Moral Epistemology

Edited by Christopher Michael Cloos (University of California at 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 2003 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. Autonome Vernunft Oder Moralische Sehkraft. Das Epistemische Fundament der Ethik Bei Immanuel Kant Und Iris Murdoch.Andreas Trampota - 2003 - Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.
    Das Buch ist ein Beitrag zur aktuellen philosophischen Debatte über das anthropologisch-epistemologische Fundament moralischer Normen. Es werden zwei unterschiedliche Modelle vorgestellt: zum einen die Autonomie-Konzeption Kants, die auf dem Begriff des freien Willens gründet, der sich selbst dem Vernunftgesetz unterstellt; zum anderen die von Platon inspirierte Moralphilosophie Iris Murdochs, in der die moralische Sehkraft, die sich an der aufmerksamen Wahrnehmung des konkreten Einzelnen orientiert, im Mittelpunkt des guten Lebens steht. In der Auseinandersetzung mit den beiden Entwürfen werden deren Stärken und (...)
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  2. Why You Cannot Make People Better by Telling Them What is Good.Ulf Hlobil - forthcoming - European Journal of Philosophy.
    So-called optimists about moral testimony argue, against pessimists, that, ceteris paribus, we ought to accept and act in accordance with trustworthy, pure moral testimony. I argue that even if we grant this, we need to explain why moral testimony cannot make us more virtuous. I offer an explanation that appeals to the fact that we cannot share inferential abilities via testimony. This explanation is compatible with the core commitments of optimism, but it also allows us to see what is right (...)
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  3. The Neuroscience of Moral Judgment: Empirical and Philosophical Developments.Joshua May, Clifford I. Workman, Julia Haas & Hyemin Han - forthcoming - In Felipe De Brigard & Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (eds.), Neuroscience and Philosophy. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press.
    We chart how neuroscience and philosophy have together advanced our understanding of moral judgment with implications for when it goes well or poorly. The field initially focused on brain areas associated with reason versus emotion in the moral evaluations of sacrificial dilemmas. But new threads of research have studied a wider range of moral evaluations and how they relate to models of brain development and learning. By weaving these threads together, we are developing a better understanding of the neurobiology of (...)
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  4. A Dilemma for Non-Naturalists: Irrationality or Immorality?Matthew S. Bedke - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (4):1027-1042.
    Either 1. the non-naturalist is in a state of mind that would treat as relevant information about the existence and patterns of non-natural properties and facts as they make up their mind about normative matters, or 2. the non-naturalist is in a state of mind that would treat as irrelevant information about the existence and patterns of non-natural properties and facts as they make up their mind about normative matters. The first state of mind is morally objectionable, for one should (...)
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  5. Remembering What is Right.Casey Doyle - 2020 - Philosophical Explorations 23 (1):49-64.
    According to Pessimism about moral testimony, it is objectionable to form moral beliefs by deferring to another. This paper motivates Pessimism about another source of moral knowledge: propositiona...
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  6. Desiring Under the Proper Guise.Michael Milona & Mark Schroeder - 2019 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 14:121-143.
    According to the thesis of the guise of the normative, all desires are associated with normative appearances or judgments. But guise of the normative theories differ sharply over the content of the normative representation, with the two main versions being the guise of reasons and the guise of the good. Chapter 6 defends the comparative thesis that the guise of reasons thesis is more promising than the guise of the good. The central idea is that observations from the theory of (...)
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  7. The Ethics–Mathematics Analogy.Justin Clarke‐Doane - 2020 - Philosophy Compass 15 (1).
    Ethics and mathematics have long invited comparisons. On the one hand, both ethical and mathematical propositions can appear to be knowable a priori, if knowable at all. On the other hand, mathematical propositions seem to admit of proof, and to enter into empirical scientific theories, in a way that ethical propositions do not. In this article, I discuss apparent similarities and differences between ethical (i.e., moral) and mathematical knowledge, realistically construed -- i.e., construed as independent of human mind and languages. (...)
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  8. The Hard Problem for Soft Moral Realism.Lei Zhong - 2019 - Journal of Philosophy 116 (10):555-576.
    Several leading moral philosophers have recently proposed a soft version of moral realism, according to which moral facts—though it is reasonable to postulate them—cannot metaphysically explain other facts (Dworkin 2011; Parfit 2011; Scanlon 2014). However, soft moral realism is faced with what I call the “Hard Problem”, namely, the problem of how this soft version of moral metaphysics could accommodate moral knowledge. This paper reconstructs three approaches to solving the Hard Problem on behalf of the soft realist: the autonomy approach, (...)
