Pragmatism and Moral Objectivity

Michael Klenk*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Most non-robust-realist metaethical theories, such as expressivism, constructivism, and non-robust forms of realism, claim to retain a sense of objectivity in ethics. A persistent issue for these theories is to identify an objective criterion for moral truth that meets their objectivist aspiration. Objectivist aspirations are often probed by confronting non-realists with abject normative positions, such as those of rational racists, which are licensed by the framework of the respective non-realist theory but nevertheless strike us a wrong. In such cases, non-realist theories face a dilemma. Either they allow that anything goes and thereby forgo their objectivist aspirations or they disallow abject normative positions. In the latter case, however, they have nothing to turn to but subjective criteria ultimately related to one’s personal outlook. This is unacceptably smug. I argue that pragmatism in the spirit of Charles S. Peirce partially solves this dilemma. True belief would withstand experience and argument were we to inquire as far as we fruitfully could on the matter. I elucidate this notion and argue that pragmatist construal of moral truth provides a substantive, objective criterion to determine the truth value of moral claims, without recourse to subjective criteria. This puts pragmatism ahead of rival non-realist theories.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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