Moral Realism Made Easier

Activity: Talks or PresentationsOther Invited Talks or Presentations


J. L. Mackie argued that if there were objective values, then they would have to be intrinsically action-guiding. They would have to both directus and motivateus, in ways that do not depend upon our particular aims or desires. These claims about objective values have been widely rejected, both by moral realists and by non-realists alike. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, little attention has been given since Mackie to the question of whether or not there really are any such intrinsically action-guiding states. My first goal is to show that despite the lack of attention it has received, this question has great significance for metaethics. If some prima facie goods like happiness are intrinsically action-guiding, in roughly the way that Mackie described, then the case for moral realism is strengthened significantly. We can give a satisfying answer to the question "Why be moral?," and we can defuse some important objections to moral realism. Having motivated the search for intrinsically action-guiding states, my second goal is to defend the view that at least some prima facie goods are indeed intrinsically action-guiding. The idea that there cannot be intrinsically action-guiding states is based upon a broadly Humean metaphysical theory but the Humean theory is controversial, and there are intuitive grounds for rejecting it. The general lesson is that the prospects of moral realism may appear weaker than they really are, because metaethicsists have implicitly endorsed a metaphysical vision that is uncongenial to the existence of objective values. If that metaphysical vision is cast aside, it is easier to be a moral realist.
Period30 Jan 2023
Held atDepartment of Philosophy