moral reasons are categorical, in that they apply to agents irrespective of their contingent desires.

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Thus, since our concept of a moral requirement is not a concept of a reason for action, we can have it that moral requirements are categorical even though there are no categorical moral reasons for action. Call a metaethical view that rejects i an antirationalist view. Cuneo argues that moderate and radical reductionism are both unsatisfactory. In effect, moderate reductionism as characterised by Cuneo is the view that our concept of an epistemic fact is a concept of a hypothetical reason for behaving in certain ways.

Cuneo then objects to this view on the grounds that it implies implausible claims about epistemic reasons see the three arguments on pp.

The Normative Web : An Argument for Moral Realism

In virtue of its claim that epistemic requirements are hypothetical, this surely counts as a form of epistemic reductionism on the conception Cuneo has been working with. But since, in parallel with the antirationalist in the moral case, this position holds in virtue of denying iii that there are no epistemic reasons as such, only reasons that some — but not all — agents have to behave in epistemically meritorious ways, it implies none of the claims about epistemic reasons that Cuneo argues against.

This style of opposition to 2 thus avoids the arguments that Cuneo uses to attack moderate reductionism. It also avoids the argument that Cuneo uses to attack radical reductionism. It is unclear why this view needs to be committed to an error theory of epistemic judgement. True, Cuneo does argue pp.

July 1, 2010

There would be no need to go via a separate detour into epistemology. Cuneo may or may not be able to fill this lacuna. University of Birmingham Alexander Miller 3.


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  5. Popular Features. New Releases. Description Antirealist views about morality claim that moral facts or truths do not exist. Does this imply that other types of normative facts, such as epistemic facts, do not exist?

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    The Normative Web develops a positive answer to this question. Terence Cuneo argues that moral and epistemic facts are sufficiently similar so that, if moral facts do not exist, then epistemic facts do not exist. But epistemic facts do exist: to deny their existence would commit us to an extreme version of epistemological scepticism. Therefore, Cuneo concludes, moral facts do exist. And if moral facts exist, then moral realism is true.

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    It is sometimes said that moral realists rarely offer arguments for their position, settling instead for mere defenses of a view they find intuitively plausible. By contrast, The Normative Web provides not merely a defense of robust realism in ethics, but a positive argument for this position. In so doing, it engages with a range of antirealist positions in epistemology such as error theories, expressivist views, and reductionist views of epistemic reasons. These positions, Cuneo claims, come at a prohibitively high theoretical cost.

    Given this cost, it follows that realism about both epistemic and moral facts is a position that we should find highly attractive.