London Aesthetics Forum

London Aesthetics Forum
1 February 2019, 4.00pm - 6.00pm
Room 246, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU


Robust Moral Realism and Robust Aesthetic Realism

Louise Hanson (Durham)


Many philosophers find robust moral realism (RMR) appealing. They find it plausible that there are moral truths, and that these are entirely independent of what anybody happens to think and how anybody happens to feel. But pretty much no one is inclined towards robust realism about beauty (RAR). And even philosophers who do not themselves accept robust moral realism, take it to be a respectable position worth engaging with. Not so with robust aesthetic realism! 

The mainstream view is that robust realism is more tenable in the moral case than it is in the aesthetic case. There are two ways that this could be correct. The first way is Obstacle Asymmetry: RAR faces obstacles that RMR doesn’t face. The second is Motivation Asymmetry: RMR is better motivated than RAR - there are compelling arguments for RMR that lack counterparts in the aesthetic case. 

This paper considers Motivation Asymmetry. I argue that there is no good reason to think it holds. I consider the three main kinds of argument that are commonly taken to motivate RMR, and I argue that each has an equally compelling aesthetic counterpart.

(i) Extensional Adequacy: Anything short of RMR is committed to implausible claims about is morally right and wrong

(ii) Morality: Anything short of RMR is committed to morally objectionable claims

(iii) Categorical Imperatives: Moral requirements are categorical, and RMR is the only position that can accommodate this. 

If I am right, then in the absence of further arguments for RMR, we should take robust realism to be no less well-motivated in the aesthetic case than in the moral case. 

This is a surprising result. Metaethicists often talk as though the considerations that motivate RMR are specifically moral ones, and as though RAR is not correspondingly well-motivated.

The London Aesthetics Forum (LAF) is a Forum of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. With lectures on topics in aesthetics and philosophy of art, LAF aims to stimulate philosophical reflection on art. Our events are free and open to all.

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We are generously sponsored by the British Society of Aesthetics

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