Moral Epistemology

Edited by Christopher Michael Cloos (University of California, Santa Barbara)
About this topic
Summary

Moral epistemology concerns moral knowledge and things related to moral knowledge. Is it possible for one to know that torturing babies for fun is wrong? Can one know that slavery is unjust? Moral skeptics doubt the possibility of moral knowledge and doubt its veracity. Some argue that the persistence of wide-spread moral disagreement among peoples, such as differing views on the morality of infanticide, abortion, and capital punishment, suggests there is no fact of the matter regarding moral claims. Some moral theorists argue for the possibility of justified moral beliefs sufficient to yield moral knowledge. Moral coherentists claims that moral beliefs are justified in virtue of being part of a coherent body of beliefs. Reflective equilibrium is a method of moral justification that is often regarded as a form of moral coherentism. It is a way of resolving conflicts between intuitive moral judgments and moral principles that seek to capture those judgments. Intuitionism is an alternative approach to the justification of moral beliefs. On this theory, moral beliefs are non-inferentially justified. Additionally, some theorists endorse moral rationalism. On this view, it is possible to have moral knowledge even when that knowledge is not based on sense experience. Moral knowledge is often compared to mathematical knowledge. Lastly, moral agents always operate under moral uncertainty. It is impossible to perfectly predict the moral goodness or value that will result from a given course of action. Various approaches try to deal with moral uncertainty, often by incorporating the calculation of expected utility into moral choice situations.

Key works

Brink 1989 argues that coherence between a moral belief and one’s other beliefs can justify that moral belief. Sayre-McCord 1996 also endorses this view but argues that things other than one’s beliefs can factor into coherence and justification. Audi 2004 and Huemer 2005 defend comprehensive accounts of moral intuitionism, but Sinnott-Armstrong 2006 argues that moral beliefs are not justified non-inferentially. McGrath 2008 argues that moral disagreement can prevent one from obtaining moral knowledge when one’s peer shares one’s basic moral commitments, yet Wedgwood 2007 argues against this position. Peacocke 2004 and Setiya 2012 defend accounts of moral rationalism involving the possession of moral concepts. Rawls ms articulates the method of reflective equilibrium in defending how one can arrive at the best conception of justice. Daniels 1996 extends the method of reflective equilibrium to include background theories of human nature and social stability.

