Louise Hanson (Cambridge): Robust Moral Realism and Robust Aesthetic Realism

Louise Hanson (Cambridge): Robust Moral Realism and Robust Aesthetic Realism

26th April 2018 - 4:15 pm,


Abstract

It’s increasingly popular in metaethics to accept a thesis known as Robust Moral Realism (RMR), where RMR is committed, among other things, to a particularly strong form of mind-independence for moral properties, that requires them to be (relevantly) independent of the attitudes of not only actual observers, but ideal observers too. According to RMR, slavery’s wrongness, for example, is not a matter of what anyone, real or ideal, would think about it, or how anyone, real or ideal, would feel about it. RMR can say, then, that slavery would be wrong even if everybody thought it was right, and even if ideal observers (specified in non-moral terms) would think it was right.

Consider an aesthetic counterpart of RMR – what I shall call Robust Aesthetic Realism (RAR). RAR would be committed, analogously, to a particularly strong form of mind-independence for beauty, that requires beauty to be (relevantly) independent of the attitudes of not only actual observers, but ideal observers too. RAR can say that Venice would be beautiful even if everyone thought it was ugly, and even if ideal observers (specified in non-aesthetic terms) would think it was ugly.

It’s striking that while RMR is popular, RAR is not at all popular. Further, most philosophers take robust realism to be more plausible in the moral case than in the aesthetic case. There are two ways that this widespread view about the relative tenability of the two theses could be correct. The first way is what I call Obstacle Asymmetry: RAR faces obstacles that RMR doesn’t face. The second I call Motivation Asymmetry: RMR is better motivated than RAR – there are compelling arguments for RMR that lack counterparts in the aesthetic case.

This paper considers whether Motivation Asymmetry holds. I argue that there is no good reason to think it does. I consider the three main kinds of argument that are commonly taken to supply a motivation for RMR, and I argue that each is no less compelling in the aesthetic case. If I am right, then in the absence of further arguments for RMR, we should take robust realism to be no less motivated in the aesthetic case than in the moral case.

This is a surprising result. Metaethicists often talk as though the considerations that motivate RMR are specifically ethical ones, and as though RAR is not correspondingly well-motivated.


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