Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 589–601 | Cite as

Medusa’s Gaze Reflected: A Darwinian Dilemma for Anti-Realist Theories of Value



Street has argued that the meta-ethical realist is faced with a dilemma. Either evolutionary forces have had a distorting influenced on our ability to track moral properties or evolutionary forces influenced our beliefs in the direction of tracking moral properties. Street argues that if the realist accepts the first horn of the dilemma, the realist must accept implausible skepticism regarding moral beliefs. If the realist accepts the second horn of the dilemma, the realist owes an explanation of the fitness producing nature of moral beliefs. As Street establishes the dialectic, the anti-realist’s explanation is better. I will argue that Street’s first horn is question begging then I will grasp the second horn of the dilemma and argue that only the realist can explain the role of moral beliefs in our evolutionary history. My argument will take the form of a dilemma. For our evaluative judgments to be fitness conducive, they must be responsive to the right sort of external world properties. The non-reductive realist can provide such a set of properties. On the first horn of the dilemma, the anti-realist cannot. The realist, unlike the anti-realist, can explain why our evaluative judgments are fitness conducive. The realist has won the explanatory battle. On the second horn of the dilemma, the anti-realist can provide a set of non-normative external world properties that our evaluative attitudes are responsive to. In doing so, the anti-realist has provided the heretofore-missing component of the reductive realist’s project. Again, the realist has won.


Moral realism Darwinism Moral skepticism Naturalism 



I’d like to thank David Enoch, Jason Decker, Richard Fumerton, and Evan Fales for very helpful written comments and Russ Shafer-Landau and Sam Alexander Taylor for our constructive conversations.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of IowaIowa CityUSA

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