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Moral Facts and Best Explanations*

  • Brian Leiter (a1)

Do moral properties figure in the best explanatory account of the world? According to a popular realist argument, if they do, then they earn their ontological rights, for only properties that figure in the best explanation of experience are real properties. Although this realist strategy has been widely influential—not just in metaethics, but also in philosophy of mind and philosophy of science—no one has actually made the case that moral realism requires: namely, that moral facts really will figure in the best explanatory picture of the world. This issue may have been neglected in part because the influential dialectic on moral explanations between philosophers Gilbert Harman and Nicholas Sturgeon has focused debate on whether moral facts figure in relevant explanations. Yet as others have noted, explanatory relevance is irrelevant when it comes to realism: after all, according to the popular realist argument, it is inference to the best explanation of experience that is supposed to confer ontological rights. I propose to ask, then, the relevant question about moral explanations: should we think that moral properties will figure in the best explanatory account of the world?

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Gilbert Harman , “Moral Explanations of Natural Facts—Can Moral Claims Be Tested against Moral Reality?Southern Journal of Philosophy 24, supplement (1986): 5768

Nicholas Sturgeon , “Harman on Moral Explanations of Natural Facts,” Southern Journal of Philosophy 24, supplement (1986): 6978.

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Nicholas L. Sturgeon , “Critical Study of Gibbard's Wise Choices, Apt Feelings,” in Noûs 29, no. 3 (1995): 402–24, esp. 415–18.

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Jaegwon Kim , “Multiple Realization and the Metaphysics of Reduction,” reprinted in Kim, Supervenience and Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Brian Leiter and Alexander Miller , “Closet Dualism and Mental Causation,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 28, no. 2 (1998): 161–81, esp. 171–73.

Joshua Cohen , “The Arc of the Moral Universe,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 26, no. 2 (1997): 94.

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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