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Moral Realism: Notes on Peter Railton

Railton argues for a form of moral realism – moral judgements can bear truth values in a fundamentally non-epistemic sense of truth, moral properties are objective, though relational. Moral properties supervene upon natural properties. We know about morality but have reasons to disobey moral imperatives. Criteria for individuals varies, no one kind of life is likely to be appropriate for all individuals.

The fact/value distinction is epistemic. Arguments about value can continue after reasoning has been deployed. The hypothetical character of reason prevents it from dictating ultimate values.

Belief formation is at bottom a matter of contribution to our ends

Even scientific arguments require a system of imposed values

Hume said if moral facts exist they would provide reasons for moral action to all rational beings, regardless of their particular desires.

– morality is action guiding

Railton says to deny Hume’s theses doesn’t deny the action guiding nature of morality. Various significant and enduring human ends can be advanced if we appy certain evaluative criteria to our actions.

Reason does not compel us to adopt particular beliefs. Reliable mechanisms of belief formation serve our needs – unlike the internalist claim that reason requires us to adopt such means.

Realism and Normativity


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