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Moral Epistemology

Edited by Christopher Michael Cloos (University of California at Santa Barbara)
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Summary

Moral epistemology concerns moral knowledge and things related to moral knowledge. Is it possible for one to know that torturing babies for fun is wrong? Can one know that slavery is unjust? Moral skeptics doubt the possibility of moral knowledge and doubt its veracity. Some argue that the persistence of wide-spread moral disagreement among peoples, such as differing views on the morality of infanticide, abortion, and capital punishment, suggests there is no fact of the matter regarding moral claims. Some moral theorists argue for the possibility of justified moral beliefs sufficient to yield moral knowledge. Moral coherentists claims that moral beliefs are justified in virtue of being part of a coherent body of beliefs. Reflective equilibrium is a method of moral justification that is often regarded as a form of moral coherentism. It is a way of resolving conflicts between intuitive moral judgments and moral principles that seek to capture those judgments. Intuitionism is an alternative approach to the justification of moral beliefs. On this theory, moral beliefs are non-inferentially justified. Additionally, some theorists endorse moral rationalism. On this view, it is possible to have moral knowledge even when that knowledge is not based on sense experience. Moral knowledge is often compared to mathematical knowledge. Lastly, moral agents always operate under moral uncertainty. It is impossible to perfectly predict the moral goodness or value that will result from a given course of action. Various approaches try to deal with moral uncertainty, often by incorporating the calculation of expected utility into moral choice situations.

Key works

Brink 1989 argues that coherence between a moral belief and one’s other beliefs can justify that moral belief. Sayre-McCord 1996 also endorses this view but argues that things other than one’s beliefs can factor into coherence and justification. Audi 2005 and Huemer 2005 defend comprehensive accounts of moral intuitionism, but Sinnott-Armstrong 2006 argues that moral beliefs are not justified non-inferentially. McGrath 2007 argues that moral disagreement can prevent one from obtaining moral knowledge when one’s peer shares one’s basic moral commitments, yet Wedgwood 2007 argues against this position. Peacocke 2004 and Setiya 2012 defend accounts of moral rationalism involving the possession of moral concepts. Rawls 1971 articulates the method of reflective equilibrium in defending how one can arrive at the best conception of justice. Daniels 1996 extends the method of reflective equilibrium to include background theories of human nature and social stability.

Introductions For online introductions to moral epistemology see Tramel 2005 and Campbell 2014. For general overviews of the topic see Arrington 1989, Audi 1999, Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, and Zimmerman 2010.
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  1. Germán Marquínez Argote (1990). Centralidad en la categoría posibilidad en la fundamentación Zubiriana de la moral. Universitas Philosophica 15 (83):107-122.
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  2. David Bella & Jonathan King (1989). Common Knowledge of the Second Kind. Journal of Business Ethics 8 (6):415 - 430.
    Although most of us know that human beings cannot and should not be replaced by computers, we have great difficulties saying why this is so. This paradox is largely the result of institutionalizing several fundamental misconceptions as to the nature of both trustworthy objective and moral knowledge. Unless we transcend this paradox, we run the increasing risks of becoming very good at counting without being able to say what is worth counting and why. The degree to which this is occurring (...)
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  3. Paul Boghossian (2011). O Labirinto Do Relativismo Moral. Revista Inquietude 2 (2):238-245.
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  4. Bernardo Bolaños (2011). El Contenido Moral de Las Decisiones Judiciales. In Granja Castro, Dulce María & Teresa Santiago (eds.), Moral y Derecho: Doce Ensayos Filosóficos. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana.
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  5. Luis Borobio (1987). La moral en las artes figurativas. Anuario Filosófico 20 (2):115-120.
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  6. Francisco Bravo (2002). Conocimiento moral, verdad moral y método. Entre Aristóteles y A. J. Ayer. Estudios de Filosofía 26:173-194.
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  7. Augusto Bunge (1916). Los Fundamentos Biologicos de la Moral. Philosophical Review 25:213.
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  8. V. C. C. (1956). On the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Review of Metaphysics 9 (3):523-523.
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  9. Daniel Cohen (2011). Le capitalisme est-il moral ? Revue Internationale de Philosophie 4:33-36.
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  10. M. F. Cohen (1965). Knowledge and Moral Belief. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 43 (2):168 – 188.
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  11. John M. Cooper (2009). CHAPTER 12. Moral Theory and Moral Improvement: Seneca. In , Knowledge, Nature, and the Good: Essays on Ancient Philosophy. Princeton University Press. 309-334.
