Practical Knowledge and Perception

In Mark Alznauer & Jose Torralba (eds.), Theories of Action and Morality: Perspectives from Philosophy and Social Theory. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms Verlag. pp. 241-265 (2016)
In this paper I examine the relation between intentional action and morality from the perspective of practical epistemology. In other words I study the relation between Elizabeth Anscombe's knowledge of one’s own intentional actions (knowledge in action) and Iris Murdoch's knowledge of what is good to do or what one ought to do in particular circumstances (knowledge in the circumstances). If practical knowledge in the former sense (knowledge in action) and practical knowledge in the latter sense (knowledge in the circumstances) turn out to constitute exercises of one and the same capacity for knowledge, as I will argue they do, this will give us strong reason to believe that what is known in the two cases (i.e. intentional action and the moral fabric of the world) is in some sense the same. In examining the relation between practical knowledge of one’s own intentional actions and practical knowledge of what is good to do I draw from two traditions of thought on practical epistemology. The first is the tradition of Anscombe’s conception of knowledge in action and the second is the tradition of Murdoch’s conception of knowledge in the circumstances. What is striking about these traditions is that they tend to understand practical knowledge by reference to the possible involvement therein of perception. Thus Anscombe claims in her Intention[1] that knowledge in action is specified as knowledge without observation; a claim to the effect that the epistemological status of knowledge in action is determined by reference to the lack of a certain sort of involvement therein of perception. And Iris Murdoch in her Sovereignty of the Good[2] proposes that what makes knowledge in the circumstances knowledge is a form of sensitivity to particular features or aspects of the circumstances in which the agent finds herself. Thus, for Murdoch, knowledge in the circumstances owes its status as knowledge to the capacity of the agent to perceive what she ought to do in particular circumstances. In this paper I will argue that both of these forms of knowledge are instances of the exercise of one and the same capacity for knowledge. But the question now arises. How can we both claim that the two forms of practical knowledge are instances of the exercise of one and the same capacity for knowledge and that perception plays such a diverse role in their epistemological grounding? In the main body of this paper I will show how to interpret the Murdochian and the Anscombean claims so as to provide the materials with which we can answer this question. If the argument of this paper works, it will transpire that both of these forms of knowledge are instances of the exercise of our capacity for self-knowledge. This account of practical knowledge opens the way for understanding intentional action and the moral fabric of the world as knowable as the self. And it is thus that what is known in the two forms of knowing (i.e. intentional action and the moral fabric of the world) is in some sense the same. [1] Anscombe, 1957. [2] Murdoch, 1970.
Keywords practical knowledge  moral perception  self-knowledge  Anscombe  Murdoch  action
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