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How Empirical Psychology Illuminates Issues In Moral Ontology

3783 words - 15 pages

How Empirical Psychology Illuminates Issues in Moral Ontology

ABSTRACT: Although scientific naturalistic philosophers have been concerned with the role of scientific psychology in illuminating problems in moral psychology, they have paid less attention to the contributions that it might make to issues of moral ontology. In this paper, I illustrate how findings in moral developmental psychology illuminate and advance the discussion of a long-standing issue in moral ontology, that of moral realism. To do this, I examine Gilbert Harman and Nicholas Sturgeon's discussion of that issue. I contend that their explorations leave the issue unresolved. To break the stalemate, I appeal to empirical psychological findings about moral internalization-the process by which children acquire the capacity to act in terms of moral norms. I contend that these findings illuminate the issue, suggest a way to advance it, and tend to support a moral realist position.

Although scientifically and naturalistically inclined philosophers are concerned with the role of empirical psychology in illuminating problems in moral psychology, such as the capacities for moral agency, they have paid less attention to its potential contributions to issues of moral epistemology and ontology. In this paper, I illustrate how findings in moral developmental psychology illuminate and advance the discussion of the long-standing issue in moral ontology of moral realism. Moral realism is the view that moral realities are objective, and thus in some important sense(s) independent of either the subjective states of moral agents or intersubjective factors. Naturalistic moral realism makes these objective moral realities part of the material world. I examine some recent discussions of the argument against moral realism from explanatory inertness and contend that they end in a stalemate. I then introduce some empirical findings from the study of moral developmental psychology concerning moral internalization to break this deadlock. These empirical results render the explanatory inertness argument problematic; in addition, they lend some support to the thesis of moral realism and provide some fruitful paths for continuing investigation of the issue of moral realism.

Gilbert Harman has argued that although moral claims can be tested, their testability and subsequent confirmation is not sufficient to establish moral realism. He maintains that explanatory scientific hypotheses identify causal factors in the occurrence of the explanandum. Successful testing of such hypotheses is a basis for realism about these factors. So if the moral realist is to make her case, she must not only demonstrate that moral claims can be successfully tested, but also show that some moral claims are explanatory hypotheses which, if confirmed, provide evidence that moral facts play a causal role in the bringing about of moral and nonmoral phenomena. If there are several competing explanatory hypotheses, then the...

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