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Moral Realism, Truth & Reasoning

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  • 0:00 Morals and Facts
  • 1:20 Moral Realism
  • 3:14 Moral Truth and Reasoning
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Morality is a complicated subject, but all of the arguments really boil down to one question: do morals actually exist? In this lesson, explore one side of this debate, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Morals and Facts

Two plus two equals four. That's a fact. If you don't believe me, well, then maybe you should be starting with a lesson on basic arithmetic. Most of us know this fact, but how? You see, there are different types of facts in this world. Some are obvious because we see them. This desk is made of wood. That's a fact. But, it's different than saying that two plus two equals four.

Both are true, but we can't actually observe the mathematical fact in the same way. All we can do is look for evidence in the world around us that shows this fact becoming true, and then we can find ways to express it, like writing an equation. But still, it's not quite the same as saying that the desk is made of wood.

Morals, like mathematical equations, sometimes seem made up, but according to the philosophical school of moral realism, moral facts do exist. And as for finding those facts, well, sometimes it's just a matter of putting two and two together.

Moral Realism

Moral realism is a branch of ontology, the study of what is. Now, if something is morally true, then it is called a moral fact. Moral facts are simply, objectively true. They just are. However, for a moral fact to be true, it must always be true.

So this is tricky, and it's important to understand that, while all moral realists believe that moral facts do exist, they don't agree on what they are. But that's okay. Moral realism is not actually focused on defining what is right and wrong, but instead seeks to demonstrate simply that moral facts do exist.

Along these lines, it's important to mention that moral realists do not necessarily believe that humans are capable of always knowing moral facts, nor expressing them. Think of it this way. When I say that two plus two equals four, it is true, but not because I said it. In the same way, I can say that kicking a puppy is wrong, but this claim is only true if it is a moral fact - in other words, if it is observed being true.

A moral claim expressed through language is called a moral statement. My moral statement claims to be true, but it is only factual if it can be observed being true, the way that my mathematical equation is only true if two and two are shown to equal four. This can be very confusing at times, but in order to claim that any morals are true, you have to first start at this basic step of proving that morality itself is a fact.

Moral Truth and Reasoning

So how do we express moral facts? To put it simply, through language. Moral statements are intended to be accurate. We believe something to be true, and we express it as a fact, but it only is a fact if the evidence in the world supports it. Two plus two equals four. That statement is correct. When a moral statement accurately corresponds to reality, it is called a moral truth.

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