Manual The Moral Skeptic

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One moral realist response to moral error theory holds that it "proves too much"—if moral claims are false because they entail that we have reasons to do certain things regardless of our preferences, then so too are "hypothetical imperatives" e. This is because all hypothetical imperatives imply that "we have reason to do that which will enable us to accomplish our ends" and so, like moral claims, they imply that we have reason to do something regardless of our preferences.

If moral claims are false because they have this implication, then so too are hypothetical imperatives.

Moral Skepticism |

But hypothetical imperatives are true. Thus the argument from the non-instantiation of what Mackie terms "objective prescriptivity" for moral error theory fails. Russ Shafer-Landau and Daniel Callcut have each outlined anti-skeptical strategies. Callcut argues that moral skepticism should be scrutinized in introductory ethics classes in order to get across the point that "if all views about morality, including the skeptical ones, face difficulties, then adopting a skeptical position is not an escape from difficulty.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 18 October Retrieved 8 August Archived from the original PDF on Retrieved Mackie G. Cognitivism Moral realism Ethical naturalism Ethical non-naturalism Ethical subjectivism Ideal observer theory Divine command theory Error theory Non-cognitivism Emotivism Quasi-realism Universal prescriptivism Moral universalism Value monism Value pluralism Moral relativism Moral nihilism Empiricism Moral rationalism Ethical intuitionism Moral skepticism.

Christian ethics Descriptive ethics Ethics in religion Evolutionary ethics Feminist ethics History of ethics Ideology Islamic ethics Jewish ethics Moral psychology Normative ethics Philosophy of law Political philosophy Population ethics Social philosophy. Evil genius Brain in a vat Dream argument Omphalos hypothesis.

Here is one hand Semantic externalism Process reliabilism Epistemic closure Contextualism Relativism. List of books about skepticism List of notable skeptics List of skeptical conferences List of skeptical magazines List of skeptical organizations List of skeptical podcasts. Moral epistemic skepticism, on the other hand, is relatively common. It takes either weak or strong forms. According to weak moral epistemic skeptical theories, we can have justification for moral beliefs but we cannot have moral knowledge: the kinds or degrees of justification involved are too weak for knowledge.

According to strong skeptical theories, we cannot even have justified moral beliefs. At least one recent, strong moral epistemic skeptic is traditional in our sense. In any case, he does not think that foundationalism works for moral beliefs. There are no good grounds, he argues, for accepting that we have a faculty that justifies foundational moral beliefs. Every attempt to argue that we do is essentially a form of dogmatism.

It is an attempt to strongly insist on our most cherished moral beliefs in order to avoid having to defend them. They are not even viable as general epistemologies. No matter how coherent a set of beliefs is, there are any number of equally coherent sets that are inconsistent with it. So coherentism fails to explain how beliefs, in general, can be justified.

Contextualists confuse mere persuasion with argument: for example, my ability to get you to agree to certain assumptions, and thus make them contextually basic, simply has no bearing on whether they are likely to be true, and, so, on whether we are justified in believing them Sinnott-Armstrong, For various reasons, many philosophers reject one or more of the essential assumptions of traditional moral epistemology.


Below we briefly introduce four sample kinds of non-traditional approaches. Unlike foundationalism, coherentism, and contextualism, these theories are all potentially compatible. There could be a reliabilist, noncognitivist, ideal-decision-based, politicized theory. Some of these are even, in the end, compatible with traditional theories or close analogues of traditional theories. They all, however, reject one or more of the traditional assumptions as starting points. I am probably average in my ability to correctly recognize dollar bills.

Yet I am also, sadly, average in my lack of understanding of the complex physical, economic, sociological, and political conditions that make dollar bills be dollar bills.

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Somehow I nevertheless reliably recognize and daily form practically successful beliefs about dollar bills. David Copp , the reliabilist moral epistemologist whose example this is, wants us to see that the traditional internalist outcome seems preposterous. It is false because, Copp thinks, it is the reliability, or lack of reliability, of the processes by which we form beliefs that justifies, or fails to justify, our beliefs; not, as epistemic internalists insist, our deep skeptic-proof insight into their truth conditions. Whether we perceive, understand, or can even recognize, how such processes are reliable in us, as epistemic internalism demands, is beside the point.

Copp proposes and defends an anti-internalist, that is, externalist, moral epistemology.

