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What is Moral Realism?

Moral realism might examine whether the truth of a statement such as "murder is wrong" can be determined.
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  • Written By: Ken Black
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  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2014
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In 18th-century England, murderers could ask for a lesser sentence by claiming a full moon made them act erratic.  more...

November 20 ,  1945 :  The Nuremberg Trials began.  more...

Moral realism is a philosophical point of view which states that there are moral facts that can and should be acted upon. This type of philosophy is dependent on a number of different variables and questions, all of which have to be answered in order for moral realists to accept the moral fact. In the end, the goal of moral realism is to determine objective moral values. This is done by answering the question: If there are moral facts, how can they be discovered?

Moral realism, while having a significant following, has other forms of philosophy that are in direct contrast to its stated claims. Those who question moral realism are referred to as anti-realists. Such people have significant problems with the theories posed by moral realists and wish to subscribe to other types of philosophy. Anti-realists often are further broken down into a number of subcategories.

The first step in moral realism states that some moral sentences are true. This assumes, of course, that such things can be evaluated. For example, saying, "Murder is wrong" is a sentence that moral realists would have to determine if it is true or not. To do so, they would first have to decide whether the truth of the sentence could be evaluated.

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If the moral statement can be evaluated, the next step to determine if it is true lies in looking at its real-world relationships. For example, moral realism may perform what amounts to a cost/benefit analysis to determine if murder is wrong. What does it harm the individual? What does it harm society? How are these quantifiable? Are there any advantages or positives to murder? All these questions would need to be answered.

If the answer reveals that there is a real-world relationship, then in the minds of a moral realist, there are other quantifiable statements that have absolute moral authority. Thus, moral realism states that judgments can be made about these issues, based on the validity of the moral statement. However, before judgments can be made, every statement must be thoroughly vetted.

The opposition to moral realism that anti-realists have can best be explained through the feelings of the noncognitivist. These individuals believe that moral statements can only be accepted or rejected based on one's own personal beliefs, convictions and emotions. Therefore, there may truly be no way to objectively answer the question of if there is a real-world relationship that can be linked to a moral statement.

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JavaGhoul
Post 4

@arod2b42

I think that the answer to these questions is that forgiveness can lead to moral goodness. When a criminal has been vindicated (I'm thinking of the example of Jean in Les Miserables), he is enabled to overcome his reputation as being evil, and face up to extreme moralists like Javert. Les Miserables is perhaps the best example of forgiveness running up against cold moralism. One of them forms a better basis for moral realism.

arod2b42
Post 3

Even the Bible itself, the supposed authority on moral realism in the West, seems to be self-contradictory when it comes to morality. In one case, God punishes the evildoer. In another case, he dies for his enemies. Reconciling this seeming disparity between morality and forgiveness can be a difficult one in seeking for a basis for moral realism.

dbuckley212
Post 2

Moral relativism states that there are no real rules which are to be applied across the board. It would view moral absolutism and realism as procrustean, seeking to apply a set of standards without regard for personal context. Walking a fine line between absolutism and relativism can be a difficult but essential task for lawmakers and authorities.

FitzMaurice
Post 1

In all studies, sciences, and laws, there needs to be an ultimate basis for these claims. We can't test and see if things are true, we need to have an absolute basis for truth in order to establish a society and an enlightened academia in the first place. In nations with little or no moral living space, there is simply not room for these institutions to flourish.

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