Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 4, pp 897–914 | Cite as

Immoral realism

  • Max Khan HaywardEmail author


Non-naturalist realists are committed to the belief, famously voiced by Parfit, that if there are no non-natural facts then nothing matters. But it is morally objectionable to conditionalise all our moral commitments on the question of whether there are non-natural facts. Non-natural facts are causally inefficacious, and so make no difference to the world of our experience. And to be a realist about such facts is to hold that they are mind-independent. It is compatible with our experiences that there are no non-natural facts, or that they are very different from what we think. As Nagel says, realism makes scepticism intelligible. So the non-naturalist must hold that you might be wrong that your partner (for example) matters, even if you are correct about every natural, causal fact about your history and relationship. But to hold that conditional attitude to your partner would be a moral betrayal. So believing non-naturalist realism involves doing something immoral.


Ethics Metaethics Moral realism Non-naturalism Non-naturalist realism Moral nihilism 



I would like to thank Philip Kitcher, Justin Clarke-Doane, Christopher Peacocke, Simon Blackburn, Sharon Street, Robbie Kubala, Max Barkhausen, Christian Coons, Pekka Väyrynen, Shamik Dasgupta, Matt Bedke, Stephen Findlay, Aaron Zimmerman and audiences at Columbia University, Bowling Green State University, Temple University, University College London, McGill University, the University of Leeds, and the 2018 American Philosophical Association, The University of Edinburgh, Pacific Division for their helpful comments.


  1. Bedke, M. (forthcoming). A dilemma for non-naturalists: Irrationality or immorality? Philosophical Studies. Google Scholar
  2. Benacerraf, P. (1973). Mathematical truth. Journal of Philosophy, 60, 661–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blackburn, S. (1993). Errors and the phenomenology of value. In Essays in quasi-realism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Blackburn, S. (1996). Response to Dworkin, BEARS symposium archive, posted 11/11/96. Accessible at:
  5. Blackburn, S. (2010) Must we weep for sentimentalism? In Practical tortoise raising. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Camus, A. (1955/1942). The Myth of Sisyphus. In The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays, tr Justin O’Brien. New York: Alfred A Knopf.Google Scholar
  7. Clarke-Doane, J. (2012). Morality and mathematics: The evolutionary challenge. Ethics, 122, 313–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clarke-Doane, J. (2016). Debunking and dispensability. In S. Neil & L. Uri (Eds.), Explanation in ethics and mathematics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Clarke-Doane, J. (forthcoming). Metaphysical possibility and absolute possibility. Synthese Google Scholar
  10. Coons, C. (2011). How to prove that some acts are wrong (without using substantive moral premises). Philosophical Studies, 155, 83–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cutter, B. (2018). The metaphysical implications of the moral significance of consciousness. Philosophical Perspectives, 31, 103–130. Scholar
  12. Dasgupta, S. (2017). Non-naturalism and normative authority. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 117(3), 297–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dworkin, R. (1996). Objectivity and truth: You’d better believe it. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 25(2), 87–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Enoch, D. (2010). The epistemological challenge to metanormative realism. Philosophical Studies, 148(3), 413–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Enoch, D. (2011). Taking morality seriously: A defense of robust realism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Field, H. (1989). Realism, mathematics, and modality. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  17. Fine, K. (2002). The varieties of necessity. In T. S. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Conceivability and Possibility. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. James, W. (1956). The moral philosopher and the moral life. In The will to believe. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  19. Lange, M. (2018). What would normative necessity be? The Journal of Philosophy, 115(4), 169–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lewis, D. (2005). Quasi-realism is fictionalism. In M. E. Kalderon (Ed.), Fictionalism in metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Nagel, T. (1986). The view from nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Nowell-Smith, P. H. (1954). Ethics. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  23. Parfit, D. (2011). On what matters, Volumes I & II. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Railton, P. (1984). Alienation, consequentialism, and the demands of morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 13(2), 134–171.Google Scholar
  25. Rosati, C. S. (2016). Moral motivation. In N. Z. Edward (Ed.), The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition).
  26. Rosen, G. (MS). What is normative necessity? Google Scholar
  27. Scanlon, T. M. (2014). Being realistic about reasons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Street, S. (2006). A Darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value. Philosophical Studies, 127, 109166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Väyrynen, P. (2018). Normative commitments in metanormative theory. In J. Suikkanen & A. Kauppinen (Eds.), Methodology and moral philosophy. Routledge studies in ethics and moral theory. Routledge (forthcoming)Google Scholar
  30. Williams, W. (1973). A critique of utilitarianism. In Utilitarianism for and against Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  31. Williams, B. (2006). Philosophy as a humanistic discipline. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bowling Green State University / University of SheffieldBowling GreenUSA

Personalised recommendations