Over at Pea Soup, Jason Kawall considers Russ Shaffer-Landau’s argument tying realism in morality with what Russ takes to be an appropriate view in epistemology:
I think that intrinsic normativity is ineliminable. To see this, consider the parallels between conditions of epistemic and moral assessment. We say that agents, if they have reason to believe anything at all, have reasons to believe the truth, and to conform their reasoning to truth-preserving schemas, even if believing the truth is not conducive to the goals they set themselves (205).
I believe that there is intrinsic reason to think that two and two are four – the fact itself provides one with reason to believe it. […] The basic idea here is that certain things can be intrinsically normative – reason-giving independently of the value actually attached to them by agents (206).
I favor positions that tie the normativity of ethics and epistemology together, but I doubt this account will work.
First, I don’t think it is true that if we have reason to believe anything at all we have reasons to believe the truth, since often our only reasons to believe are reasons to believe something false. The starkest example of this point is found in the new evil demon problem, but one need not accept that argument to see the point. I also don’t think we automatically have reasons to conform our reasoning to truth-preserving schemas, though we surely have reason to do so if we know that a pattern of reasoning is truth-preserving. The last claim in the first paragraph is the only one I agree with: epistemic reasons to believe are not dependent on agents actually having the goal of getting to the truth and avoiding error. But that point alone won’t get us very far.
The second paragraph fares no better. My reasons for thinking that 2+2=4 are multifarious, but the fact itself doesn’t justify anything. The fact itself is not evidence for the claim in question, and even if it were, evidence needs to be possessed in order to function to justify a belief. To possess the evidence in this case would be to be aware of the fact in question, but it is untoward to say that my awareness of the fact that 2+2=4 justifies my belief that 2+2=4.
This leads to a worry about what moral realism is supposed to be committed to, and I guess that should be addressed by those more competent in ethics. But the talk of intrinsically normative facts, ones that are reason giving independent of any value attached to them by agents, doesn’t transpose well into the epistemic context. The interesting question in epistemology is, I think, the question of whether a relation between e and p can be reason-giving independent of the subjective features of the individual in question. Subjectivists such as Lehrer and Foley think that the right relation has to be 3-place, so that e is reason-giving relative to the basic epistemic commitments or standards of the person in question. Other, such as Ginet and Chisholm, hold that the reason-giving relation is agent-centered as well because it depends not only on the truth of certain epistemic principles but on the a priori knowability of those principles. To avoid agent-centeredness, one has to hold that the relation is a 2-place one that depends only on the truth of the epistemic principles, and not at all on whether one believes those principles, would believe them on reflection, or even if those principles are in principle knowable. If we divide epistemological theories in this way, though, how does the divide provide any useful analogy for those interested in tying the normativity in epistemology to that in ethics? It would be strange to hold that agent-centered views in epistemology make plausible some kind of noncognitivism in ethics, since they don’t incline in that direction in epistemology.