How to know the good: The moral epistemology of Plato's republic

Philosophical Review 114 (4):469-496 (2005)
John Mackie famously dismissed the rational tenability of moral objectivism with two quick arguments. The second, the so-called “argument from queerness,” proceeds as follows. A commitment to moral objectivism brings with it a commitment to the existence of moral properties as “queer” as Platonic Forms that are apprehended only through occult faculties like so-called “moral intuition” (Mackie 1977, 38). Since we have no reason to believe that there is any faculty such as moral intuition that serves as a reliable Form detector, we equally have no reason to accept moral objectivism (1977, 23–24, 38–41). Recently, Julia Annas has observed that Mackie has offered us “a coarse and imperceptive interpretation of Plato,” in addition to a mistaken account of the epistemic requirements of moral objectivism (2001, 238). But one might worry that the case Annas makes for the homely nature of Platonic moral knowledge—it’s just like plumbing, only non-optional (2001, 246)—rests, as she admits, on her focus on dialogues like the Laches, in which the analogy between the moral virtues and crafts like flute-playing, shoe-making, and navigating is emphasized (2001, 244). Annas explicitly leaves open the question whether Mackie’s interpretation might capture Plato’s conception of moral knowledge in dialogues like the Republic, in which the analogy between moral and mathematical knowledge is emphasized (2001, 243). Yet it is clear from Mackie’s brief remarks about Plato that he has the Republic primarily in mind (Mackie 1977, 23–24).
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