Moral anti-realism

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Moral anti-realism is the view that there are no known moral facts. Moral anti-realism is divided into two main classes-cognitivist or noncognitivist theories.[1]

"My demand of the philosopher is well known: that he take his stand beyond good and evil and treat the illusion of moral judgment as beneath him. This demand follows from an insight that I was the first to articulate: that there are no moral facts. Moral judgment has this in common with the religious one, that it believes in realities which are not real. Morality is only an interpretation of certain phenomena: or, more strictly speaking, a misinterpretation of them. Moral judgment, like the religious one, belongs to a stage of ignorance in which even the concept of reality, the distinction between real and imagined things, is still lacking. "Truth" at this stage designates all sorts of things that we today call "figments of the imagination." Moral judgments are therefore never to be taken literally: so understood, they are always merely absurd."

Friedrich Nietzsche[2]

Cognitivist theories[edit]

Cognitivism says that moral statements (such as "You shouldn't kill someone just for your enjoyment") can be true or false. So for moral subjectivism, this would be a statement true for the person who expresses it. Moral relativism, a subcategory, says it would be true for a culture which holds the view. Error theory says it expresses a view that attempts to be true, but fails, as there are no moral facts to support it.

Moral subjectivism[edit]

Main Article: Moral subjectivism

This views says morals rest on what people hold as true (i.e. as attitudes or preferences). It can be further divided into three forms.

Individualist subjectivism[edit]

Every person is the author of their own standard for morality.

Moral relativism[edit]

Main Article: Moral relativism

Morals are set by the culture or society people live in.

Universalist subjectivism[edit]

There are some moral views that all people can agree to, but they still come from them, not external facts. It sometimes has been based on what an ideal observer would do (ideal observer theory). Some philosophers also classify divine command theory as a theory of this kind, since it relies upon the attitudes or preferences of God and applies universally if true.

Error theory[edit]

This view says statements about morality attempt to be true (objectively so) but fail, because no moral facts exist which they correspond to.

Noncognitivist theories[edit]

Main Article: Moral noncognitivism

Moral noncognitivism (or expressivism) says moral statements such as "it's wrong to willfully hurt people" are neither true nor false. Rather, they simply express emotions, or commands toward other people.


On this theory, moral statements such as the above simply equal "boo to hurting people willfully", or similar.


Here, such statements are equivalent to "You must not hurt other people willfully". This can also be construed as applying to everyone else (universal prescriptivism), so the previous statement equals "No one must hurt other people willfully".


The view that moral statements, though not objective, function as if they are.


A theory which says moral quantities can be applied to something as if they had them.

Moral fictionalism[edit]

According to this, moral statements, though not literally true, are a useful fiction.

Moral skepticism[edit]

For moral skepticism, no one has knowledge about morals. Therefore we cannot say if they are true, false, etc.

Correspondence Metaphysics and Moral Anti-Realism[edit]

One of the primary conceptualizations in moral anti-realism has to do with the problems posed for moral statements by the correspondence theory of truth. In the correspondence theory of truth, a proposition is said to have truth value if, and only if, it correspondence to a state of affairs in the world. So, basically:

The proposition P is true iff *P*.

In this case, P represents a proposition that is being represented by the speaker, and *P* is some state of affairs that corresponds to the proposition P. This approach to the relationship between propositions and facts is not universally accepted in philosophy. One of the historical concerns has been about the ability of correspondence theory to explain a way in which ethical propositions could have truth value.

Many proponents of correspondence theory explain that this is simply a consequence of the Naturalistic fallacy. This explanation gives way to some form of moral anti-realism.

1. The proposition "S ought to do x" is true iff it corresponds to some state of affairs such that *OxS*.
2. There is no state of affairs such that we can derive an ought statement from an is statement. (Hume's Is-ought problem)
3. There is no possible state of affairs such that *OxS*.
Therefore, it is not possible that the proposition "S ought to do x" is true.

Generally, this view asserts that deontic statements are meant to explain something other than a state of affairs. There are a handful of theories about the way that deontic statements can be interpreted, and assessed. Some of those ways still ascribe truth value to some proposition, and some of those ways do not.