Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 22, 2019, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/moral-realism/v-1
Moral realism is the view that there are facts of the matter about which actions are right and which wrong, and about which things are good and which bad. But behind this bald statement lies a wealth of complexity. If one is a full-blown moral realist, one probably accepts the following three claims.
First, moral facts are somehow special and different from other sorts of fact. Realists differ, however, about whether the sort of specialness required is compatible with taking some natural facts to be moral facts. Take, for instance, the natural fact that if we do this action, we will have given someone the help they need. Could this be a moral fact – the same fact as the fact that we ought to do the action? Or must we think of such a natural fact as the natural ‘ground’ for the (quite different) moral fact that we should do it, that is, as the fact in the world that makes it true that we should act this way?
Second, realists hold that moral facts are independent of any beliefs or thoughts we might have about them. What is right is not determined by what I or anybody else thinks is right. It is not even determined by what we all think is right, even if we could be got to agree. We cannot make actions right by agreeing that they are, any more than we can make bombs safe by agreeing that they are.
Third, it is possible for us to make mistakes about what is right and what is wrong. No matter how carefully and honestly we think about what to do, there is still no guarantee that we will come up with the right answer. So what people conscientiously decide they should do may not be the same as what they should do.
Dancy, Jonathan. Moral realism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L059-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/moral-realism/v-1.
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