Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 11, pp 2763–2789 | Cite as

Epistemological motivations for anti-realism

  • Billy DunawayEmail author


Anti-realism is often claimed to be preferable to realism on epistemological grounds: while realists have difficulty explaining how we can ever know claims if we are realists about it, anti-realism faces no analogous problem. This paper focuses on anti-realism about normativity to investigate this alleged advantage to anti-realism in detail. I set up a framework in which a version of anti-realism explains a type of modal reliability that appears to be epistemologically promising, and plausibly explains the appearance of an epistemological advantage to realism. But, I argue, this appearance is illusory, and on closer investigation the anti-realist view does not succeed in explaining the presence of familiar epistemological properties for normative belief like knowledge or the absence of defeat. My conclusion on the basis of this framework is that there is a tension in the anti-realist view between the urge to idealize the conditions in which normative beliefs ground normative facts, and a robust kind of reliability that normative belief can have if the anti-realist resists these idealizations.


Realism Anti-realism Knowledge Risk Constructivism Normativity 



Thanks to an anonymous referee, as well as audiences at the University of Oxford Moral Philosophy seminar, University of Sydney, Australian National University, the St. Louis Ethics Workshop, the Higher Seminar in Theoretical Philosophy at Uppsala University, Saint Louis University, and the London Institute of Philosophy Language, Epistemology, and Metaphysics Seminar for helpful discussion of previous versions of this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Missouri–St LouisSt. LouisUSA

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