Moral Perception

Cameron Evans
University of Edinburgh
As Jonathan Dancy points out, if we are tempted to think morality is a rational enterprise, we would expect moral judgments to be constrained by requirements of consistency. If our judgments and choices use general moral principles as guides or standards -- like the laws that feature in the explicit calculations of Immanuel Kant’s moral agent – we can be somewhat confident we respond to moral salience with consistency and, perhaps, rationally. For Kant, explicit reason ensures consistency because the explicit application of maxims is autonomous from volatile external factors. Contemporary empirical studies in moral psychology show that when we respond morally we seemingly do so from emotion or intuition, not reason. For Kant, emotions and intuitions fluctuate with respect to volatile external factors. They are not the sort of things upon which we ought to base judgment and decision. If we hold the Kantian model true, we must assume that we fail to participate rationally in the moral enterprise. I argue against the Kantian model of moral cognition and turn to Aristotle to develop an account of moral cognition that allows us to retain our standing as rational moral agents. First, I argue for a particularist conception of moral reasons: I deny that the consistency required of a picture of morality as a rational enterprise requires our thought utilizes general moral rules. Next, I develop a particularist account of moral knowledge – a demand from their generalist opponents – by providing an account of moral perception. I subsequently argue that the deliverances of moral perception can constitute knowledge by providing a McDowellian account of perceptual justification. Lastly, I return to examine how the empirical work motivating the idea that we don’t participate in morality rationally. I show how none of these studies threatens the Aristotelian model as a viable alternative to the Kantian model.
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