Introductions For online introductions to moral epistemology see Tramel 2005 and Campbell 2014. For general overviews of the topic see Arrington 1989, Audi 1999, Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, and Zimmerman 2010.
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  1. Deontología y axiología de la cognición moral: los fundamentos éticos de la norma jurídica.Henry Torres Vásquez & David Ernesto Diaz-Navarro - 2024 - Derecho Global. Estudios Sobre Derecho y Justicia 9 (26):319-347.
    Con una metodología analítico-sintética, el propósito del presente artículo es ofrecer un fundamento teórico sobre la legitimidad de los actos y las decisiones morales. Por consiguiente, se resolverá la siguiente cuestión: ¿cuál es la función ética del derecho, en el marco del ejercicio de una conciencia y consciencia construidas por agentes morales? Se concluye que la coacción legítima debe fundarse en la protección universal de toda persona y en el sometimiento a objeciones por parte de los ciudadanos, con el propósito (...)
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  2. La idea de infinito: un desfundar lo total y fundar lo ético.Gabriel Leiva Rubio - 2024 - Recerca.Revista de Pensament I Anàlisi 29 (1):01-24.
    Este ensayo practica una hermenéutica a Totalidad e infinitoa partir de cinco epígrafes, abocados todos a explorar los múltiples sentidos de la propuesta levinasianaen torno al fundamentotrascendental de lo ético.El primer apartado busca analizar la relación entre lo que Lévinas designa como lafaz del sery el concepto de totalidad; en el epígrafe siguiente se explicita la diferencia existente, en el interior de la comprensión temporal de lo total, entre lohistóricoy loescatológico; en eltercerepígrafe se analizan los móviles que llevan a Lévinas (...)
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  3. Rights, Values, (the) Meaning in/of Life and Socrates’s ‘How Should One Live?’: A Rationally-Unquestionable Interpretation.Kym Farrand - manuscript
    This paper expands on another which focussed on Socrates’s question: ‘How should one live?’. The present paper also focusses on the ‘meaning of life’ and ‘meaning in life’ issues, and more on rights. To fully rationally answer Socrates’s question, we need to answer the epistemic question: ‘How can one know how one should live?’. This paper attempts to answer both. And knowing how one should live fundamentally involves knowing what values one should live by. This includes which rights one should (...)
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  4. Abolishing Morality in Biomedical Ethics.Parker Crutchfield & Scott Scheall - forthcoming - Bioethics.
    In biomedical ethics, there is widespread acceptance of moral realism, the view that moral claims express a proposition and that at least some of these propositions are true. Biomedical ethics is also in the business of attributing moral obligations, such as “S should do X”. The problem, as we argue, is that against the background of moral realism, most of these attributions are erroneous or inaccurate. The typical obligation attribution issued by a biomedical ethicist fails to truly capture the person’s (...)
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  5. Egoism or the problem of evil: a dilemma for sceptical theism.Benjamin T. Rancourt - 2013 - Religious Studies 49:313-325.
    Sceptical theists undermine the argument from evil by claiming that our ability to distinguish between justified and unjustified evil is weak enough that we must take seriously the possibility that all evil is justified. However, I argue that this claim leads to a dilemma: either our judgements regarding unjustified evil are reliable enough that the problem of evil remains a problem, or our judgements regarding unjustified evil are so unreliable that it would be misguided to use them in our decision-making. (...)
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  6. Moral Progress and Grand Narrative Genealogy.Jinglin Zhou - 2024 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 1.
    ABSTRACT 1. An adequate genealogy: three criteria 2. Three types of defective genealogies 3. A case study approach is methodologically superior Conclusion Acknowledgements Disclosure statement Additional information Footnotes References Full Article Figures & data References Citations Metrics Reprints & Permissions View PDFView EPUB ABSTRACT In this article, I explore the method of genealogy in moral philosophy, with a focus on evaluating the credibility of moral progress judgments. Despite genealogy becoming a new trend in this field, I critique three types of (...)
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  7. Zetetic indispensability and epistemic justification.Mikayla Kelley - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies.
    Robust metanormative realists think that there are irreducibly normative, metaphysically heavy normative facts. One might wonder how we could be epistemically justified in believing that such facts exist. In this paper, I offer an answer to this question: one's belief in the existence of robustly real normative facts is epistemically justified because so believing is indispensable to being a successful inquirer for creatures like us. The argument builds on Enoch's (2007, 2011) deliberative indispensability argument for Robust Realism but avoids relying (...)
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  8. Against Moorean Defences of Speciesism.François Jaquet - 2023 - In Hugo Viciana, Antonio Gaitán & Fernando Aguiar (eds.), Experiments in Moral and Political Philosophy. Routledge.
    Common sense has it that animals matter considerably less than humans; the welfare and suffering of a cow, a chicken or a fish are important but not as much as the welfare and suffering of a human being. Most animal ethicists reject this “speciesist” view as mere prejudice. In their opinion, there is no difference between humans and other animals that could justify such unequal consideration. In the opposite camp, advocates of speciesism have long tried to identify a difference that (...)
