Moral Epistemology

Edited by Christopher Michael Cloos (University of California, Santa Barbara)
About this topic
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 2004 and Huemer 2005 defend comprehensive accounts of moral intuitionism, but Sinnott-Armstrong 2006 argues that moral beliefs are not justified non-inferentially. McGrath 2008 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 ms 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. Admiration, Affectivity, and Value: Critical Remarks on Exemplarity.Wojciech Kaftanski - 2024 - Journal of Value Inquiry 58 (2):197-214.
    By spelling out the affective dimension of admiration, this paper challenges the view of admiration as a trustworthy means of detecting morally desirable qualities in exemplars. Such a view of admiration, foundational for the current debate on exemplars in moral education, holds that admiration is a self-motivating emotion essentially oriented toward the good and the excellent. I demonstrate that this view ignores the affective aspects of admiration explored widely in the history of philosophy on which the debate on moral exemplars (...)
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  2. Eliciting and Assessing our Moral Risk Preferences.Shang Long Yeo - 2024 - American Philosophical Quarterly 61 (2):109-126.
    Suppose an agent is choosing between rescuing more people with a lower probability of success, and rescuing fewer with a higher probability of success. How should they choose? Our moral judgments about such cases are not well-studied, unlike the closely analogous non-moral preferences over monetary gambles. In this paper, I present an empirical study which aims to elicit the moral analogues of our risk preferences, and to assess whether one kind of evidence—concerning how they depend on outcome probabilities—can debunk them. (...)
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  3. Abolishing morality in biomedical ethics.Parker Crutchfield & Scott Scheall - 2024 - Bioethics 38 (4):316-325.
    In biomedical ethics, there is widespread acceptance of moral realism, the view that moral claims express a proposition and that at least some of these propositions are true. Biomedical ethics is also in the business of attributing moral obligations, such as “S should do X.” The problem, as we argue, is that against the background of moral realism, most of these attributions are erroneous or inaccurate. The typical obligation attribution issued by a biomedical ethicist fails to truly capture the person's (...)
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  4. Zetetic indispensability and epistemic justification.Mikayla Kelley - 2024 - Philosophical Studies 181 (4):671-688.
    Robust metanormative realists think that there are irreducibly normative, metaphysically heavy normative facts. One might wonder how we could be epistemically justified in believing that such facts exist. In this paper, I offer an answer to this question: one’s belief in the existence of robustly real normative facts is epistemically justified because so believing is indispensable to being a successful inquirer for creatures like us. The argument builds on Enoch's (2007, 2011) deliberative indispensability argument for Robust Realism but avoids relying (...)
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  5. The normative sense : What is universal? What varies?Edouard Machery & Elizabeth O'Neill - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  6. Moral theory and its role in everyday moral thought and action.Brad Hooker - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  7. The normative sense : What is universal? What varies?Edouard Machery & Elizabeth O'Neill - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  8. Religion and moral knowledge.C. A. J. Coady - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  9. Moral epistemology and professional codes of ethics.Alan Goldman - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  10. Moral expertise.Alison Hills - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  11. Moral epistemology and liberation movements.Lauren Woomer - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  12. Moral knowledge as know-how.Jennifer Cole Wright - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  13. Methods, goals, and data in moral theorizing.John Bengson, Terence Cuneo & Russ Shafer-Landau - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  14. Foundationalism and coherentism in moral epistemology.Noah Lemos - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  15. Relativism and pluralism in moral epistemology.David Wong - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  16. The denial of moral knowledge.Richard Joyce - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  17. Contemporary moral epistemology.Rob Shaver - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  18. Ancient and medieval moral epistemology.Matthias Perkams - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  19. Modern moral epistemology.Kenneth R. Westphal - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  20. Moral learning.Shaun Nichols - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  21. The quest for the boundaries of morality.Stephen Stich - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  22. Archetipi morali: etica nella preistoria.Roberto Thomas Arruda - 2024 - São Paulo: Terra à Vista.
    Gli approcci della tradizione filosofica alla morale si fondano prevalentemente su concetti e teorie metafisiche e teologiche. Tra i concetti etici tradizionali, il più importante è la Teoria del Comando Divino (DCT). Secondo la DCT, Dio dà fondamenti morali all’umanità attraverso la sua creazione e attraverso la Rivelazione. Moralità e Divinità sono inseparabili fin dalle civiltà più remote. Questi concetti si inseriscono in un quadro teologico e sono accettati principalmente dalla maggior parte dei seguaci delle tre tradizioni abramitiche: ebraismo, cristianesimo (...)
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  23. Moral Understanding Between You and Me.Samuel Dishaw - forthcoming - Philosophy and Public Affairs.
