The Moral Galilean Intuition: An Essay on Metaethics, Morals, and Colors

279 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2013

See all articles by Matthew Seligman

Matthew Seligman

Constitutional Law Center, Stanford Law School; Yale Law School

Date Written: May 20, 2013


This dissertation examines the content of ordinary moral judgments. A fundamental question in moral theory is whether any moral judgments could be true. Moral Realism holds that moral judgments are capable of truth, and some are true. The Error Theory, by contrast, holds that moral judgments are always false, because all such judgments are predicated upon a metaphysical superstition. Any metaethical view must provide an account of the content of moral judgments in order to ground its claim about the possible truth or universal falsity of those judgments. This dissertation argues that the Moral Galilean Intuition is correct: the content of moral judgments is naively realistic.

Chapter One first presents the varieties of Moral Realism: Non-Natural Moral Realism, Quietism, Ethical Naturalism, and Constructivism. It then argues that the canonical version of the Error Theory fails to recognize the possibility of the latter three of these Moral Realisms, and therefore fails to establish that all moral judgments are false. The Chapter concludes by pointing the way forward for a successful Error Theory: to take the Semantic Path by arguing that the content of moral judgments is naively realistic.

Chapter Two begins by presenting the Error Theory of Color, which provides a framework for the dialectic as well as two methodological lessons. It then addresses a fundamental methodological objection levied by the externalist about mental content: that sometimes we cannot know the contents of our moral judgments via introspection. The Chapter concludes by presenting the structure of the argument to come in the final Chapter: to oppose the Moral Galilean Intuition with the Principle of Charity.

Chapter Three executes this argument. Because the semantics suggested by the Moral Galilean Intuition – Non-Natural Moral Realism – might condemn moral judgments to systematic falsity, the Principle of Charity holds that we should accept that semantics only if the alternatives cannot be correct. The Chapter argues that the semantics offered by the alternative Moral Realisms – Ethical Naturalism, Constructivism, and Quietism – each fail. Because these alternatives are not viable, we have no choice but to accept the semantics of Non-Natural Moral Realism. Accordingly, the Moral Galilean Intuition prevails.

Keywords: moral philosophy, metaethics, error theory of morality, error theory of color, moral realism

Suggested Citation

Seligman, Matthew, The Moral Galilean Intuition: An Essay on Metaethics, Morals, and Colors (May 20, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Seligman (Contact Author)

Constitutional Law Center, Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06510
United States

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