How Empirical Psychology Illuminates Issues in Moral Ontology

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How Empirical Psychology Illuminates Issues in Moral Ontology

ABSTRACT: Although scientific naturalistic philosophers have been concerned with the role of scientific psychology in illuminating problems in moral psychology, they have paid less attention to the contributions that it might make to issues of moral ontology. In this paper, I illustrate how findings in moral developmental psychology illuminate and advance the discussion of a long-standing issue in moral ontology, that of moral realism. To do this, I examine Gilbert Harman and Nicholas Sturgeon's discussion of that issue. I contend that their explorations leave the issue unresolved. To break the stalemate, I appeal to empirical psychological findings about moral
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I then introduce some empirical findings from the study of moral developmental psychology concerning moral internalization to break this deadlock. These empirical results render the explanatory inertness argument problematic; in addition, they lend some support to the thesis of moral realism and provide some fruitful paths for continuing investigation of the issue of moral realism.

Gilbert Harman has argued that although moral claims can be tested, their testability and subsequent confirmation is not sufficient to establish moral realism. He maintains that explanatory scientific hypotheses identify causal factors in the occurrence of the explanandum. Successful testing of such hypotheses is a basis for realism about these factors. So if the moral realist is to make her case, she must not only demonstrate that moral claims can be successfully tested, but also show that some moral claims are explanatory hypotheses which, if confirmed, provide evidence that moral facts play a causal role in the bringing about of moral and nonmoral phenomena. If there are several competing explanatory hypotheses, then the explanatory hypothesis that better accounts for the effects is the preferable one.

Harman argues, for instance, that the fact that helping someone who is injured and in need of help is morally right does not identify any causal factors, and, consequently, is explanatorily inert. So, for example, if we find Katie helping Ivan who has fallen and cut his

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