Sharon Street: Epistemological Argument Against Moral Realism

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2. Street’s Challenge for realism

In (Street 2006) Sharon Street put forward a powerful epistemological argument against moral realism. In this context moral realism is understood as the position that i) some of our moral claims are true and ii) they are true independently of the beliefs of the moral agents. The major premise she assumes is the correctness of the Darwinian picture of the world and the conclusion is, in effect, that if we accept evolution theory, then moral realism as defined before, is undermined.
The argument starts with the claim that the evolutionary history of our species has affected tremendously the moral norms that we accept. This is the first Darwinian premise of the argument and is, I think, an uncontroversial empirical
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The first step says is to consider the relation between the independent moral truth and the evolutionary forces that influenced our moral judgments. There are three possible relations here: i. evolution pushed us towards the moral truths, ii. evolution pushed us away from the moral truths …show more content…
or one of the ii. and iii. Street argues that both options are problematic for different reasons. The first horn (i.) is unacceptable for scientific reasons, the second (ii. or iii.) for epistemological reasons.
Let’s start with the former. The problem here is that we don’t have, Street says, an account for how the evolution pushed us towards the independent moral truths because the best scientific attempts to explain how the evolutionary past influenced our moral judgments do not make any reference to the moral truths. The observation that the moral truth is explanatory irrelevant is not novel, it was made first by Gilbert Harman (see also (Gibbard 1990, ch6) ). Street notes that there is, in fact, an explanation that refers to moral truths (she calls in the ‘tracking account’), but there exists a better explanation that does not do so. (Street 2006, sec. 6).
Now the second horn of the dilemma. If the evolutionary forces are completely irrelevant to the true moral norms, then it seems to be a huge coincidence that we came to have the knowledge of any moral truth.
“We have thus been guided by the wrong sort of influence from the very out- set of our evaluative history, and so, more likely than not, most of our evaluative judgments have nothing to do with the truth.” (Street 2006,

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