[搁置-前期想法] 道德实在主义与多样道德准则可兼容?类比语言?

并不是很熟这一块的literature,但有一个想法想跟大家run一下, 很有可能是已经有很多讨论的cliche了。

Philosophy of Language

Regarding Natural Language:All human child are equipped to be able to learn any natural language. (Unlike any other animals) the human child are able to recognize noise/gestures, whatever it may be particularly, and match them with meanings,

Regarding Programming language: Programming language need to be settled before computers can match signals with what to process.

Takeaway: something is already there so that persons are capable of learning languages. This universally shared thing is compatible with the diversity of languages. Linguistic Convention plays a significant role in settle down which language system is actually acquired. Had there not be such a thing that enables children to learn, various languages would have not existed. (For ppl to learn new vocabularies via a dictionary, they have to already understand how this language works.)

Moral Philosophy

Likewise, persons are equipped (might be the capability to recognize/grasps moral reasons) before they can adopt any (systematic) moral principle.

Had not be equipped, normality (should/ought) makes no sense at all? (A sense of justice, for example, is not some objects that ppl can directly appoint to. To “teach” ppl about the sense of justice, we might just hope the other person had similar ideas/experience already. Had persons not already got a grasp of the reference of ‘justice’, they cannot match it with the noise/signs of justice.

Four Analogy wishing to draw:

A Capability to learning a specific natural languages-Capability to acquire a specific system of moral principle

B. Diversity in Moral Principle -Diversity in Natural Language

C. Moral Convention -Linguistic Convention

D. Learning (new) words-Learning abstract moral concepts


A is universally shared

A is a necessary condition for BCD

A is compatible with B

C helps select which specific system to implant (possibly via social learning)

D based on A & C.

In short, if analogy I wish to draw is right, it would indirectly support moral realism and argue for the compatibility between moral realism and diverse moral principles.

Differs from Chomsky: Capability to acquire language VS Universal Grammar (Chomsky)


Interesting comparison, but further development is obviously needed.

Granted that there are certain innate capacities by virtue of which moral principles are acquired (which I highly doubt are any sui generis capacities other than the general capacities of understanding and reasoning), I do not see how this “would indirectly support moral realism and argue for the compatibility between moral realism and diver[se] moral principles.”

As far as I understand it, moral realism is a metaphysical thesis concerning the status of moral propositions/truths/values/concepts. However, the process through which one learns moral principles is a story of epistemology—how is it that we come to know moral propositions/truths/values/concepts. Innate moral capacities, it seems to me, are neither sufficient nor necessary for the truth of moral realism. It may be the case that there are facts of the matter that settle questions of morality, but we come to acquire moral capacities through intellectual and moral development only after birth. It may also be the case that these moral capacities are really capacities to display moral emotions under the relevant circumstances, so moral sentimentalism is true.

Perhaps that is why you put “indirectly” there. But you have quite a story to tell. And even if this story gets it right, it is not obvious to me how it would support “the compatibility between moral realism and diver[se] moral principles.” Do you take “compatibility” to be an empirical fact? Then you probably don’t need innate moral capacities to prove that. Or, do you take “compatibility” to be a normative claim? Then mind the is-ought gap.


needs to get back later when I get a clearer grasp of the idea with more details, but here are a couple of quick thoughts.

  1. I think it is not " the general capacities of understanding and reasoning", but capacities of grasping moral reasoning.

If moral reasoning has metaphysical status, in the sense that is independent of human & human can grasps it. The capability of grasping moral reasoning is a necessary condition for moral principles to be understood by children. I think this, at least, fits well with moral realism if not provide a grounding for moral realism?

  1. I am not sure about “only after birth”, empirical studies (Here, Here & more) provide evidence for infants evaluting actions very early on.

  2. We might define things in slightly different ways. If “moral sentimentalism is true” in the sense that there are certain warranted reactive attitude(s) to certain circumstances that ppl should have; and unwarranted ones ppl shouldn’t have, I have no problem calling it moral realism.

  3. It is not too clear to me why “empirical fact” & “normative claim” is relevant here. By “compatibility”, I just meant to claim capability (say, to grasp moral reasoning) is theoretically compatible with the existence of diverse moral principles. Just like having the capability to learning any specific natural language is compatible with there exist many different natural languages.

  4. If anyone knows any references in the literature, pls let me know.

No, by metaphysics and epistemology, I simply mean whether there are facts of the matter that settle moral propositions (a metaphysical issue) is distinct from how we acquire knowledge of such propositions (an epistemological issue). Innate moral capacities (epistemology) fit well with moral realism (metaphysics), but my previous point was that they fit well with moral anti-realism (metaphysics) as well.

I should have said “descriptive claim” instead of “empirical fact.”

Also, it feels like merely asserting opinions. Why not try to explain to me, step by step, preferably in premises & conclusion formats, how or why innate moral capacities support moral realism?




也许我的结论不对,也许这其实是在试图解释为什么相较于其他动物,独独人类是moral agent:我说因为我们有grasp moral reason的能力。但不确定。

  1. 道德实在论并不要求道德准则一定是能够被所有人理解的。道德实在论允许可能只有很少的人,甚至没有人,能够理解真正的道德准则的情况发生。
  2. 现实中有人(比如psychopath)并不具备grasp moral reason的能力。
  3. 虽然人们普遍有着一些基本的moral intuition,但是这些intuition有可能是非理性甚至是相互矛盾的。而道德准则需要尽量避免这些情况。

推荐阅读: Webb Keane–Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories。里面讨论了一些关于人类grasp moral reason能力的基础的问题。


如果我指的是person 而非human的时候,并把psypath 排除在person 之外,1和2也许不是问题? 这样也许涉及moral responsibility 的时候可能会有问题,但感觉也可以也可以通过比如区分wrongdoing/blameworthynesd/responsibly 的方式绕开?

关于3,也许(w less confidence)某种意义上不同的语言和语法结构也是矛盾的?

1的问题主要在于道德实在论,尤其是非自然主义实在论(non-naturalism)并不要求道德准则与人类理解能力之间有任何联系。所以可能存在一个道德准则,它为真,但是并不能够被人理解。当然其中Intuitionism认为moral intuition是理解非自然道德准则的途径。具体可以看https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-non-naturalism/



I see. 谢谢,会仔细想一想的。这个想法是上课的突发奇想,might be a non-starter.

想请问您借电子版看方便吗?要是不方便就当我没说,我英语超烂,给我估计也很难全读懂 orz…


9. MTMP Keane - Ethical Life, Chapter 1 (1).pdf (883.3 KB)

Thank you so much 昱洲大大



Ok. Sorry.

请不要道歉啦。该道歉的是版权制度。(要是以后自己出书/发论文,请认真考虑 open access 哟 :kissing_heart:




这个我不太清楚。你可以直接从网上搜搜相关的book review。