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Moral Realism preferable to both Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism

  1. Dec 31, 2005 #1
    The problem with the term ‘absolutism’ are the connotations of totalitarianism and non-revisability. Moral realism on the other hand, is the realism of scientific realism.

    What is real is what science says is real. Granted, what was once considered real no longer is, and what is considered real now may not be in the future. Nevertheless, scientific method, however amorphous or fallible, remains the best way to make sense of experience, because of the systematic link between theory and observation.

    Moral theory, according to moral realism, is as revisable as scientific theory. Moral absolutism would seem to imply that a committed absolutist would be at the end of ethics and morality—his morality would be complete and not in need of revision. Hence, the short slip into totalitarianism.

    Given that the world is as science says it is, whence morality and ethics? The solution, according to moral realism, is to model the moral predicates of right and wrong after the scientific predicates of true and false. We write ‘It is true that p’ or ‘It is false that p’, (where p is a description) and thus entirely sidestep the ontological problem of what the attributes of Truth, as a Platonic entity-in-itself actually are. Similarly, we write ‘It is right that p’ or ‘It is wrong that p’. If you ever listen to Tony Blair’s speeches, this is exactly the locution that he uses.

    Combining the truth and moral predicates, we have ‘It is true that it is right that p’ and ‘It is false that it is right that p’ and ‘It is true that it is wrong that p’ and ‘It is false that it is wrong that p’. In this manner, one can entirely avoid the ontological problem of just what exactly the Platonic, eternal Morals actually are--that you all have been talking in circles about for two months now.:zzz:
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 31, 2005 #2
    Only a problem if you do not equate Realism as being Absolute, however, if that which is Real is Absolutely Real, then your "moral realism" = "moral absolutism", and all your talk of circles is itself a circle. And, is not the "realism of scientific method" viewed as totalitarian dogma by a large number of very "religious" folks, to the extent that they "home school" their children about the true science method as revealed by a higher power.
  4. Jan 1, 2006 #3
    Look it up: 'realism' does not mean the same as 'absolutism', so the problem remains. And since I don't, you will have to admit that my talk of circles is not itself a circle.

    So? Science is not totalitarian. It's free. All its truths are taken as provisional, and subject to revision. If scientific realism was scientific absolutism, there would be no point to science; everything would be figured out and could not be improved on.

    And what's with all the capital letters. The 18th century ended 206 years ago.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2006
  5. Jan 1, 2006 #4
    But, I have been lectured by others on this forum that philosophers do not "look up" definitions :cry: But, since you asked for one :smile:, we find in Webster (unabridged) that "absolute" is defined as (9) "actual; real; as in absolute truth". , so your problem has just again reappeared. :eek:, since absolutism is the quality of being absolute (Webster).
    Next you raise another concept not found in OP, what you phase as the statement:"if scientific realism was scientific absolutism", then, "there would be no point to science". I disagree. Let S = science, R = realism, A = absolutism. Now, if S is R and S is A, and since the predicates combine conjunctively, then S is {RA}--and we see that there is a very important "point" to S (science) in this example, e.g., when we say we have scientific knowledge, we are saying that the fundamental basis of this knowledge is both {realistic & absolute} = {RA}.
  6. Jan 2, 2006 #5
    Who said that? Humpty Dumpty, or was it the Cheshire Cat?

    My Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines 'absolutism' as:

    ab·so·lut·ism, n.
    1. the principle or the exercise of complete and unrestricted power in government.
    2. any theory holding that values, principles, etc., are absolute and not relative, dependent, or changeable.

    Whereas, the definition of 'realism' relevant for us is:

    re·al·ism, n.
    5. Philos.
    b. the doctrine that objects of sense perception have an existence independent of the act of perception.

    So, scientific realism is the doctrine that the posits of science used to explain observation have hidden careers independent of the observer. But since these posits (e.g. quarks) are not given to experience its always possible that we made a mistake. We used to think phlogiston was real; now we think quintessence is real, but who's to say that future generations will think it real.

    Scientific absolutism, on the other hand, is the doctrine that the posits of science are absolute and not relative, dependent, or changeable. Not quite the same by any stretch.

    BTW what does "OP" mean?
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2006
  7. Jan 2, 2006 #6
    Philosopher's really shouldn't 'look up' definitions. Just define your terms however you mean them. Dictionaries are stupid. (and if you do use a dictionary, don't use webster, use:

  8. Jan 2, 2006 #7


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    OP means "original post" or "original poster"
  9. Jan 2, 2006 #8
    Your definition above of "scientific absolutism" is a contradiction of terms. If the doctrine of "science" is anything it is a doctrine of "uncertain knowledge" of reality. All laws, facts, theories in science are relative, context dependent, changeable. Thus it seems to me you offer a distinction that does not exist. Plus, what do you mean the posits (e.g. quarks) are not given to experience, of course they are, it is called perception of that which exists independent of the observer. We are going nowhere with our dialog :rofl:, I will let others offer comments to continue this thread.
  10. Jan 2, 2006 #9
    Exactly, and so is "moral absolutism".

    Obviously you could use some help with your vocabulary:

    per·cep·tion (pÃr sepÆshÃn), n.
    1. the act or faculty of apprehending by means of the senses.

    Nobody has ever seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or felt a quark. But maybe you have ESP. Please tell us what they are like.

    Someone who understands English, I hope.
  11. Jan 2, 2006 #10
    Ah Smurf, my old friend,

    I didn't see your little post amongst all the others. Your point about dictionaries reminds me of an old story:

    "But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knockdown argument,'" Alice objected.

    "When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."

    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master--that's all."

    Here's a couple of definitions you might find useful:

    en·cy·clo·pe·di·a (en s#Åklà p"Æd" Ã), n.
    1. a book or set of books containing articles on various topics, usually in alphabetical arrangement, covering all branches of knowledge or, less commonly, all aspects of one subject.

    dic·tion·ar·y (dikÆshà nerÅ"), n., pl. -ar·ies.
    1. a book containing a selection of the words of a language, usually arranged alphabetically, giving information about their meanings, pronunciations, etymologies, inflected forms, etc., expressed in either the same or another language.

    So it's no wonder you find dictionaries to be stupid!:uhh:
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2006
  12. Jan 2, 2006 #11
    all that is left for you to do, now, is to have a laugh.
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