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  9. The Dynamics of Moral Progress.Julia Hermann - 2019 - Ratio 32 (4):300-311.
    Assuming that there is moral progress, and assuming that the abolition of slavery is an example of it, how does moral progress occur? Is it mainly driven by specific individuals who have gained new moral insights, or by changes in the socio‐economic and epistemic conditions in which agents morally judge the norms and practices of their society, and act upon these judgements? In this paper, I argue that moral progress is a complex process in which changes at the level of (...)
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  10. Objectivist Conditions for Defeat and Evolutionary Debunking Arguments.Michael Klenk - 2019 - Ratio 32 (4):246-259.
    I make a case for distinguishing clearly between subjective and objective accounts of undercutting defeat and for rejecting a hybrid view that takes both subjective and objective elements to be relevant for whether or not a belief is defeated. Moderate subjectivists claim that taking a belief to be defeated is sufficient for the belief to be defeated; subjectivist idealists add that if an idealised agent takes a belief to be defeated then the belief is defeated. Subjectivist idealism evades some of (...)
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  11. Epistemic Burdens and the Incentives of Surrogate Decision-Makers.Parker Crutchfield & Scott Scheall - 2019 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 22 (4):613-621.
    We aim to establish the following claim: other factors held constant, the relative weights of the epistemic burdens of competing treatment options serve to determine the options that patient surrogates pursue. Simply put, surrogates confront an incentive, ceteris paribus, to pursue treatment options with respect to which their knowledge is most adequate to the requirements of the case. Regardless of what the patient would choose, options that require more knowledge than the surrogate possesses (or is likely to learn) will either (...)
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  12. Hanno Sauer, Debunking Arguments in Ethics , Pp. Xi + 244. [REVIEW]Michael Klenk - 2019 - Utilitas 8 (4):1-5.
  13. Ideological Surpassing Of Philosophy / Идеологическое Превосхождение Философии.Pavel Simashenkov - 2019 - Modern European Researches 4 (31):54-62.
    The article is devoted to the study of ideological and philosophical components correlation in the worldview formation. According to the author, it is fundamentally important to take for understanding Russian history and culture not speculative, but ideological coordinates as the basis. Ideology as a professed philosophy is incomparably higher than any palliative abstraction. It is necessary not to lower culture to the level of the masses, but to elevate a person to the level of culture, impossible without a cult.
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  14. Sentimental Perceptualism and the Challenge From Cognitive Bases.Michael Milona & Hichem Naar - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies.
    According to a historically popular view, emotions are normative experiences that ground moral knowledge much as perceptual experiences ground empirical knowledge. Given the analogy it draws between emotion and perception, sentimental perceptualism constitutes a promising, naturalist-friendly alternative to classical rationalist accounts of moral knowledge. In this paper, we consider an important but underappreciated objection to the view, namely that in contrast with perception, emotions depend for their occurrence on prior representational states, with the result that emotions cannot give perceptual-like access (...)
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  15. Moral Testimony as Higher Order Evidence.Marcus Lee, Jon Robson & Neil Sinclair - forthcoming - In Michael Klenk (ed.), Higher-Order Evidence and Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
    Are the circumstances in which moral testimony serves as evidence that our judgement-forming processes are unreliable the same circumstances in which mundane testimony serves as evidence that our mundane judgement-forming processes are unreliable? In answering this question, we distinguish two possible roles for testimony: (i) providing a legitimate basis for a judgement, (ii) providing (‘higher-order’) evidence that a judgement-forming process is unreliable. We explore the possibilities for a view according to which moral testimony does not, in contrast to mundane testimony (...)
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  16. Comparative Metaethics: Neglected Perspectives on the Foundations of Morality.Colin Marshall (ed.) - 2019 - Routledge.
    This collection of new essays focuses on metaethical views from outside the mainstream European tradition. The guiding motivation is that important discussions about the ultimate nature of morality can be found far beyond ancient Greece and modern Europe. The volume’s aim is to show how rich the possibilities are for comparative metaethics, and how much these comparisons can add to contemporary discussions of the foundations of morality. Representing five continents, the thinkers discussed range from ancient Egyptian, ancient Chinese, and the (...)
