Moral Realism and the Sceptical Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3011 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Business - Ethics


The first issue that he addresses is the argument which derives from disagreement. According to Mackie, there are disagreements in all the disciplines. However, while in most disciplines a solution is believed to exist even if at theoretical level only, such is not the case with ethics. Here we can not conceive that a solution is possible in principle only. In ethics a solution is either found, or it simply does not exist. As far as the process through which people get to the solution, Mackie thinks that all the people share the same basic beliefs and it is only the so called empiric conditions which differ. The consequence is that people end up arguing about different types of actions turning the whole disagreement into an apparent one (there is a common basis but not a real communication process). The logical process through which Mackie establishes this conclusion is not clear.

Another interesting idea that Mackie brings into discussion is the one of contingency. He believes that there are numerous facts and actions which will be either wrong or right only in a contingent manner and that only the moral principles which are general fall outside this principle. At this point Brink states that yes indeed there are numerous facts which are contingent in the field of moral realism. This does not imply that they are all contingent. In addition this say nothing about how many of these things are contingent. Such being the case, there is no reason to conclude that this fact contributes to demonstrating the impossibility of moral realism.

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A further point of debate between Mackie and Brink is represented by the genuine dimension of the moral disagreements. Brink admits that indeed not all moral conflicts are genuine one. However the states that this does not change the situation. Even in the absence of an unique answer which is universally correct, the realist can still claim that the dispute is real. Unlike in other fields of study, in ethics may provide a dispute with more than one answer which can be judged to be potentially valid. This potentiality does not diminish the realistic character of the affair.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Moral Realism and the Sceptical Assignment

To put it differently, Mackie believes that the general principles are the ones which can support and justify the particular ones when we are dealing with moral judgments, but not the other way around. Brink believes that this view is a limited one, unilateral and defective. He states that the justification process can function in both directions, from the general to the particular and from the particular to the general. Obtaining a coherent explanation is the most important thing given the circumstances.

At this point Brink draws the attention to the fcat that many moral disputes fail to find a solution because the focus is put upon facts which are non-moral. Focusing on the non-moral dimension we fail to see the real consequences which these facts may have upon real individuals. Perhaps in order to find the correct solution to the problem, one might have to ask the politically incorrect question. Non-moral questions might provide the disputes with a different approach to the problem, leading eventually to a solution.

Brink states one more time that ethics does not differ form other disciplines in the sense that, a solution must not necessarily be found. If a solution is considered to be possible in principle, then the issue is partly solved and this demonstrates that it is "real." Contrary, Mackie sustains that moral realism can exist only if real solutions are found to all the moral dilemmas. Since reality demonstrates that many ethical dilemmas remain open (a solution has not been found yet, but it is possible to find it in principle) then he concludes that moral realism is impossible. It is obvious that the views of the two authors are at this point irreconcilable.

The argument from queerness is the second one which Mackie uses in order to demonstrate that moral realism can not exist. According to him this conclusion can be reached a posteriori, that is after seeing the huge differences which exist between the objective facts and the "natural facts for which we have evidence." After having demonstrated that the internalist approach is too weak in order to be considered valid, Brink will now demonstarte how the moral realist can rely upon externalism.

So why does Mackie think that moral realism is a queer theory? Because moral principles are supposed to be sui generis. In other words, moral principles exist independently of our intellect at an ontological level. While this is true, it does not limit the value of truth of moral realism. It is at this point that Brink supports his thesis with the claims according to which there is a posteriori evidence for the truth of materialism and the falseness of ontological pluralism. Going deeper with his critique Brink declares that there can be no moral principles which are valid sui generis. When dealing with moral realism, the realist must deal with facts which are real, and not with ontological categories. There might be a connection between the moral and the physical properties of facts, but what the realist must do is to establish an approach according to which the moral dimension goes beyond the physical one. Brink underlines that there is nothing mysterious about establishing a supervenenient relation between moral properties and natural -- physical ones, insisting that properties must not be identical in order to allow one to supervene the other. A dynamic relation is installed between them and one acts as the basic support for the other which will "realise" it. Brink declares that there is nothing queer about this sort of relation and gives the example of the mental and the physical states. Mental states supervene on physicals states, social facts supervene on physical states, macroscopic objects supervene upon microscopic entities, yet nobody considers the second parties of these binomes as being queer. The same rule can be applied in the case of moral realism according to Brink. Once again the visions of the two authors are completely irreconcilable. At this point however we understand Brink's claim according to which the moral principles do not exist sui generis. From an ontological point-of-view, they do not exist independently, nor are they simple. They are always involved in a supervenient type of relationship. In addition, the moral principles must be analyzed and conceived taking into account the well being and the flourishing of the individual. Therefore the prescriptive character of moral facts must be evaluated from this perspective and not judged from an ontological point-of-view only.

The last point that Brink discusses is the connection between theory and practice. Once again the issue is, can we really compare the realms of ethics with the ones of science? Or just like Brink puts it, can we reach conclusions in the area of moral judgments just like we do when attempting to find the right formula for a certain type of Ph? Mackie argues that while in the scientific areas one can find solutions based upon approximate truths, such is not the case with moral values. Naturally Brink disagrees. The first argument he brings in order to demonstrate his point is represented by the degree of consensus needed in order to establish that a moral theory is correct. The second one refers to the agreements regarding the truth value of a moral judgments which have been necessary before the present discussion. The third one is that the existence of the disagreement does not impact the existence of moral realism. Brink-s conclusion is therefore that there is nothing queer or strange about moral realism, therefore Mackie's second argument is destroyed as well, thus proving his thesis wrong.

In conclusion, Brink and Mackie represent two different approaches regarding the objective dimension of the moral facts. Mackie fills the position of the sceptic declaring that since there are so many moral dilemmas which remain unsolved that it is impossible to conceive the ethic area as something objectively real. In order to demonstrate his thesis he relies upon two arguments, one which derives from queerness, the other one which derives from disagreement. Brink manages to demonstrate that both these arguments are not solid enough in order to be considered absolute and therefore he concludes that they can not support a conclusion according to which moral realism is impossible. It must be however reminded that their views are extremely different, and that the very approaches seem to belong to different thinking paradigms. Under these circumstances we can only reach a conclusion similar to the one of Brink's, saying that while there is no consensus on the solution, a solution is still possible in principle.


Brink, D. 1994. "Moral realism and the sceptical arguments from Disagreement and Queerness." Australasian Journal of philosophy,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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