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Nonetheless, with respect to moral statements, the existence of moral facts is exactly the issue. As a result, we cannot be as certain about moral language as we are about the S-statement that it must not be taken literally. Granted, one of the most deeply rooted realist and antirealist disagreements has been whether moral language expresses things literally. Should moral language be taken literally or in some revisionist fashion? Skorupski, an antirealist cognitivist, must maintain that moral language describes the world, yet it does not do so literally.

Models, truth and realism: assessing Bas van Fraassen's views on scientific representation

For instance, it expresses our ways of influencing others and ourselves. Realists, on the other hand, must maintain that moral language describes the world, and it does so literally. Moral language comes with shades of normativity, but that does not entail that moral language cannot be taken literally. Instead, the logico-linguistic considerations prove that moral language is no different from ordinary declarative statements that express ordinary beliefs.

How are we to decide between the two? Surely, it is difficult to decide between the two above-mentioned alternatives. Language allows many things for us. For example, people sometimes disagree about whether an utterance expresses a genuine question or whether it expresses an assertion in the form of a rhetorical question. This indicates that it can be difficult to know when a statement is to be taken literally and when it is not. That is, literalism about moral language requires an independent footing.

We presumably understand what moral statements express, if only in a rudimentary fashion. The disagreement about literalism may help explain why moral realists and antirealists often seem to talk past each other. Nevertheless, attributing different meaning to moral terms fails to further our inquiry.

At any rate, it does not seem feasible to make literalism a criterion for moral realism, especially when the difficulty associated with literalism about moral language is considered. Some moral judgments are literally true, but some truths are not known. It is sometimes thought that we get moral facts right, while others get them totally wrong. Is there any merit to such a claim? Does one ever know a certain moral judgments to be true? We get some moral facts right sometimes, according to the realist.

That is, we succeed in knowing certain moral judgments to be true. Moral realism implies some sort of literal success theory, and so moral knowledge is implied by it. Or, moral realism entails at least the possibility of such knowledge.

Moral Realism

Moral realists hold that we can have justified true moral beliefs, or that we can have warranted moral beliefs, according to some post-Gettier theories of knowledge. Some moral antirealists deny this. It is impossible to know something false as true! Moral skeptics hold that no moral judgments are justified or warranted. The epistemic success claim at once provokes epistemological questions: under what conditions are we ever justified or warranted in holding moral beliefs?

And, how can we truly say that we have correct moral facts? In answer, some moral realists have adopted a coherentist theory of justification, while others have opted for foundationalism and intuitionism. For instance, David Brink adopts coherentism in defense of a naturalist version of moral realism. See especially Brink , Naturalistic epistemology also deserves a serious consideration.

See Kim, , and Quine, Some theories of justification are able to accommodate moral knowledge more easily than others. A causal theory of knowledge and justification, for instance, is ill suited for the task. See Goldman, , and But it seems obvious that the belief that moral knowledge is possible can be maintained even with these externalist theories of justification.

One can be justified in holding that Doctor Evil is no good if the judgment results from a reliable cognitive process, say, for example, the cognitive process that results in Austin Powers being good. The possibility of moral knowledge does not entail moral realism, even though moral realism entails moral knowledge.

As was shown above, there is nothing to stop the moral antirealist from claiming moral knowledge once she helps herself to cognitivism, moral truths, and some theory of justification. On the other hand, moral realists need not be shy about adopting an externalist epistemology either.

A naturalistic realist would hope that moral knowledge is on a par with empirical knowledge. The realist may even agree that the paradigm justification for empirical knowledge is perceptual and is thus causal. The moral realist would have to reject causal reductionism, according to which the causal power of the supervening facts is entirely reducible to that of base facts. Moral judgments are true just in case they correctly report the supervening facts that depend on the non-moral base facts. Moral realists maintain that some literal moral truths are known, or that we are justified in holding them.

But are moral facts—the supposed truth-makers of moral judgments—objective? It could be the case that no ethical judgments are true independently of the desires or emotions that we happen to have, or, there could be different yet valid answers to the same ethical question as ethical relativists insist. Neither subjectivists nor relativists are obliged to deny that there is literal moral knowledge. Of course, according to them, moral truths imply truths about human psychology.

