Moral realism and its opposite

Say you start with an account of the real as “whatever can be put in a box”. On this account paper clips, elephants, my liver, ten pounds, and the moons of Venus are all real. At the same time, you can show that fictional characters, leprechauns, and impossible entities are not real. You waver over mathematicals, the color read, and a few other things, but moral values are decidedly unreal. But for all the explanatory merit of the theory, it doesn’t capture what anyone thinks is moral realism, whether they support or reject it.

So say we take another account of the real, as what is universally given. But here again one can take something as universally given without taking it as real or objective. Perhaps morality is just an innate disposition to see princess Alice. By the same token, morality might be as eternal as a Platonic form and still not be one bit more real.

The same might be said of an account of the real as what is discovered as opposed to made.

So the dispute over moral realism can’t be over some crude sense of its being a substance, or over whether it is universal, or eternal, or discovered as opposed to invented. All these are compatible with non-realism.

Nagel’s response is that moral realism is the claim that there is nothing over and beyond the facts that is required to make them count as moral facts. Moral realism would apply if my reason for giving you water was just that you were dying and it would save you. Non-realism would require adding something in addition to this description; a world of values that is an addition to (non moral) facts. One supposes that this non-realism, in addition to the facts, adds the voice of command, or the sense of obligation or being forbidden.

But then we seem to hit the strange conclusion that divine command theory is a sort of non-realism; or at least that there could be some account of DCT that was non-realist. It’s hard to tell whether this reveals or refutes the thesis.

 

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