Science's immunity to moral refutation

Barber, Alex (2013). Science's immunity to moral refutation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 91(4) pp. 633–653.



Our moral convictions cannot, on the face of it, count in evidence against scientific claims with which they happen to conflict. Moral anti-realists of whatever stripe can explain this easily: science is immune to moral refutation because moral discourse is defective as a trustworthy source of true and objective judgments. Moral realists, they can add, are unable to explain this immunity.

After describing how anti-realists might implement this reasoning, the paper argues that the only plausible realist comeback turns on the practical nature of moral reasoning. This comeback, however, places significant constraints on the structure of evidence for moral judgments. These constraints cannot be met by coherentist defenders of reflective-equilibrium methodology or by anyone sympathetic to bottom-up, case-driven foundationalism, including those who claim we have perceptual or perception-like access to moral truths. Unfortunately for realists in these categories, alternative realism-friendly accounts of science’s apparent moral immunity are unpromising. These neither explain nor explain away our unwillingness to infer an is from an ought, as Hume might have put it. Science’s apparent immunity to moral refutation therefore poses a serious problem for any realist unhappy with top-down, theory-driven conceptions of the structure of moral evidence.

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