Moral Realism

  • Svend Brinkmann


Moral realism is usually presented as the view that there is such a thing as moral knowledge or moral cognition (for that reason, moral realism is conventionally referred to as moral “cognitivism” in the philosophical literature, but since this term has quite different meanings in psychology, I shall stick to “realism”). Nagel (1986:139) defines moral realism as “the view that propositions about what gives us reasons for action can be true or false independently of how things appear to us.” It may appear to me that I ought to leave my family and travel to India in order to find and realize my true self. If one is a moral realist, then, according to Nagel’s definition, it is either true or false independently of how the situation subjectively appears to me that I have a good reason to go to India. There is a fact of the matter, which transcends my subjective perspective. If my reason is a good reason, then it is good, not because it appears good or feels right to me, but because it hooks up with certain moral values that are there independently of my personal feelings, preferences, and attitudes. If, on the contrary, the reason is a bad reason, then it is likewise bad regardless of how I may subjectively feel about it. What is a good reason is not up to me, but is a matter of the structure of the space of reasons. Often, our reasons and evaluations are implicit in our reactions, feelings, and intuitions – in our “moral know-how” (Laitinen, 2002b) – rather than in formulated moral views and theories. But like explicit propositions, these reactions, feelings, and intuitions can still be more or less correct and morally legitimate, according to the moral realist. The realist claim is that what is morally good and right is not good and right because someone happens to like it. Rather, we ought to like what is ­morally good, and likewise detest what is morally bad. Indeed, we have moral ­reasons to like what is morally good, and detest what is morally bad. This is the view that I shall try to defend.


Moral Judgment Sexual Harassment Moral Reason Moral Property Moral Action 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication and PsychologyUniversity of AalborgAalborgDenmark

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