Moral realists must maintain that moral truths —and hence moral knowledge—do not depend on facts about our desires and emotions for their truth. For instance, W. Having objective literal moral knowledge seems to be sufficient for moral realism because no moral antirealists would acknowledge the possibility of such knowledge. Figure 5 summarizes the results of the discussion from 1. Figure 5.

We finally arrive at the definite moral realist position, which is marked by the oval box above. The combination of cognitivism, descriptivism, success theory, literalism, and objectivism seems sufficient for moral realism. Nonetheless, there are a couple of reasons why the moral realist territory is better marked by the explanationist consideration. This consideration leads to explanationist moral realism according to which there must be moral facts because they are essential in our understanding of the world. Despite these categories, the advent of quasi-realism signals the new antirealist way.

A quasi-realist can claim that cognitivism, descriptivism, moral truths, moral knowledge, and even moral objectivity, are within the antirealist camp. Quasi-realists such as R. Hare, Gilbert Harman, and Simon Blackburn promise to set people free from the unduly rigid ontology of moral realism, namely, the existence of moral facts. It all sounds too good to be true, but such a possibility seems exciting: why insist on the existence of moral facts if all aspects of our moral practices, especially the realist-sounding ones, could be understood without the fact-multiplying realist ontology?

Of course, the real question is this: is there anything significant that will be lost in our understanding of our moral practices if we were to settle for quasi-realism? The possibility that the quasi-realist extends to people is that quasi-realism poses no serious threat to the moral realist position. However, this quasi-realist contention— that by siding with quasi-realism nothing significant will be lost in our understanding of our moral practices—is simply mistaken.

The quasi-realist loses some of the best explanations of events, states of affairs, and phenomena within the world: the quasi-realist must reject folk moral explanations. This is so, it will be argued, because the quasi-realist cannot accommodate folk moral explanations without reducing them to naturalistic explanations.

Blackburn discusses derogatory judgments in his attempt to show how the quasi-realist allows for realist comforts. The quasi-realistic understanding of these judgments, according to Blackburn, allows for antirealist cognitivism about derogatory judgments, derogatory descriptivism, derogatory truth, derogatory knowledge, and even derogatory objectivity. The same may be said of the quasi-realistic understanding of moral judgments: for example, the quasi-realist might be entitled to cognitivism when it comes to moral judgments, descriptivism when it comes to moral language, moral truth, moral knowledge, and the quasi-realist perhaps may even be entitled to moral objectivity.

Analogously to the quasi-realism about derogatory judgments, Blackburn claims that quasi-realists are entitled to all these, without being committed to the existence of moral facts as part of the supposed fabric of the world. It consists partly of the judgment that Franz is German. The Franz sentence expresses something true, namely, that Franz is a German insofar as it expresses nothing further about him.

But the Franz sentence expresses more than just his nationality. It also expresses that Germans, including Franz, are fit objects of derision. The Franz sentence expresses something false because, according to Blackburn, the part that expresses the derogatory judgment is false. No one is a fit object of derision solely because of his nationality.

Consequently, the Franz statement describes the world falsely. What makes the Franz statement false? The quasi-realist may maintain that the truth or falsity of the Franz statement is to be determined by the existence or non-existence of the person toward whom it is appropriate to have such an attitude. Since there is no such person, the Franz statement is false.

Truth or falsity in derogatory judgments may be found in the way that they correspond or do not correspond to the world. Analogously, quasi-realists may earn the right to maintain cognitivism when it comes to moral judgments, descriptivism, moral truths, moral knowledge, moral objectivity, and so on. For the quasi-realist, the inner workings of moral language are such that they afford such realist-sounding expressions like moral truths without ever accepting the realist ontology.

The quasi-realist paints a rosy philosophical picture in which one can enjoy realist-sounding luxuries while not multiplying entities beyond necessity. Nonetheless, the nagging question remains: is it not better to have a real thing than to have a quasi-real thing, especially when the theoretical price is right?

