One common position in meta-ethics is that facts about morality exist, but are not natural properties of the universe but rather are something else. I can't measure the wrongness of slavery the same way I can the charge of an electron; but that does not, in the above view, mean said wrongness is non-existent or unknowable.

However, I can imagine similar arguments being made on other topics, e.g. a theist claiming divine presence is a non-natural property. Is there any reason such non-naturalist realism is less plausible for theology than for ethics?

  • You seem to have answered yourself with your example. A supernatural property is a non-natural property. So history agrees with you, asserting the independence of religion from nature has worked to exclude questioning. But the effect does not make religion more defensible, it removes all possible defense against a class of people about whom you have decided not to care At that point, I lose the question. Similarly, I fail to see how non-naturalism makes any given ethical hypothesis more defensible. An analogy to something that isn't there is hard to find. So, can you give an example?
    – user9166
    Jun 25, 2017 at 4:04
  • Since morality is also supposed to be known a priori in some sense, rather than empirically discovered, and even more common analogy is between ethics and mathematics, see Are analogies between ethics and mathematics philosophically coherent? One could perhaps argue that ethics has direct impact on behavior and is thus "validated" by practice, presumably it is harder to argue the same in theology. Also, the philosophical costs of moral nihilism/relativism are higher than those of atheism, so hypotheses that exclude it are more acceptable.
    – Conifold
    Jun 26, 2017 at 23:38

2 Answers 2


The argument that morality is a non-natural truth does not stand on its own. Most ethical non-naturalists do have a thing that ethics is -- a social construct. If theologians want to see divine presence as a social construct, that would be just fine. But to strip away the detail and keep the shell of the argument is not OK.


One difference between the two is that arguably, moral statements concern values whereas metaphysical and natural statements concern facts. This means that there's more continuity between natural and metaphysical statements than between natural and moral statements. In practice, this means that moral statements can be reinterpreted as self-expressions for example, or anything without truth value, or whose truth value is not interpreted in terms of correspondance to the world, whereas metaphysical statements cannot (or not so easily).

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    That was my intuition. Logical positivism, scientism etc become self-defeating unless they're redefined to not apply their standards to normative statements, albeit ones of epistemology.
    – J.G.
    Jul 16, 2017 at 19:28
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    That pushes back the problem to a determination of what we mean by "fact". I don't think there is any coherent account, or coherent and widely accepted. The distinction is no older than the year 1900, in its current standard form. In America it was disseminated mostly through Weber and Simmel and didn't become powerful until after the war. The derivative L-Positive take on the split is indefensible on any serious view. This is one of the things we suffer from when we only know Analytic Philosophy, those departments post-date the establishment of that distinction and so take it up blindly.
    – user26700
    Jul 16, 2017 at 20:51
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    Denying the fact value dichotomy, as many authors do in the analytic tradition, or the pragmatist one, is an option of course. Jul 16, 2017 at 20:56

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