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  17. Levinas and Analytic Philosophy: An Ethical Metaphysics of Reasons.Kevin Houser - 2018 - In Michael L. Morgan (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Levinas. pp. 587-614.
    Recent analytic philosophy often explains our responsibility to one another in terms of normative reasons. Emmanuel Levinas thinks this is backwards. We are not responsible to one another because we have reasons to be. For reasons are themselves something we are responsible to one another to have; and it is only because we are responsible to one another for them that we are able to have our own reasons. Put broadly: Reasons-responsiveness is a form of responsiveness to persons. Standard reasons-first (...)
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  18. Testing for Intrinsic Value, for Us as We Are.Daniel Coren - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-26.
    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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  19. Nuno Venturinha: Description of Situations: An Essay in Contextualist Epistemology. [REVIEW]Jakub Mácha - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly.
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  20. Response-Dependent Normative Properties and the Epistemic Account of Emotion.Jean Moritz Müller - forthcoming - Journal of Value Inquiry:1-10.
    It is popular to hold that our primary epistemic access to specific response-dependent properties like the fearsome or admirable (or so-called ‘affective properties’) is constituted by the corresponding emotion. I argue that this view is incompatible with a widely held meta-ethical view, according to which affective properties have deontic force. More specifically, I argue that this view cannot accommodate for the requirement that deontic entities provide guidance. If affective properties are to guide the formation of the corresponding emotion, our primary (...)
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  21. Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology.Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.) - 2018 - New York: Routledge.
    The Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology brings together philosophers, cognitive scientists, developmental and evolutionary psychologists, animal ethologists, intellectual historians, and educators to provide the most comprehensive analysis of the prospects for moral knowledge ever assembled in print. The book’s thirty chapters feature leading experts describing the nature of moral thought, its evolution, childhood development, and neurological realization. Various forms of moral skepticism are addressed along with the historical development of ideals of moral knowledge and their role in law, education, legal (...)
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  22. Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology.Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.) - 2018 - New York: Routledge.
    The Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology brings together philosophers, cognitive scientists, developmental and evolutionary psychologists, animal ethologists, intellectual historians, and educators to provide the most comprehensive analysis of the prospects for moral knowledge ever assembled in print. The book’s thirty chapters feature leading experts describing the nature of moral thought, its evolution, childhood development, and neurological realization. Various forms of moral skepticism are addressed along with the historical development of ideals of moral knowledge and their role in law, education, legal (...)
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  23. How to Determine whether Evolution Debunks Moral Realism.Thomas Pölzler - 2018 - Jahrbuch für Wissenschaft Und Ethik 23 (1):35-60.
    Anti-realist evolutionary debunking arguments purport to show that if there were objective moral truths, then evolutionary evidence would suggest that our moral judgements are unjustified (which excludes or makes it unlikely that these truths exist). Recent controversies about these arguments can often be traced back to confusion about how its premises are to be supported or undermined. My aim in this paper is accordingly a clarificatory one. I will attempt to identify which kinds of philosophical or scientific evidence would have (...)
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  24. Moralisches Wissen: Grundriss einer reliabilistischen Moralepistemologie.Jan-Hendrik Heinrichs - 2013 - Münster, Deutschland: Mentis.
    Dieses Buch untersucht die Art und Weise, wie wir zu gerechtfertigten moralischen Überzeugungen kommen. Moralische Überzeugungen werden in ähnlicher Weise gebildet und gerechtfertigt wie nicht-moralische. Daher können Erkenntnisse über epistemische Rechtfertigung auch helfen, ethische Rechtfertigung zu erklären. Ethische Rechtfertigung wird als der Versuch verstanden, in moralischen Fragen richtige Antworten zu finden, also moralische Erkenntnis zu gewinnen. Auf der Suche nach richtigen Antworten ist es in der Ethik wie in jeder anderen Disziplin am besten, sich zuverlässiger Verfahren zu bedienen. Mit dem (...)
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  25. Which Moral Properties Are Eligible for Perceptual Awareness?Preston J. Werner - forthcoming - Journal of Moral Philosophy:1-30.
    Moral perception has made something of a comeback in recent work on moral epistemology. Many traditional objections to the view have been argued to fail upon closer inspection. But it remains an open question just how far moral perception might extend. In this paper, I provide the beginnings of an answer to this question by assessing the relationship between the metaphysical structure of different normative properties and a plausible constraint on which properties are eligible for perceptual awareness which I call (...)
