Relax? Don’t Do It! Why Moral Realism Won't Come Cheap

Oxford Studies in Metaethics 9 (2014)
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Abstract

Relaxed realists hold that there are deep differences between moral truths and the truths studied by the empirical sciences, but they deny that these differences raise troubling metaphysical or epistemological questions about moral truths. On this view, although features such as causal inefficacy, perceptual inaccessibility, and failure to figure in the best explanations of our empirical beliefs would raise pressing skeptical concerns were they claimed to characterize some aspect of physical reality, the same is not true when it comes to the moral domain. This chapter raises some doubts about this general picture of morality and some prominent ways of defending it. First, it takes up a comparison that is frequently invoked by relaxed realists, and one on which they often place a great deal of weight: a comparison between irreducibly normative properties and truths on the one hand, and mathematical properties and truths on the other. It argues that this comparison is much less favorable to the relaxed realist’s cause than is often thought. It then offers an extended critique of a particularly vigorous and sustained presentation of relaxed realism: that offered by Ronald Dworkin in Justice for Hedgehogs.

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Sarah McGrath
Princeton University

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