I believe that moral propositions are statements about reality that are objectively true or false rather than just being expressions of personal sentiment or cultural norms. I also think it’s wrongly assumed that moral realism requires a theistic basis. I don’t think the intrinsic value of happiness can be logically demonstrated anymore than the intrinsic wetness of water can, I think this can only be realized empirically, through direct experience. If happiness is intrinsically good, I think it can be logically demonstrated to be the only intrinsic good since two or more separate things can’t both or all be good by their very natures if their natures are fundamentally different. Knowledge is acquired through experience, any claim or denial about the inherent value of pleasure must be based on our actual experience of pleasure itself. Subjective experience is objectively real, it’s ‘there’ whether anyone considers it to exist or not. We can know empirically (through experience), about the value of emotional states in the same way that we can learn through experience (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) about other phenomenon ( our perception of the external world may not correspond with the external world as it actually is, since we only experience our perception of the external world and not the external world itself, but experience itself is objectively real and exactly the way that it appears), and we know that we can quantify (and thus aggregate) pleasurable and painful states of mind in terms of intensity and duration. Sentient beings experience pleasure and pain (which I define as any emotional state that is inherently likeable or dis-likeable) as inherently good and bad regardless of whether or not they rationally believe it to be or mistakenly associate the value of these emotional states with their objects. Torture is morally bad because the pain it causes is intrinsically bad and while the victim alone experiences their pain, it doesn’t exist ‘for them’, it is objectively real and exists simpliciter. It isn’t just bad ‘for them’ (which would imply that it’s only instrumentally bad and not bad by it’s very nature), it’s bad simpliciter. It should also be noted that empiricism can’t be reconciled with the intuitive assumption of a static, persisting ego that exists apart from moment to moment experience, no one has any more of a reason to care about the well-being of ‘their’ future self than they do anyone else’s.
Hedonism as a theory of value (not to be confused with psychological hedonism or layman ‘hedonism’) is a moral realist position and it’s more central to my understanding of ethics and my ‘philosophical identity’ than utilitarianism as a normative ethical theory is. Value hedonism necessarily implies that (total) hedonistic (act) utilitarianism is the desirable basis for moral decision making but hedonistic utilitarians don’t have to identify as moral realists, they may ascribe to error theory (moral nihilism) or non-cognitivism and simply view hedonistic utilitarianism as appealing. I’d have to worry about misrepresenting myself as a utilitarian but value hedonism is only a meta-ethical claim about what is descriptively true. Whether or not a value hedonist can bring themselves to do the ‘right’ (best) thing, (s)he would have to concede that the emotional well-being of all (potential and actual) sentient beings is worth caring about equally, it’s not ‘logical’ to care about anyone’s welfare but it is arbitrary and inconsistent to distinguish between the value of one person’s happiness or suffering and anyone else’s since the basic experience itself is qualitatively the same regardless of who has it.
This is not an argument for moral realism actually being true but I think it’s a stronger basis for compassion and altruism than moral nihilism can be. A moral nihilist cannot legitimately criticize whatever behavior they consider to be undesirable if they believe that ethical judgments are a matter of personal taste. I don’t think moral nihilism can justify a commitment to unconditional, universal compassion since a moral nihilist has to maintain that their concern for others is a completely arbitrary personal preference which isn’t an adaptation to a realized objective truth but dependent on a current, possibly transient mindset, and a more sadistic or cruel ethos would be just as legitimate, objectively speaking. Enlightened self-interest can only justify so much ‘altruism’, the standard for how altruistic the actor should be is determined by the actor’s needs and not the needs of everyone affected by his or her behavior, the level of concern required to produce the best overall consequences and that required for the actor’s satisfaction aren’t necessarily equivalent . Anti-realism doesn’t allow for any realization that the interests of other people really would warrant consideration even if it wasn’t given.