Moral Realism and Mackie’s Argument from Queerness


Mackie’s instrumentalist theory of values blends semantic irrealism and normative realism in a cognitivist framework. Thus, he asserts that morals provide reasons for actions although they are not ontologically objective. As a cognitivist, Mackie believes that one can make assertions concerning moral values, but he also concludes that all of these first-order, non-negated moral assertions are false. Mackie claims that true moral assertions could only result from the existence of objective values, but because all of these assertions are false, there are no objective moral values. Mackie’s “error theory” proposes that people are wrong when “in making moral judgments [they] claim…to be pointing to something objectively prescriptive.” Mackie labels this view of morality “moral realism”.

Both Mackie and Brink describe “moral realism as the metaethical view that there are objective moral facts.” However, Mackie extends his definition of moral realism beyond this foundation. According to Mackie, moral realism hinges on three main assumptions. First, as already discussed, moral realism assumes the objectivity of values. Second, moral realists see “good” as an objective quality possessing certain “evaluative, prescriptive, intrinsically action-guiding aspects;” attitudes and behavioral recommendations are inherent in notions of rightness and wrongness. Third, we must be able to perceive these moral qualities if they are to affect our actions. Thus, moral realists assert that we must have some faculty or sense capable of detecting the properties of rightness and wrongness.