Controversies on Cornell Realism

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This article examines the criticisms and debates about Cornell realism. While critics, like Shafer-Landau, Tropman, Oliveira and Perrine, reject the claim by Cornell realism that moral knowledge can be empirically investigated the same as natural science is, I argue that some of their arguments are not sufficient to refute Cornell realism. What is crucial in assessing Cornell realism is distinguishing normative ethics from empirical science. While ethics is normative in nature, that of empirical science is descriptive and predictive. I also show that the debate between Tropman and Long is at cross purposes in their discussion about the nature of moral knowledge. By clarifying different meanings of moral knowledge, I argue that while arguments by Cornell realism can be applied to moral psychology, the study of normative ethics through empirical investigation still faces the problem of an is-ought gap. Indeed, many of Cornell realist arguments are begging many questions. I have also examined recent debates on normativity objection by Parfit and Copp. I argue that Copp’s naturalism is very similar to Huemer’s intuitionism. Copp’s argument of non-analytical naturalism seems to support rather than refute moral intuitionism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-212
Number of pages22
JournalFudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Issue number2
Early online date28 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Cornell realism
  • Is-ought problem
  • Metaethics
  • Moral explanation
  • Moral knowledge
  • Normativity objection


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