Michael Smith examines whether moral realism, the belief in the existence of objective moral facts, is true in this article. His first argument can be summed up as follows:
P1. In order for moral realism to exist, moral practices must be both objectively true and have the ability to psychologically motivate us.
P2. Beliefs represent the actual world whereas desires represent the world as it should be.
P3. Only desires motivate action.
C1. Therefore, in order for moral realism to meet the motivational demand, all moral
prescriptions would need to be represented as desires.
P4. Only beliefs can be assessed for truth or falsehood.
C2. Therefore, in order to for moral realism to be objective, moral prescriptions would
need to be represented as beliefs.
C3. C1 and C1 contradict one another; therefore, realism is not compatible with human
C. Therefore, moral realism does not exist.
I find the chain of Smith's reasoning to be valid, but I'm not sure I agree with P1. I think it might be possible for moral truths to exist even if they are inaccessible to us and are therefore unable to motivate us. Thus, in this view, Smith's contradiction would fall apart and moral prescriptions would be represented as beliefs. However, this is not a good argument to prove realism, this would only show that it is possible in terms of psychology.
Next, Smith attempts to rescue realism by denying the two demands, which would change our intuitive perception of morality. His approach to this is to argue that moral facts are not the reasons-for-action but are statements about social stability, and thus right acts are those that tend towards social stability. Smith suggests, however, that this cannot be the case because when we think about moral arguments, reasons-for-action are clearly a necessary component. Then, Smith tries to rescue realism once more by challenging basic psychology and attempting to show that desires are not the same as reasons-for-action. Through this course of reasoning, Smith finds that idealized conditions of reasoning may allow for objective agreement about the appropriate desires one should have, which would salvage the realist belief. But, this just shows that realism is possible, not that there will be definitive agreement about the content of moral prescriptions.
I certainly would find the world be be a nice and convenient place if there were actually moral truths, else so much of ethics and the writing in this blog are pretty much just wasted time. Of course, as a society we could still decide what should be considered lawful but but not what is fundamentally good or bad. But then, breaking the law could not really be fundamentally morally wrong either. In all, besides my hoping and cheering for moral relativism, I'm not sure if I remain a moral relativist, skeptic or something else.
Smith, Michael. "Realism." Ethical Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. 72-76. Print.