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  12. Gabriella Crocco & Eva-Maria Engelen (forthcoming). Kurt Gödel's Philosophical Remarks (Max Phil). In Gabriella Crocco & Eva-Maria Engelen (eds.), Kurt Gödel: Philosopher-Scientist. Presses Universitaires de Provence.
    Kurt Gödel left Philosophical Remarks in his Nachlass that he himself entitled Max Phil (Maximen Philosophie). The opus originally comprised 16 notebooks but one has been lost. The content is on the whole the outline of a rational metaphysics able to relate the different domains of knowledge and of moral investigations to each other. The notebooks were at first started as an intellectual diary in which Gödel writes an account of what he does and especially about what he should do (...)
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  13. Debra A. Debruin (1988). Justifying Morality to Fooles. Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh
    Why should one be moral? There is a very strong tradition in moral philosophy of attempting to answer this question by trying to provide a rational justification of morality. Rationalist moral theorists interpret this question as a challenge posed by amoralists, agents who lack any moral sentiments, and so who take themselves to have no reason to be moral. Thus, rationalist moral theorists set out to show that, whatever our sentiments, rationality--which is supposed to be essential to all agents--demands that (...)
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  14. Mc Donadio Maggi de Gandolfi (1998). La Nueva Moral. Sapientia 53 (203):57-71.
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  15. Gerhard Ernst (2009). Die Wirklichkeit der Moral II. Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 57 (2):333-337.
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  16. H. S. Eveling (1965). Some Patterns of Justification in Ethics. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 66:149 - 166.
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  17. G. Ferrero (1895). Le Progres Moral. Philosophical Review 4:332.
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  18. Ana González (2009). Éticas Sin Moral. Pensamiento y Cultura 12:303-320.
    En el debate ético contemporáneo coexisten planteamientos derivados de la filosofía moral moderna con otros enfoques que cuestionan sus ambiciones normativas. Estos enfoques se han descrito como “éticas sin moral”, dando por sentado que el término “moral” recoge un aspecto nuclear del pensamiento ético moderno: el deseo de identificar las normas universales objetivas. En este ensayo me propongo examinar si es posible defender la normatividad de la razón sustrayéndose a las críticas esgrimidas desde las contemporáneas éticas sin moral.
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  19. Mario A. L. Guerreiro (2010). O erro moral na tragédia e na epopéia. Princípios 11 (15-16):83-98.
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  20. Christoph Halbig (2009). Die Wirklichkeit der Moral I. Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 57 (2):329-333.
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  21. Robert S. Hartman, Arthur Ellis & Rem B. Edwards (eds.) (2002). The Knowledge of Good: Critique of Axiological Reason. Rodopi.
    This book presents Robert S. Hartman’s formal theory of value and critically examines many other twentieth century value theorists in its light, including A.J. Ayer, Kurt Baier, Brand Blanshard, Paul Edwards, Albert Einstein, William K. Frankena, R.M. Hare, Nicolai Hartmann, Martin Heidegger, G.E. Moore, P.H. Nowell-Smith, Jose Ortega y Gasset, Charles Stevenson, Paul W. Taylor, Stephen E. Toulmin, and J.O. Urmson.
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  22. Alexandra Hurtado (2013). La educación del carácter moral. Franciscanum 159.
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  23. Mohsen Javadi (2008). Moral Epistemology in Islamic Theology. Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 10:207-214.
    In this paper I will discuss the main approaches of moral epistemology in the major sects of Islamic theology; the Mu’tazilah and Shi‘ite, who formulated rationalistic ethical system between the eighth and tenth centuries, and the Ash‘arites, who developed a voluntaristic system of morality. At first the answer of Mu’tazila and Shi‘ite to the main question of moral epistemology namely the justification of moral beliefs will be discussed and compared with the intuitionism of Western ethics. Secondly the voluntarism of Ash‘arite (...)
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  24. Dorothy Mitchell (1970). Why Should I Be Moral? Ratio 12 (2):138.
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  25. Adela Cortina Orts (2000). Educación moral a través del ejercicio de la profesión. Diálogo Filosófico 47:253-258.
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  26. Roger Paden (1992). Anti-Theory in Ethics and Moral Conservatism. Review of Metaphysics 46 (1):148-149.
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  27. Josep Rafael Moncho Pascual (2007). La Autonomía Moral En El Yusnaturalismo Tomasiano. Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval 14:55-62.
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  28. James Rachels (2007). Moral, aborto e religião. Critica.
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  29. Joan Mesquida Sampol (2006). Acerca del deber moral de acoger a los inmigrantes. Diálogo Filosófico 65:277-294.