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  26. Evolution and Moral Disagreement.Michael Klenk - 2018 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 14 (2).
    Several philosophers have recently argued that evolutionary considerations undermine the justification of all objectivist moral beliefs by implying a hypothetical disagreement: had our evolutionary history been different, our moral beliefs would conflict with the moral beliefs of our counterfactual selves. This paper aims at showing that evolutionary considerations do not imply epistemically relevant moral disagreement. In nearby scenarios, evolutionary considerations imply tremendous moral agreement. In remote scenarios, evolutionary considerations do not entail relevant disagreement with our epistemic peers, neither on a (...)
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  27. Om moralisk oenighet mellan epistemiska likar.Marco Tiozzo - 2016 - Filosofisk Tidskrift 37 (2):24-34.
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  28. A Priorism in Moral Epistemology.Amelia Hicks & Michael R. DePaul - 2016 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  29. Ought to Is: The Puzzle of Moral Science.John Basl & Christian Coons - 2017 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 12.
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  30. Three Problems with Metaethical Minimalism.Raff Donelson - 2018 - Southwest Philosophy Review 34 (1):125-131.
    Metaethical minimalism. sometimes called quietism, is the view that first-order moral judgments can be true but nothing makes them true. This article raises three worries for that view. First, minimalists have no good reason to insist that moral judgments can be true. Second, minimalism, in abandoning the requirement that true judgments need to have truthmakers, leads to a problematic proliferation of truths. Third, most versions of minimalism entail a disjointed and therefore unacceptable theory of language and thought.
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  31. Doing Unto Others: A Phenomenological Search for the Ground of Ethics.Richard Oxenberg - manuscript
    Can we find a phenomenological basis for the ethical 'ought'? This essay addresses this question through a reflection on Husserl's fifth Meditation. In the fifth Meditation Husserl endeavors to show the manner in which I constitute the other through an associative pairing of the other with my own subjectivity. This essay argues that this same associative pairing forces me to acknowledge the other as a person of intrinsic worth insofar as I recognize myself as one. Having acknowledged the intrinsic worth (...)
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  32. Exclusion in Morality.Lei Zhong - 2016 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 93 (2):275-290.
    Recently some philosophers (e.g. Shafer-Landau 2003; Wedgwood 2007) suggest an exclusion problem for moral non-naturalism, which is similar to the exclusion problem in the philosophy of mind. In this paper, I aim to advance the discussion of exclusion in morality by investigating two influential solutions to the exclusion problem: the autonomy solution and the overdetermination solution. I attempt to show that the moral non-naturalist can solve the exclusion problem in a way that is different from the approach to solving mental-physical (...)
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  33. Attention, Emotion, and Evaluative Understanding.John Monteleone - 2017 - Philosophia 45 (4):1749-1764.
    This paper assesses Michael Brady’s claim that the ‘capture and consumption of attention’ in an emotion facilitates evaluative understanding. It argues that emotional attention is epistemically deleterious on its own, even though it can be beneficial in conjunction with the right epistemic skills and motivations. The paper considers Sartre’s and Solomon’s claim that emotions have purposes, respectively, to circumvent difficulty or maximize self-esteem. While this appeal to purposes is problematic, it suggests a promising alternative conception of how emotions can be (...)
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  34. 'When You Know for Yourselves': Mindfulness and the Development of Wisdom.Jake H. Davis - 2017 - In A Mirror is For Reflection: Understanding Buddhist Ethics. New York, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 224-235.
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  35. Measuring Moral Development.Michael Klenk - 2017 - de Filosoof 75:21-23.
    In the aftermath of the financial crisis, heightened awareness of ethical issues has sparked increased efforts toward moral education within universities and businesses. In many cases, psychological tests are used to measure whether moral development occurs. As long as we understand moral development as synonymous with moral progress, this may seem like a good sign: it would appear that such tests give us a handle on moral progress. Alas, moral development and moral progress are two very different things. And although (...)
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  36. Methodological Naturalism in Metaethics.Daniel Nolan - 2017 - In Tristram McPherson & David Plunkett (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics. Routledge. pp. 659-673.