It is ethical relativism that wins Harman antirealist entitlements. Blackburn earns his spurs through projectivism that eventually allows for the ontological parsimony. But why do quasi-realists think their particular brand of antirealism is true? Both Harman and Blackburn give a surprisingly unanimous explanation.

They call it the explanatory inadequacy thesis of the moral and it addresses the comparative explanatory inferiority of moral facts, the total lack of explanatory power of moral facts, or explanatory reductionism. It is the inadequacy thesis that entitles the quasi-realist to the antirealist parsimony.

To mark the moral realist territory in such a way that implies the irrelevance view the view that the explanatory inadequacy of moral facts does not constitute evidence against moral realism ignores the fact that it is primarily the inadequacy thesis that entitles the quasi-realist to anti-realism. The explanatory power of moral facts is the only realist doctrine that is immune from quasi-realist debunking. It is puzzling for the quasi-realist to advance the explanatory inadequacy thesis since she has ample room for accommodating folk moral explanations. She only needs to appeal to the putative moral facts as though they are real.


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It gives her the right to use notions such as bivalence, moral truth, moral knowledge, and so on. It seems rather arbitrary to stop at accommodating moral explanations. Such quasi-delicacies like quasi-moral-truths, quasi-moral-knowledge, or quasi-moral-objectivity allow for contemporary antirealist ways, but moral realists surely cannot rest content with them. A couple of ways moral realists do this is by asserting the existence of objective literal moral truths and explanationist moral realism.

On this inflated moral realism, the realist view turns out to be a jumble of 4 major theories in philosophy: cognitivism, descriptivism, literalism, and success theory.

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The correspondence theory of truth is neither necessary nor sufficient for moral realism as we saw above. A less inflated way of marking the realist territory would be advisable, should there be such a way. This is because quasi-realists insist that they are as much entitled to cognitivism, descriptivism, moral truth, moral knowledge and even moral objectivity as moral realists. Their insistence effectively thwarts realist attempts at marking their territory by relying on the traditional disagreement between realists and antirealists mapped in figure 5.

Explanationist moral realism has been suggested as a way of blocking the alleged quasi-realist masquerade. It focuses on the significance of having moral explanations. The explanationist moral realist holds that moral facts genuinely explain events and states of affairs in the world. In a rough and ready way, the explanationist realist maintains that there are moral facts because they explain non-moral events.

However, her claim is debated even within the realist camp. Shin Kim Email: skim hufs. Moral Realism The moral realist contends that there are moral facts, so moral realism is a thesis in ontology, the study of what is. The moral realist may argue for the view that there are moral facts as follows: 1 Moral sentences are sometimes true. Therefore, 4 The things that make some moral sentences true must exist.

Cognitivism If it is noncognitivism that provides the antirealist a way of rejecting moral truth, moral knowledge, and moral objectivity, the denial of noncognitivism that is, cognitivism must be necessary for the realist to properly claim them. Descriptivism Moral language and descriptive language share the same syntactic structure. This is captured as follows: C1 S is a moral realist if and only if S is a moral descriptivist. Figure 1 Non-descriptivists disagree about exactly what moral language accomplishes, while they are unanimous about what it does not.

Figure 3 The ontological ramification of accepting descriptivism or, cognitivism is not inevitably moral realism. Truth in Moral Judgments Moral statements express judgments, and for some, moral statements describe the world. This is captured in C2: C2 S is a moral realist if and only if S is a descriptivist; S believes that moral judgments express truth, and S believes that the moral judgments are true when they correspond to the world.

Truth, Relativism, & Anti-Realism

To sum up, consider the following five claims: The correspondence theory of truth is false or implausible. The correspondence theory of truth requires the truth of realism. The correspondence theory of truth is not required for realism and no particular theory of truth is. Literal Moral Truth? Moral Knowledge Some moral judgments are literally true, but some truths are not known.

Moral Objectivity Moral realists maintain that some literal moral truths are known, or that we are justified in holding them. Figure 5 We finally arrive at the definite moral realist position, which is marked by the oval box above. An Analogy: Quasi-Realism about Derogatory Judgments Blackburn discusses derogatory judgments in his attempt to show how the quasi-realist allows for realist comforts. Quasi-Realism, Antirealism, and Explanationist Moral Realism The quasi-realist paints a rosy philosophical picture in which one can enjoy realist-sounding luxuries while not multiplying entities beyond necessity.

