Moral theories and moral truths

John S. Callender

in Free will and responsibility

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199545551
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754616 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Moral theories and moral truths

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It seems difficult to support claims for the objectivity of moral values. Moral irrealism has some important advantages. It allows flexibility in our normative decision-making by avoiding commitment to one theoretical position and the rigidities that arise from this. Subjectivism captures the ambivalence that many people feel in situations in which moral theories throw up opposing answers. The risk that subjectivism will lead to an ‘anything goes’ attitude may be overstated. As discussed in previous chapters, we have innate tendencies to sympathy, blame, fellow feeling, respect, and resentment. Furthermore, we can all derive benefits from living in a moral community and therefore have a selfish interest in its maintenance.

There are many interpretations as to what we do when we make moral judgments and a range of opinions on the nature of these judgments. When all of the debate about realism, cognitivism, subjectivism, and the rest is said and done, we still have to find ways of living together. Standards have to be set, rules made, and mechanisms put in place to ensure adherence to these rules. Standards and rules have to be justified by reference to a system of values. Once they are in place they have an objective reality. No one is imprisoned or fined subjectively. Nevertheless, the value systems that form the basis for laws and standards are not objective facts about the world. Instead, they are human creations that have arisen from a combination of feeling, intellect, and our innate dispositions.

Chapter.  6311 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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