    Much attention has been paid to moral understanding as an individual achievement, when a single agent gains insight into distinctly moral matters. Crucially overlooked, I argue, is the phenomenon of shared moral understanding, when you and I understand moral matters together, in a way that can’t be reduced to each of us having moral understanding on our own. My argument pays close attention to two central moral practices: justifying our actions to others, and apologizing for wrongdoing. I argue that, whenever (...)
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  24. Rich Addiction.Bennett Gilbert - 2024 - Subjectivity 31.
    Examining the author’s own experiences of narcotics addiction reveals certain aspects of the addicted mentality that have strong ethical valence. In general, this shows that addiction is not a state fundamentally characterized by lack. The rudiments of this position are found in some contemporary philosophy of addiction; also, it is contrasted with a common widely held mistaken view. Addiction should instead be understood in continuity with and as illuminating the nature of human personhood and subjectivity. Under a phenomenology specific to (...)
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  25. Deontología y axiología de la cognición moral: los fundamentos éticos de la norma jurídica.Henry Torres Vásquez & David Ernesto Diaz-Navarro - 2024 - Derecho Global. Estudios Sobre Derecho y Justicia 9 (26):319-347.
    Con una metodología analítico-sintética, el propósito del presente artículo es ofrecer un fundamento teórico sobre la legitimidad de los actos y las decisiones morales. Por consiguiente, se resolverá la siguiente cuestión: ¿cuál es la función ética del derecho, en el marco del ejercicio de una conciencia y consciencia construidas por agentes morales? Se concluye que la coacción legítima debe fundarse en la protección universal de toda persona y en el sometimiento a objeciones por parte de los ciudadanos, con el propósito (...)
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  26. La idea de infinito: un desfundar lo total y fundar lo ético.Gabriel Leiva Rubio - 2024 - Recerca.Revista de Pensament I Anàlisi 29 (1):01-24.
    Este ensayo practica una hermenéutica a Totalidad e infinitoa partir de cinco epígrafes, abocados todos a explorar los múltiples sentidos de la propuesta levinasianaen torno al fundamentotrascendental de lo ético.El primer apartado busca analizar la relación entre lo que Lévinas designa como lafaz del sery el concepto de totalidad; en el epígrafe siguiente se explicita la diferencia existente, en el interior de la comprensión temporal de lo total, entre lohistóricoy loescatológico; en eltercerepígrafe se analizan los móviles que llevan a Lévinas (...)
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  27. Rights, Values, (the) Meaning in/of Life and Socrates’s ‘How Should One Live?’: A Rationally-Unquestionable Interpretation.Kym Farrand - manuscript
    This paper expands on another which focussed on Socrates’s question: ‘How should one live?’. The present paper also focusses on the ‘meaning of life’ and ‘meaning in life’ issues, and more on rights. To fully rationally answer Socrates’s question, we need to answer the epistemic question: ‘How can one know how one should live?’. This paper attempts to answer both. And knowing how one should live fundamentally involves knowing what values one should live by. This includes which rights one should (...)
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  28. Egoism or the problem of evil: a dilemma for sceptical theism.Benjamin T. Rancourt - 2013 - Religious Studies 49:313-325.
    Sceptical theists undermine the argument from evil by claiming that our ability to distinguish between justified and unjustified evil is weak enough that we must take seriously the possibility that all evil is justified. However, I argue that this claim leads to a dilemma: either our judgements regarding unjustified evil are reliable enough that the problem of evil remains a problem, or our judgements regarding unjustified evil are so unreliable that it would be misguided to use them in our decision-making. (...)
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  29. Moral Progress and Grand Narrative Genealogy.Jinglin Zhou - 2024 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 1.
    In this article, I explore the method of genealogy in moral philosophy, with a focus on evaluating the credibility of moral progress judgments. Despite genealogy becoming a new trend in this field, I critique three types of defective grand narrative genealogies represented by the works of Peter Railton, Michael Huemer, and Nicholas Smyth. I argue that their genealogies fail to be adequate for evaluating moral progress judgments’ credibility. Railton’s genealogy lacks specificity regarding the relatum of the causal story he presents, (...)
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  30. Against Moorean Defences of Speciesism.François Jaquet - 2023 - In Hugo Viciana, Antonio Gaitán & Fernando Aguiar (eds.), Experiments in Moral and Political Philosophy. Routledge.
    Common sense has it that animals matter considerably less than humans; the welfare and suffering of a cow, a chicken or a fish are important but not as much as the welfare and suffering of a human being. Most animal ethicists reject this “speciesist” view as mere prejudice. In their opinion, there is no difference between humans and other animals that could justify such unequal consideration. In the opposite camp, advocates of speciesism have long tried to identify a difference that (...)
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  31. That seems wrong: pedagogically defusing moral relativism and moral skepticism.Jimmy Alfonso Licon - 2023 - International Journal of Ethics Education 8 (2):335-349.
