Moral Realism


Seriously, I just can’t understand why so many philosophers subscribe to it. I tried reading about it but I don’t understand the arguments for it. Help my baby brain.

In: Other

There are a wide range of philosophical “realisms” that represent some version of the idea that the “realness” of the things we talk and think about ought to be taken at face value.

For example, “scientific realism” is the belief that the theoretical entities that science talks about are “real” and that statements generated by the scientific community about these entities at least *aim at* truth. There are plenty of good reasons to be suspicious of scientific realism and suppose that things like “quarks” and “Higgs particles” and “gravity waves” are more like conceptual inventions that humans use to solve practical problems rather than capital-O Objective, capital-R Real things, but once we start thinking like this, we might start wondering whether *anything* is “real” or “true” or “objective.”

Some folks have noted that “realism” seems to function on a spectrum whose range is a matter of how big the captial-R on “real” might be, or how loudly I am banging my fist on the table when I say that something is “Real damnit!” Are “race” and “baseball” and “COVID-19” “real?” In some senses and contexts, clearly yes, in others, maybe not. We might think of the mildest versions of “realism” on this spectrum as a sort of “natural ontological attitude” where we take things more or less at face value so long as we aren’t provoked into a more skeptical attitude, and strongest versions as carefully considered, fist-on-table, metaphysical truths.

Applied to moral matters, realism amounts to the attitude that at least some basic “moral facts” ought to be taken at face value and treated as at least aiming at truth. As with any other kind of realism, this describes a spectrum of positions, but we can think of it as claiming that “genocide is wrong” should be treated with roughly the same ontological attitude as “the cat is on the mat,” or “there are nine innings in a regulation baseball game” or “neutrons are made of quarks.”