Naturalism and Moral Realism

In Thomas M. Crisp, Matthew Davidson & David Vander Laan (eds.), Knowledge and Reality: Essays in Honor of Alvin Plantinga. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 215-242 (2006)
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My goal in this paper is to show that naturalists cannot reasonably endorse moral realism. My argument will come in two parts. The first part aims to show that any plausible and naturalistically acceptable argument in favor of belief in objective moral properties will appeal in part to simplicity considerations (broadly construed)—and this regardless of whether moral properties are reducible to non-moral properties. The second part argues for the conclusion that appeals to simplicity justify belief in moral properties only if either those properties are not objective or something like theism is true. Thus, if my argument is sound, naturalists can reasonably accept moral realism only if they are prepared to accept something like theism. But, as will become clear, naturalists can reasonably accept theism or something like it only if belief in some such doctrine is justified by the methods of science. For present purposes, I’ll assume (what I think virtually every naturalist will grant) that belief in theism and relevantly similar doctrines is not justified by the methods of science. Thus, I will conclude that naturalists cannot reasonably accept moral realism.

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Michael Rea
University of Notre Dame


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