Questions for Moral Realists

My meta-ethics are ba­si­cally that of Luke’s Plu­ral­is­tic Mo­ral Re­duc­tion­ism. (UPDATE: Elab­o­rated in my Meta-ethics FAQ.)

How­ever, I was cu­ri­ous as to whether this “Plu­ral­is­tic Mo­ral Re­duc­tion­ism” counts as moral re­al­ism or anti-re­al­ism. Luke’s es­say says it de­pends on what I mean by “moral re­al­ism”. I see moral re­al­ism as bro­ken down into three sep­a­rate axes:

There’s suc­cess the­ory, the part that I ac­cept, which states that moral state­ments like “mur­der is wrong” do suc­cess­fully re­fer to some­thing real (in this case, a par­tic­u­lar moral stan­dard, like util­i­tar­i­anism—“mur­der is wrong” refers to “mur­der does not max­i­mize hap­piness”).

There’s uni­tary the­ory, which I re­ject, that states there is only one “true” moral stan­dard rather than hun­dreds of pos­si­ble ones.

And then there’s ab­solutism the­ory, which I re­ject, that states that the one true moral­ity is ra­tio­nally bind­ing.

I don’t know how many moral re­al­ists are on LessWrong, but I have a few ques­tions for peo­ple who ac­cept moral re­al­ism, es­pe­cially uni­tary the­ory or ab­solutism the­ory. Th­ese are “gen­er­ally seek­ing un­der­stand­ing and op­pos­ing points of view” kind of ques­tions, not stumper ques­tions de­signed to dis­prove or any­thing. While I’m do­ing some more read­ing on the topic, if you’re into moral re­al­ism, you could help me out by shar­ing your per­spec­tive.


Why is there only one par­tic­u­lar moral­ity?

This goes right to the core of uni­tary the­ory—that there is only one true the­ory of moral­ity. But I must ad­mit I’m dumb­founded at how any one par­tic­u­lar the­ory of moral­ity could be “the one true one”, ex­cept in so far as some­one per­son­ally chooses that the­ory over oth­ers based on prefer­ences and de­sires.

So why is there only one par­tic­u­lar moral­ity? And what is the one true the­ory of moral­ity? What makes this the­ory the one true one rather than oth­ers? How do we know there is only one par­tic­u­lar the­ory? What’s in­ad­e­quate about all the other can­di­dates?


Where does moral­ity come from?

This gets me a bit more back­ground knowl­edge, but what is the on­tol­ogy of moral­ity? Some con­cepts of moral re­al­ism have an idea of a “moral realm”, while oth­ers re­ject this as need­lessly queer and spooky. But es­sen­tially, what is ground­ing moral­ity? Are moral facts con­tin­gent; could moral­ity have been differ­ent? Is it pos­si­ble to make it differ­ent in the fu­ture?


Why should we care about (your) moral­ity?

I see ra­tio­nal­ity as talk­ing about what best satis­fies your pre-ex­ist­ing de­sires. But it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that moral­ity isn’t de­sir­able by some­one at all. While I hope that so­ciety is pre­pared to co­erce them into moral be­hav­ior (ei­ther through so­cial or le­gal force), I don’t think that their im­moral be­hav­ior is nec­es­sar­ily ir­ra­tional. And on some ac­counts, moral­ity is in­de­pen­dent of de­sire but still has ra­tio­nal force.

How does moral­ity get it’s abil­ity to be ra­tio­nally bind­ing? If the very defi­ni­tion of “ra­tio­nal­ity” in­cludes be­ing moral, is that mere word­play? Why should we ac­cept this defi­ni­tion of ra­tio­nal­ity and not a differ­ent one?

I look for­ward to en­gag­ing in diologue with some moral re­al­ists. Same with moral anti-re­al­ists, I guess. After all, if moral re­al­ism is true, I want to know.