The website Rational Hub recently conducted a interview with Australian legal and moral philosopher Russell Blackford on atheism, philosophy, and science. The conversation is lengthy, but for me it gets most interesting about halfway through when the topic turns to moral realism, relativism, and moral error theory. Here’s a snippet:
7. Having read your articles on moral realism and moral scepticism sometime back (and really loved reading them) – but still a lot of people, at least in my experience, still remain moral realists by appealing to consequence. Would not subscribing to moral realism, by any means, imply ‘anything goes’?
It’s nice to know that someone loved reading it – so thanks!
Unfortunately, yet again, this is going to get murky if I try to do justice to the complexity of the problems and their history. I’ll do my best to skate over all that and give you a relatively brief answer — though my answer might not be entirely satisfying.
Basically, my view is that moral norms and moral codes are best seen as standards that serve the desires of human beings living in societies. If we all (or even most of us) make certain kinds of efforts and accept certain kinds of constraints, there will tend to be a mutual benefit.
Obviously there’s a lot more to be said here, but that’s my broad-brush view of what moral norms and codes might actually be able to accomplish. I don’t think, for example, that they are going to be much use for obtaining spiritual immortality or pleasing divine beings, or anything of the kind, though of course some religious codes of conduct purport to do exactly that.
We should reject the false dichotomy between either there being the “true” moral norms and codes that are inescapably and absolutely binding in some sense or it being a case that “anything goes,” so cruelty is just as good as kindness, dishonesty just as good as honesty, treachery just as good as loyalty, etc. Neither of those is the actual situation. I guess I’ll need to return to this as we go, and say something about why.
You can read the entire interview here.