    Students sometimes profess moral relativism or skepticism with retorts like ‘how can we know?’ or ‘it’s all relative!’ Here I defend a pedagogical method to defuse moral relativism and moral skepticism using phenomenal conservatism: if it seems to S that p, S has defeasible justification to believe that p; e.g., moral seemings, like perceptual ones, are defeasibly justified. The purpose of defusing moral skepticism and relativism is to prevent these metaethical views from acting as stumbling blocks to insightful ethical inquiry (...)
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  32. What Attentional Moral Perception Cannot Do but Emotions Can.James Hutton - 2023 - Philosophies 8 (6):106.
    Jonna Vance and Preston Werner argue that humans’ mechanisms of perceptual attention tend to be sensitive to morally relevant properties. They dub this tendency “Attentional Moral Perception” (AMP) and argue that it can play all the explanatory roles that some theorists have hoped moral perception can play. In this article, I argue that, although AMP can indeed play some important explanatory roles, there are certain crucial things that AMP cannot do. Firstly, many theorists appeal to moral perception to explain how (...)
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  33. By Which We May Be Judged: Moral Epistemology, Mind-Independent Truth Conditions And Sources Of Normativity.Maarten Van Doorn - 2022 - Dissertation, Central European University
    Many hope that our values, purged of messy human contingency, could aspire to correspond with mind-independent, rationally obligatory, and eternal ethical facts. But if the arguments of this thesis are on the right track, we should reject the search for non-natural and mind-independent moral truths.
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  34. Tierethik in der chinesischen Tradition [Animal Ethics in the Chinese Tradition].David Bartosch - 2015 - Coincidentia. Zeitschrift für Europäische Geistesgeschichte 6 (2):449-468.
  35. Cognitive Disability and Social Inequality.Linda Barclay - 2023 - Social Theory and Practice 49 (4):605-628.
    Individuals with ‘severe’ cognitive disabilities are primarily discussed in philosophy and bioethics to determine their moral status. In this paper it is argued that theories of moral status have limited relevance to the unjust ways in which people with cognitive disabilities are routinely treated in the actual world, which largely concerns their relegation to an inferior social status. I discuss three possible relationships between moral and social status, demonstrating that determinate answers about the moral status of individuals with ‘severe’ cognitive (...)
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  36. Against Metasemantics-First Moral Epistemology.Jesse Hambly & Shang Long Yeo - forthcoming - The Journal of Ethics:1-21.
    Moral metasemantic theories explain how our moral thought and talk are about certain properties. Given the connection between what our moral terms are about and which moral claims are true, it might be thought that metasemantic theorising can justify first-order ethical conclusions, thus providing a novel way of doing moral epistemology. In this paper, we spell out one kind of argument from metasemantic theories to normative ethical conclusions, and argue that it fails to transmit justification from premises to conclusion. We (...)
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  37. Robust Realism in Ethics: Normative Arbitrariness, Interpersonal Dialogue, and Moral Objectivity.Stephen Ingram - 2023 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Stephen Ingram defends a robustly realistic metaethical theory, based on the concept of normative arbitrariness, of which he provides the first in-depth analysis. He argues that, in order to capture the normative non-arbitrariness of moral choice, we must commit to the existence of robustly stance-independent, categorical, irreducibly normative, non-natural moral facts. Specifically, he identifies five ways in which a metaethical theory might fail to capture the non-arbitrariness of moral choice. The first involves claims about the bruteness of moral attitudes or (...)
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  38. “Emotion and the Ethical A Priori”.Tanner Hammond - 2023 - Phänomenologische Forschungen.
  39. Armchair Evaluative Knowledge and Sentimental Perceptualism.Michael Milona - 2023 - Philosophies 8 (3):51.
    We seem to be able to acquire evaluative knowledge by mere reflection, or “from the armchair.” But how? This question is especially pressing for proponents of sentimental perceptualism, which is the view that our evaluative knowledge is rooted in affective experiences in much the way that everyday empirical knowledge is rooted in perception. While such empirical knowledge seems partially explained by causal relations between perceptions and properties in the world, in armchair evaluative inquiry, the relevant evaluative properties are typically not (...)
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  40. Normative ethics, conversion, and pictures as tools of moral persuasion.Sarah McGrath - 2011 - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 1:268-294.
    In attempting to influence the moral views of others, activists sometimes employ pictures as tools of moral persuasion. In such cases, a viewer is confronted with an actual instance of the practice whose morality is at issue and invited to draw a general moral conclusion in response. This paper explores some of the philosophical issues that arise in connection with the use of pictures as tools of moral persuasion, with special attention to the roles of acquaintance and conversion in the (...)
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  41. Discourse Ethics and Practical Knowledge Stable Structures for Practical Reasoning.Ramírez Calle Olga - 2022 - Episteme NS: Revista Del Instituto de Filosofía de la Universidad Central de Venezuela 42:53-85.
