Weird Science: Testing Moral Claims

Lee Peck, Ohio University

Are there facts about how we should act? Can we test moral claims just as scientists test whether there is truth to a theory? Gilbert Harman believes there is “a real problem of testability in ethics, a problem that can be formulated without making mistakes about testability in science” (1986). Moral facts have no explanatory role, he says, and therefore ethics is immune from observational testing.

The Cornell realists have another view, however. The Cornell realist, Blackburn (1998) explains, “thinks we can identify the ‘truth-makers’ for our ethical thoughts, identifying what properties of things make them true, rather as the scientist identifies the property of stuff that identifies water or gold” (pp. 88-89).

In this paper, Harman’s and Sturgeon’s conflicting views will be presented. I argue Harman’s argument is the more feasible, but that Harman can make his argument stronger by presenting additional differences between the methodologies of ethical decision-making and scientific research.

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