Moral Realism after Quasi-Realism Such quasi-delicacies like quasi-moral-truths, quasi-moral-knowledge, or quasi-moral-objectivity allow for contemporary antirealist ways, but moral realists surely cannot rest content with them. A Realist Conception of Truth. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Ayer, A. Language, Truth, and Logic. New York: Dover Publications. Blackburn, Simon. Spreading the Word: Groundings in the Philosophy of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Essays in Quasi-Realism. New York: Oxford University Press. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Blackburn, Simon, and Keith Simmons, eds. Brink, David O.

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Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Philosophical Review , 1 Dodd, Julian. In a similar vein, the realist as characterized by the English philosopher Michael Dummett holds that statements may be true or false independently of any possibility, even in principle, of their being recognized as such. Putnam and Dummett both reject the realist positions they characterize.

Putnam argues that metaphysical realism faces insuperable problems in explaining how words and sentences can determinately refer or correspond to the world in the way apparently required if it is to be possible for even an ideal theory to be false. Dummett, for his part, presses two main challenges to realism: 1 to explain how humans could come to understand statements which are unrecognizably true, given that human linguistic training necessarily proceeds in terms of publicly accessible and recognizable aspects of use, and 2 to explain how such an alleged understanding could be manifested or displayed.

Although neither Putnam nor Dummett is prepared to endorse verificationism the view that a statement is cognitively meaningful only if it is possible in principle to verify it , both argue for positions which connect truth more closely than the realist does with evidence or with grounds for belief. Dummett argues that the meanings of statements must be explicated not in terms of potentially evidence-transcendent truth-conditions but by reference to conditions—such as those under which a statement counts as proved or justified—which can be recognized to obtain whenever they do.


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As Dummett emphasizes, the adoption of such an antirealist view of truth carries significant implications outside the theory of meaning, especially for logic and hence mathematics. And of course an explorer from Twin-Earth would likewise be wrong if she looked around on Earth, uttered the same words, and thereby confused our water with the stuff — XYZ — so abundant back home.

This he took to have significant implications for philosophy of science and for the question of what constitutes the truth or falsehood of scientific theories. In other words, it is a truth which had to be discovered through some process of empirical investigation but which none the less holds necessarily if that investigation was on the right track.

However this applies only to worlds — such as our own — where water is indeed H 2 O and where no other substance can lay proper, scientifically-warranted claim to that title. The case is quite different with a priori truths — like those of logic or mathematics — which apply across all possible worlds and which therefore aren't subject to empirical testing.

The Retreat to Internal Realism

Much better, Putnam thought, to give up that inherently self-defeating and scepticism-inducing idea in favour of a conception of knowledge as being framework-relative and an idea of truth — or, more aptly, of veridical warrant — that brought it back within the scope of what could be achieved. This now seemed to Putnam the only hope of heading off the kinds of epistemological doubt that have plagued philosophers ever since Descartes.

Otherwise there will always be room for the opponent to insert his sceptical wedge and remark that we can either have objective recognition-transcendent truth or knowledge within the bounds of present-best human cognitive grasp but surely not both. In which case, Putnam concluded, some middle-way solution along internal-realist lines is the best that we can reasonably hope for by way of meeting the sceptic's perennial challenge.

There were various reasons for Putnam's retreat to this compromise stance with regard to both the physical and the formal sciences, i. Among them were the well-known problems faced by any realist interpretation of quantum mechanics and the difficulty of defending synthetic a priori truth-claims in the wake of developments such as non-Euclidean geometry and General Relativity. This seems to go against a more common sense idea of realism. More recently, responding to criticisms on the latter score, Putnam has proposed various alternative formulations of his middle-ground epistemological stance.

Still it should be clear to any reader of Putnam's later work that his leanings toward anti-realism have always been to some extent tempered by a sense of the need for philosophers to square their views with current thinking in the physical sciences.