Intuitionism in Moral Epistemology

In Tristram McPherson & David Plunkett (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics. Routledge. pp. 472-483 (2017)
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Attributions of moral knowledge are common in everyday life. We say that we know that some actions are morally right or wrong, permitted or required. Yet, how do we know such moral claims? Moral intuitionism is a family of theories in moral epistemology that tries to answer this question. Intuitionists are not skeptics about moral knowledge. They think that there are moral truths for us to know, and further, that knowledge of these truths is possible. What distinguishes intuitionism from other anti-skeptical moral epistemologies is the idea that we can know some moral truths directly, without inferring them from premises. According to many intuitionists, it is possible for us to know that keeping promises is morally right even if we do not hold this belief on the basis of further evidence or proof. While intuitionism was popular in the early twentieth century, it was since dismissed as implausible. Recently, there has been renewed interest in intuitionism. Philosophers have defended updated versions of the theory and argue that the view has been misunderstood. This chapter considers the merits of intuitionism in moral epistemology. In what follows, I examine different ways of being an intuitionist and indicate the relative strengths and weaknesses of various approaches within intuitionism.



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Elizabeth Tropman
Colorado State University

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