    The present paper 1departs from the discussion on the foundation of morality in Discourse Ethics (DE) and the criticism raised against it, coming to reconstruct in a somewhat different way the foundational process. A first section is dedicated to analysing the difficulties of Habermas distinction between morality and ethics and the criticism raised against it, questioning a) the possibility to set the difference in the distinction between norms and values and b) the presumed neutrality of DE regarding ethical evaluations. A (...)
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  42. Testing for intrinsic value, for us as we are.Daniel Coren - 2023 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 66 (5):773-798.
    Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Brentano, Moore, and Chisholm suggest marks of intrinsic value. Contemporary philosophers such as Christine Korsgaard have insightful discussions of intrinsic value. But how do we verify that some specific thing really is intrinsically valuable? I propose a natural way to test for intrinsic value: first, strip the candidate bare of all considerations of good consequences; and, second, see if what remains is still a good thing. I argue that we, as ordinary human beings, have (...)
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  43. The Duty to Be Transparent When Supporting Laws in Public Discourse.Gregory Robson - 2023 - Social Theory and Practice 49 (2):337-362.
    Political liberals on the left (e.g., Rawls) and right (e.g., Nozick) have long been concerned with the moral justification of coercive legal structures. I argue that anyone who publicly advocates a new coercive law is under a moral duty to those whom the law might negatively affect. The duty is to say that the law would be impactful and why its impacts (e.g., its coerciveness and welfare effects) are worth having all-things-considered. This is a defeasible duty of transparency and disclosure. (...)
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  44. The Reliability Challenge in Moral Epistemology.Matt Lutz - 2020 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 15:284-308.
    The Reliability Challenge to moral non-naturalism has received substantial attention recently in the literature on moral epistemology. While the popularity of this particular challenge is a recent development, the challenge has a long history, as the form of this challenge can be traced back to a skeptical challenge in the philosophy of mathematics raised by Paul Benacerraf. The current Reliability Challenge is widely regarded as the most sophisticated way to develop this skeptical line of thinking, making the Reliability Challenge the (...)
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  45. El saber práctico y las humanidades: breve aproximación epistémica.Lino Latella-Calderón - 2022 - Dissertation, Fundación Difusión Científica
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  46. Ressentiment and Self-deception in Early Phenomenology: Voigtländer, Scheler, and Reinach.Íngrid Vendrell Ferran - 2023 - In Else Voigtländer: Self, Emotion, and Sociality. Springer, Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences. pp. 103-121.
    This chapter explores the early phenomenological accounts of Ressentiment provided by Else Voigtländer, Max Scheler, and Adolf Reinach. In particular, it examines the self-deceptive processes that lead to the “inversion of values” inherent to Ressentiment, i.e., how an object previously felt as valuable is denuded of its worth when the subject realizes that she cannot achieve it. For the comparative analysis of the three accounts, attention is paid to three crucial issues: 1) the origins of Ressentiment (etiology); 2) its place (...)
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  47. Enactivism and environmental responsibilities.Suvielise Nurmi - manuscript
  48. Archétypes Moraux : l'éthique dans la préhistoire.Roberto Arruda (ed.) - 2023 - Sao Paulo: Terra à Vista.
    Les approches de la tradition philosophique de la morale reposent principalement sur des concepts et des théories métaphysiques et théologiques. Parmi les concepts éthiques traditionnels, le plus important est la théorie du commandement divin (DCT). Selon la DCT, Dieu donne des fondements moraux à l'humanité par sa création et par la Révélation. Morale et Divinité sont inséparables depuis la civilisation la plus lointaine. Ces concepts plongent dans un cadre théologique et sont principalement acceptés par la plupart des adeptes des trois (...)
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  49. Autonomy as an Ideal for Neuro-Atypical Agency: Lessons from Bipolar Disorder.Elliot Porter - 2023 - Dissertation, University of Kent
    There is a strong presumption that mental disorder injures a person's autonomy, understood as a set of capacities and as an ideal condition of agency which is worth striving for. However, recent multidimensional approaches to autonomy have revealed a greater diversity in ways of being autonomous than has previously been appreciated. This presumption, then, risks wrongly dismissing variant, neuro-atypical sorts of autonomy as non-autonomy. This is both an epistemic error, which impairs our understanding of autonomy as a phenomenon, and a (...)
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  50. Moral Judgements: The Pursuit of Comfort and its Justification.Conor Sullivan - manuscript
    This paper explores how the three most common ethical theories, utilitarianism, deontology (specifically Kantianism), and Aristotelian virtue ethics seem to fail to adequately account for what justifies the obligations that our moral judgments hold on us, and where these moral judgements arise. This is because it appears that each of the three theories seems to be a different justification for the narcissistic pursuit of one’s own individual comfort, meaning that, people only act in a way that gives them the most (...)
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