He argues that we or at least the best of us have a reliable moral sensitivity , much as we have a reliable dollar bill sensitivity. Our relevant moral sensitivity is made up of a certain combination of i a heightened tendency to notice morally relevant features of a situation, such as the pain produced by burning a cat alive and the much less morally significant enjoyment that doing this might bring to a gang of thugs; ii a reliable tendency to draw correct moral conclusions from these features, such as the conclusion that burning the cat, under the circumstances, is morally reprehensible; and iii a reliable tendency to be motivated in a morally appropriate way, such as being motivated to do something, if feasible, to prevent the thugs from burning the cat alive ; We can, as ethical theorists do, legitimately struggle towards the exactly right combination of i — iii.

We need only have combinations that reliably produce true beliefs in us, in order for our thus produced moral beliefs to be justified. In his provocative attack on traditional, speculative philosophy, Language, Truth, and Logic , A. Ayer wrote []: :. I am simply evincing my moral disapproval of it. It does not make claims: it has no content of a sort that can be true or false. Hence [moral] cognitivism —an essential ingredient of traditional moral epistemology—is false. So, the whole enterprise of moral epistemology, that is, the study of moral knowledge, is doomed from the start: there cannot be moral beliefs or truths, and because there cannot be justified true moral beliefs, there cannot be moral knowledge.

Ayer, however, does not mean to entirely relegate the concerns of moral epistemology to the dustbin. He only means to demote them. We can accept noncognitivism and still argue that some moral feelings are more reasonable or appropriate to given kinds of circumstances than others. We can have more or less justification although not epistemic justification for having, or tending to have, certain moral attitudes.

We can thus have better and worse moral theories. While we might think that noncognitivism degrades ethics too much by disconnecting it from the promise of truth, we might appreciate that it allows us to non-skeptically avoid a host of messy ethical and epistemic problems associated with moral realism. According to moral realism, moral claims represent the world as being thus and so; they are true when the world really is thus and so and false when it is not. It suggests that moral talk aims, like perceptual talk, at describing.

But moral talk does not seem to aim at describing ; it seems to aim at prescribing. Arguably, noncognitivism can make better sense of this than realism. Noncognitivism conceives moral talk as projecting moral emotion Ayer, [] or prescription Hare, onto a perhaps otherwise indifferent world, rather than as representing the moral features of a world which contains no moral features. Ideal decision theories ascribe special philosophical importance to the moral decisions of idealized persons who decide under idealized circumstances.


Only some ideal decision theories are moral epistemic theories others are non-epistemic, for example, ethical or metaethical theories , and only some of those offer whole approaches to moral epistemology. Contractarianism and the sort of approach that Richard Brandt proposes are two ideal decision theories that are sometimes conceived as whole approaches to moral epistemology. Contractarian theories seek to ratify moral claims by appeal to the agreement of fully rational, non-biased, well-informed people in real or, more often, imagined circumstances.

Rawls, however, was a traditional coherentist when it came to moral epistemology. He did not view his contractarian decision procedure as either an ethical theory or a moral epistemology, but rather as a way of generating authoritative principles of justice that would dovetail with the best ethical theory and the best moral epistemology Some contractarian moral epistemologists think that discerning that a moral claim would be endorsed in something like the original position can justify someone in believing it Gauthier, ; Morris, Although Rawls did not hold this view, he did see his method as a kind of access to deep facts about rationality itself, facts of the sort that his more traditional moral epistemology finds ultimately decisive.

Richard Brandt suggests a different, but related, ideal decision theory. A way to demonstrate the validity of a moral system is. This by no means makes moral knowledge easy to come by. But it does put it on the same sort of footing as our other knowledge, since all of our other knowledge is presumably about what the facts are, and to make a claim about what the facts are is to imply something about what it is like to be fully factually informed. Most recent politicized theories are feminist theories. The very idea of feminist epistemology strikes many as a mistake.

What could be more impartial, and less open to political interpretation, than standards of knowledge or justified belief? We may as well talk about feminist radio repair. However, feminist epistemologists often see the very mistake they want to address in such a response.

This impartiality, or pretense of impartiality, in traditional epistemology blinds it to relevant information or standpoints of oppressed classes, such as women; or at least to the narrowness and biases that it is likely to have since its assumptions, methods, and so on were conceived and developed by socially privileged white men. Similarly, many feminist epistemologists argue that the alleged impartiality of traditional theories of justification or knowledge can blind us to the views of the world, and perhaps in particular the moral views of the world, they are designed to promote.

What is it that white-male-dominated, traditional moral epistemology has missed? For instance, an antebellum plantation owner would miss much that would be readily apparent to his lowliest slaves.

For many topics, including moral ones, he is likely to live on some sort of epistemic Cloud Nine.