Moral knowledge by perception

Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):209–228 (2004)
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Abstract

On the face of it, some of our knowledge is of moral facts (for example, that this promise should not be broken in these circumstances), and some of it is of non-moral facts (for example, that the kettle has just boiled). But, some argue, there is reason to believe that we do not, after all, know any moral facts. For example, according to J. L. Mackie, if we had moral knowledge (‘‘if we were aware of [objective values]’’), ‘‘it would have to be by some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else’’(1977,p.38).But wehavenosuchspecialfaculty.So,wehavenomoralknowledge. Following Mackie, let us distinguish two questions: Q1: Assuming that we have moral knowledge, how do we have it? Q2: Do we in fact have any moral knowledge? In response to the first question, I argue that if we have moral knowledge, we have some of it in the same way we have knowledge of our immediate environment: by perception. Many people think that this answer leads to moral skepticism, because they think that we obviously cannot have moral knowledge by perception. But I will argue that this is incorrect. The plan for the paper is as follows. In Sections 2–4, I work up to my answer to Q1 by considering rivals. In Section 5, I explain what marks my answer to Q1 as a distinctive view, and defend it. In Section 6, I briefly discuss how this answer to Q1 affects what we say in response to Q2.

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Sarah McGrath
Princeton University

Citations of this work

The significance of high-level content.Nicholas Silins - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 162 (1):13-33.
Moral perception.Preston J. Werner - 2020 - Philosophy Compass 15 (1):e12640.
Moral Perception.Andrew Cullison - 2010 - European Journal of Philosophy 18 (2):159-175.

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References found in this work

A treatise of human nature.David Hume & D. G. C. Macnabb (eds.) - 1977 - New York: Dutton.
Principia ethica.George Edward Moore - 1903 - Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. Edited by Thomas Baldwin.
The nature of morality: an introduction to ethics.Gilbert Harman - 1977 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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