    Methodological naturalism arises as a topic in metaethics in two ways. One is the issue of whether we should be methodological naturalists when doing our moral theorising, and another is whether we should take a naturalistic approach to metaethics itself. Interestingly, these can come apart, and some naturalist programs in metaethics justify a non-scientific approach to our moral theorising. This paper discusses the range of approaches that fall under the general umbrella of methodological naturalism, and how naturalists view the role (...)
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  37. Rorty’s Promise in Metaethics.Raff Donelson - 2017 - Contemporary Pragmatism 14 (3):292-306.
    Little attention is given to Richard Rorty’s metaethical views. No doubt this stems from the fact that most commentators are more interested in his metaphilosophical views; most see his metaethical views, offered in scattered passages, as just the downstream runoff from higher-level reflection. This article considers Rorty’s metaethics on their own merits, quite apart from whether his global picture works. I ultimately argue that Rorty’s metaethical outlook is attractive but beset by internal difficulties. Specifically, I contend that Rorty does not (...)
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  38. Accounting for Similarities and Differences in Moral Belief (Atheism).Thaddeus Metz - 2019 - In Joseph W. Koterski & Graham Oppy (eds.), Theism and Atheism: Opposing Arguments in Philosophy. Gale. pp. 472-477.
    A chapter composed largely for undergraduate and postgraduate students that considers whether general facts about morality and our ability to make moral judgements count in favor of either theism or atheism.
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  39. Fear of Knowledge, Against Relativism and Constructivism – By Paul Boghossian. [REVIEW]H. G. Callaway - 2009 - Dialectica 63 (3):357-360.
    Abstract My review of Boghossian's book, Fear of Knowledge, is generally sympathetic toward his rejection of epistemic relativism and turns toward an examination of "constructivist" themes in light of an anti-nominalist perspective. In general terms, this is a fine little book, tightly argued, and well worth considerable attention--especially from the friends of relativism and those supporting versions of constructivism. (Constructivism + radical nominalism = relativism.).
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  40. Hume’s Moral Epistemology.Nicholas L. Sturgeon - 1980 - Philosophical Review 89 (1):124.
  41. Medical Morality Is Not Bioethics—Medical Ethics in China and the United States.Renée C. Fox & Judith P. Swazey - 1984 - Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 27 (3):336-360.
  42. Caring Beings and the Immanence of Value: An Inquiry Into the Foundations of Interpersonal Morality.Richard Oxenberg - manuscript
    By what authority does morality make its demands? In this essay I argue that we find that authority within ourselves, immanent to - not necessarily the character - but the very fact of our own self-concern.
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  43. The Knowledge of Good.Norman Wilde - 1906 - Philosophical Review 15:457.
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  44. Caring as a Feminist Practice of Moral Reason.Alison M. Jaggar - 1995 - In Virginia Held (ed.), Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics. Westview Press. pp. 179--202.
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  45. Ethics and Other Knowledge.Gerald B. Phelan - 1957 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 31:193-200.
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  46. On "Moral Expertise".Béla Szabados - 1978 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 8 (1):117 - 129.
    Not so long ago it was fashionable to claim that it is not the moral philosopher's business to say what things are good or what actions we should perform. This view is succinctly stated by A. J. Ayer:There is a distinction, which is not always sufficiently marked, between the activity of a moralist, who sets out to elaborate a moral code, or to encourage its observance, and that of a moral philosopher, whose concern is not primarily to make moral judgments (...)
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  47. Feminist Ethics: Some Issues for the Nineties.Alison M. Jaggar - 1989 - Journal of Social Philosophy 20 (1-2):91-107.
  48. Technē and Moral Expertise.J. E. Tiles - 1984 - Philosophy 59 (227):49 - 66.
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  49. Topical Epistemologies.Todd Stewart - 2007 - Metaphilosophy 38 (1):23–43.
    What is the point of developing an epistemology for a topic—for example, morality? When is it appropriate to develop the epistemology of a topic? For many topics—for example, the topic of socks—we see no need to develop a special epistemology. Under what conditions, then, does a topic deserve its own epistemology? I seek to answer these questions in this article. I provide a criterion for deciding when we are warranted in developing an epistemological theory for a topic. I briefly apply (...)
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Moral Coherentism
  1. Sidgwick, Henry, I metodi dell'etica, ed. by Maurizio Mori. [REVIEW]Sergio Volodia Marcello Cremaschi - 1996 - Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica 88 (1):175-176.
    A short presentation of the first Italian translation of a classic of Modern Ethics ignored by Italian philosophers for more than a century.
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