What Kind of Ethics Does Science Call into Question?



For an increasing number of philosophers, the picture of the mind revealed by science provides reason for denying the existence of moral truths. For these philosophers, the belief in moral truths is a peculiarity of human psychology that has no connection to anything real. The moral truths that most of us take to be obvious turn out to be deceptions played out by our own minds. In this chapter, I set out to specify the kinds of moral claims that I believe science provides reasons for rejecting. In the course of doing so, I hope to sort out several terminological ambiguities that have often made it difficult to understand what is at stake in the disputes between those philosophers who attempt to attack the legitimacy of traditional ethical notions and those who defend them. Before moving forward, a quick clarification of terms is in order. I use “science” here in the standard sense of the enterprise aimed at discovering natural laws behind both physical and social phenomena, and using such knowledge to understand the causes of such phenomena and to make testable predictions about them. By “moral truths,” I am referring to alleged facts—such as “Lying is wrong”—that are believed to be grounded by the existence of moral properties such as wrongness. Denying the existence of such facts does not commit one to denying that there are truths (in the broad sense) about statements that employ moral concepts.


Moral Judgment Moral Responsibility Error Theory Moral Claim Moral Realism 
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© Stephen G. Morris 2015

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