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  30. Lorena Cebolla Sanahuja (2012). El cosmopolitismo moral kantiano: acerca de la acción moral constituyente de derecho. Convivium 25:91-114.
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  31. Stefan S. Sencerz (1992). Moral Intuitions, Moral Facts, and Justification in Ethics. Dissertation, The University of Rochester
    A central and fundamental problem in moral philosophy is that of understanding how moral principles and theories can be justified. It involves finding rational solutions to both theoretical problems and to substantial moral questions . According to Moral Intuitionism, some normative judgments, usually called moral intuitions, justify moral principles and theories. Typically, moral intuitionists promise a method that is supposed to yield progress toward finding the answers to ethical disputes and controversies. ;I argue, first, that all versions of moral intuitionism (...)
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  32. Peter Singer (2010). A importância moral do sofrimento. Critica.
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  33. En El Yusnaturalismo Tomasiano (2007). La Autonomía Moral. Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval 14:55-62.
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  34. Antonio Valdecantos (1997). Realismo ético y experiencia moral. Isegoría 17:107-125.
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Moral Coherentism
  1. Elvio Baccarini (2009). Moral Epistemological Coherentism, Contextualism, and Consensualism. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (1):69-89.
    The discussion regards moral epistemology as the research of a proper methodology in moral thinking. Coherentism is proposed as the appropriate methodology in the individual context of moral thinking (because of the fact that all the alternatives to coherentism, at least understood as a regulatory ideal, are opposed to rationality), while a qualified form of consensualism is proposed as the appropriate methodology in the context of communitarian or public justification of beliefs.
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  2. Elvio Baccarini (1991). Rational Consensus and Coherence Methods in Ethics. Grazer Philosophische Studien 40:151-159.
    The method of reflective equilibrium implies that moral principles received from philosophical reasoning and considered moral judgments received intuitively are finally justified if they cohere with each other. This idea is combined with the proposal of rational consensus (Lehrer), which shows the way in which divergences of judgements could be made to converge. This second method is used to the end of rendering more plausible the intuitions used in reflective equilibrium, and, so, to show the appropriateness of the coherentist method (...)
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  3. Luc Bovens (1994). Coherence Arguments and Cyclical Moral Rankings. Philosophical Studies 74 (3):369 - 384.
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  4. Michael R. DePaul (1998). Liberal Exclusions and Foundationalism. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 1 (1):103-120.
    Certain versions of liberalism exclude from public political discussions the reasons some citizens regard as most fundamental, reasons having to do with their deepest religious, philosophical, moral or political views. This liberal exclusion of deep and deeply held reasons from political discussions has been controversial. In this article I will point out a way in which the discussion seems to presuppose a foundationalist conception of human reasoning. This is rather surprising, inasmuch as one of the foremost advocates of liberalism, John (...)
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  5. Michael R. DePaul (1993). Balance and Refinement: Beyond Coherence Methods of Moral Inquiry. Routledge.
    We all have moral beliefs. What if we are unsure about what to believe about a serious moral issue, or if one belief conflicts with another that we hold with equal conviction? When such conflicts and doubts occur, we try to make our beliefs cohere, and are forced to engage in a moral inquiry. Michael R. DePaul argues that we have to make our beliefs cohere, but that the current coherence methods are seriously flawed. Methods such as that which (...)
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  6. Michael R. Depaul (1988). The Problem of the Criterion and Coherence Methods in Ethics. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 18 (1):67 - 86.
    One merit claimed for john rawls's coherence method, Wide reflective equilibrium, Is that it transcends the traditional two tiered approach to moral inquiry according to which one must choose as one's starting points either particular moral judgments or general moral principles. The two tiered conception of philosophical method is not limited to ethics. The most detailed exposition of the conception can be found in r m chisholm's various discussions of the problem of the criterion. While chisholm's work has played a (...)
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  7. Dale Dorsey (2006). A Coherence Theory of Truth in Ethics. Philosophical Studies 127 (3):493 - 523.
    Quine argues, in “On the Nature of Moral Values” that a coherence theory of truth is the “lot of ethics”. In this paper, I do a bit of work from within Quinean theory. Specifically, I explore precisely what a coherence theory of truth in ethics might look like and what it might imply for the study of normative value theory generally. The first section of the paper is dedicated to the exposition of a formally correct coherence truth predicate, the possibility (...)
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  8. Mylan Engel Jr (2012). Coherentism and the Epistemic Justification of Moral Beliefs: A Case Study in How to Do Practical Ethics Without Appeal to a Moral Theory. Southern Journal of Philosophy 50 (1):50-74.
