Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Realism, Naturalism, and Moral Semantics*

  • David O. Brink (a1)

The prospects for moral realism and ethical naturalism have been important parts of recent debates within metaethics. As a first approximation, moral realism is the claim that there are facts or truths about moral matters that are objective in the sense that they obtain independently of the moral beliefs or attitudes of appraisers. Ethical naturalism is the claim that moral properties of people, actions, and institutions are natural, rather than occult or supernatural, features of the world. Though these metaethical debates remain unsettled, several people, myself included, have tried to defend the plausibility of both moral realism and ethical naturalism. I, among others, have appealed to recent work in the philosophy of language—in particular, to so-called theories of “direct reference” —to defend ethical naturalism against a variety of semantic worries, including G. E. Moore's “open question argument.” In response to these arguments, critics have expressed doubts about the compatibility of moral realism and direct reference. In this essay, I explain these doubts, and then sketch the beginnings of an answer—but understanding both the doubts and my answer requires some intellectual background.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

David O. Brink , Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

Peter Railton , “Moral Realism,” Philosophical Review 95, no. 2 (1986): 163207

Stephen Darwall , Allan Gibbard , and Peter Railton , “Toward Fin de Siècle Ethics: Some Trends,” Philosophical Review 101, no. 1 (1992): 115–89, esp. 117–18.

Hilary Putnam , “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’,” reprinted in his Mind, Language, and Reality, vol. 2 of his Philosophical Papers (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975).

Michael Slote , “The Rationality of Aesthetic Value Judgments,” Journal of Philosophy 68, no. 22 (1971): 821–39.

Eric H. Gampel , “A Defense of the Autonomy of Ethics: Why Value Is Not Like Water,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 26, no. 2 (1996): 191209.

Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons , “New Wave Moral Realism Meets Moral Twin Earth,” Journal of Philosophical Research 16 (19901991): 447–65

Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons , “Troubles for New Wave Moral Semantics: The Open Question Argument Revived,” Philosophical Papers 21, no. 3 (1992): 153–75

Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons , “Troubles on Moral Twin Earth: Moral Queerness Revived,” Synthese 92, no. 2 (1992): 221–60.

T. M. Scanlon , “Utilitarianism and Contractualism,” in Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams , eds., Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 88 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 287 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th May 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.