    This paper defends a coherentist approach to moral epistemology. In “The Immorality of Eating Meat” (2000), I offer a coherentist consistency argument to show that our own beliefs rationally commit us to the immorality of eating meat. Elsewhere, I use our own beliefs as premises to argue that we have positive duties to assist the poor (2004) and to argue that biomedical animal experimentation is wrong (2012). The present paper explores whether this consistency-based coherentist approach of grounding particular moral judgments (...)
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  9. Ellen-Marie Forsberg (2007). Value Pluralism and Coherentist Justification of Ethical Advice. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 20 (1):81-97.
    Liberal societies are characterized by respect for a fundamental value pluralism; i.e., respect for individuals’ rights to live by their own conception of the good. Still, the state must make decisions that privilege some values at the cost of others. When public ethics committees give substantial ethical advice on policy related issues, it is therefore important that this advice is well justified. The use of explicit tools for ethical assessment can contribute to justifying advice. In this article, I will discuss (...)
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  10. Bernward Gesang (2010). Are Moral Philosophers Moral Experts? Bioethics 24 (4):153-159.
    In this paper I examine the question of whether ethicists are moral experts. I call people moral experts if their moral judgments are correct with high probability and for the right reasons. I defend three theses, while developing a version of the coherence theory of moral justification based on the differences between moral and nonmoral experience: The answer to the question of whether there are moral experts depends on the answer to the question of how to justify moral judgments. Deductivism (...)
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  11. Marcello Guarini (2007). Computation, Coherence, and Ethical Reasoning. Minds and Machines 17 (1):27-46.
    Theories of moral, and more generally, practical reasoning sometimes draw on the notion of coherence. Admirably, Paul Thagard has attempted to give a computationally detailed account of the kind of coherence involved in practical reasoning, claiming that it will help overcome problems in foundationalist approaches to ethics. The arguments herein rebut the alleged role of coherence in practical reasoning endorsed by Thagard. While there are some general lessons to be learned from the preceding, no attempt is made to argue against (...)
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  12. Antti Kauppinen (forthcoming). Moral Intuition in Philosophy and Psychology. In Neil Levy & Jens Clausen (eds.), Springer Handbook of Neuroethics. Springer.
    Psychologists and philosophers use the term 'intuition' for a variety of different phenomena. In this paper, I try to provide a kind of a roadmap of the debates, point to some confusions and problems, and give a brief sketch of an empirically respectable philosophical approach.
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  13. Carl Knight (2006). The Method of Reflective Equilibrium: Wide, Radical, Fallible, Plausible. Philosophical Papers 35 (2):205-229.
    This article argues that, suitably modified, the method of reflective equilibrium is a plausible way of selecting moral principles. The appropriate conception of the method is wide and radical, admitting consideration of a full range of moral principles and arguments, and requiring the enquiring individual to consider others' views and undergo experiences that may offset any formative biases. The individual is not bound by his initial considered judgments, and may revise his view in any way whatsoever. It is appropriate to (...)
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  14. Aristophanes Koutoungos (2005). Moral Coherence, Moral Worth and Explanations of Moral Motivation. Acta Analytica 20 (3):59-79.
    Moral internalism and moral externalism compete over the best explanation of the link between judgment and relevant motivation but, it is argued, they differ at best only verbally. The internalist rational-conceptual nature of the link’ as accounted by M. Smith in The Moral Problem is contrasted to the externalist, also rational, link that requires in addition support from the agent’s psychological-dispositional profile; the internalist link, however, is found to depend crucially on a, similarly to the externalist, psychologically ‘loaded’ profile. It (...)
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  15. Patricia Marino (2010). Moral Rationalism and the Normative Status of Desiderative Coherence. Journal of Moral Philosophy 7 (2):227-252.
    This paper concerns the normative status of coherence of desires, in the context of moral rationalism. I argue that 'desiderative coherence' is not tied to rationality, but is rather of pragmatic, instrumental, and sometimes moral value. This means that desire-based views cannot rely on coherence to support non-agent-relative accounts of moral reasons. For example, on Michael Smith's neo-rationalist view, you have 'normative reason' to do whatever your maximally coherent and fully informed self would want you to do, whether you want (...)
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  16. Patricia Marino (2009). On Essentially Conflicting Desires. Philosophical Quarterly 59 (235):274-291.
    It is sometimes argued that having inconsistent desires is irrational or otherwise bad for an agent. If so, if agents seem to want a and not-a, then either their attitudes are being misdescribed – what they really want is some aspect x of a and some aspect y of not-a – or those desires are somehow 'inconsistent' and thus inappropriate. I argue first that the proper characterization of inconsistency here does not involve logical form, that is, whether the desires involved (...)
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