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  9. Moral epistemology and professional codes of ethics.Alan Goldman - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  10. Moral epistemology and liberation movements.Lauren Woomer - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  11. Foundationalism and coherentism in moral epistemology.Noah Lemos - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  12. Relativism and pluralism in moral epistemology.David Wong - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  13. Contemporary moral epistemology.Rob Shaver - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  14. Modern moral epistemology.Kenneth R. Westphal - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  15. Ancient and medieval moral epistemology.Matthias Perkams - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  16. Normative practices of other animals.Sarah Vincent, Rebecca Ring & Kristin Andrews - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  17. The quest for the boundaries of morality.Stephen Stich - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  18. Moral theory and its role in everyday moral thought and action.Brad Hooker - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  19. The normative sense : What is universal? What varies?Edouard Machery & Elizabeth O'Neill - forthcoming - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  20. That seems wrong: pedagogically defusing moral relativism and moral skepticism.Jimmy Alfonso Licon - 2023 - International Journal of Ethics Education 8 (2):335-349.
    Students sometimes profess moral relativism or skepticism with retorts like ‘how can we know?’ or ‘it’s all relative!’ Here I defend a pedagogical method to defuse moral relativism and moral skepticism using phenomenal conservatism: if it seems to S that p, S has defeasible justification to believe that p; e.g., moral seemings, like perceptual ones, are defeasibly justified. The purpose of defusing moral skepticism and relativism is to prevent these metaethical views from acting as stumbling blocks to insightful ethical inquiry (...)
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  21. What Attentional Moral Perception Cannot Do but Emotions Can.James Hutton - 2023 - Philosophies 8 (6):106.
    Jonna Vance and Preston Werner argue that humans’ mechanisms of perceptual attention tend to be sensitive to morally relevant properties. They dub this tendency “Attentional Moral Perception” (AMP) and argue that it can play all the explanatory roles that some theorists have hoped moral perception can play. In this article, I argue that, although AMP can indeed play some important explanatory roles, there are certain crucial things that AMP cannot do. Firstly, many theorists appeal to moral perception to explain how (...)
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  22. By Which We May Be Judged: Moral Epistemology, Mind-Independent Truth Conditions And Sources Of Normativity.Maarten Van Doorn - 2022 - Dissertation, Central European University
    Nominated for CEU's Best Dissertation Award 2022. One of the most widely held philosophical views about the nature of ethics is non-naturalistic moral realism. According to this view, there exist sui generis and causally inefficacious properties, which are also inherently normative. Facts about the distribution of these ontologically fundamental properties constitute the source of morality. The answers to important normative questions–such as whether happiness matters, what we have reason to do, and so on–hinge, therefore, on the existence and patterns of (...)
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  23. Tierethik in der chinesischen Tradition [Animal Ethics in the Chinese Tradition].David Bartosch - 2015 - Coincidentia. Zeitschrift für Europäische Geistesgeschichte 6 (2):449-468.
  24. Cognitive Disability and Social Inequality.Linda Barclay - 2023 - Social Theory and Practice 49 (4):605-628.
    Individuals with ‘severe’ cognitive disabilities are primarily discussed in philosophy and bioethics to determine their moral status. In this paper it is argued that theories of moral status have limited relevance to the unjust ways in which people with cognitive disabilities are routinely treated in the actual world, which largely concerns their relegation to an inferior social status. I discuss three possible relationships between moral and social status, demonstrating that determinate answers about the moral status of individuals with ‘severe’ cognitive (...)
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  25. Eliciting and Assessing our Moral Risk Preferences.Shang Long Yeo - forthcoming - American Philosophical Quarterly.
    Suppose an agent is choosing between rescuing more people with a lower probability of success, and rescuing fewer with a higher probability of success. How should they choose? Our moral judgments about such cases are not well-studied, unlike the closely analogous non-moral preferences over monetary gambles. In this paper, I present an empirical study which aims to elicit the moral analogues of our risk preferences, and to assess whether one kind of evidence – concerning how they depend on outcome probabilities (...)
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  26. Against Metasemantics-First Moral Epistemology.Jesse Hambly & Shang Long Yeo - forthcoming - The Journal of Ethics:1-21.
    Moral metasemantic theories explain how our moral thought and talk are about certain properties. Given the connection between what our moral terms are about and which moral claims are true, it might be thought that metasemantic theorising can justify first-order ethical conclusions, thus providing a novel way of doing moral epistemology. In this paper, we spell out one kind of argument from metasemantic theories to normative ethical conclusions, and argue that it fails to transmit justification from premises to conclusion. We (...)
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  27. Robust Realism in Ethics: Normative Arbitrariness, Interpersonal Dialogue, and Moral Objectivity.Stephen Ingram - 2023 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Stephen Ingram defends a robustly realistic metaethical theory, based on the concept of normative arbitrariness, of which he provides the first in-depth analysis. He argues that, in order to capture the normative non-arbitrariness of moral choice, we must commit to the existence of robustly stance-independent, categorical, irreducibly normative, non-natural moral facts. Specifically, he identifies five ways in which a metaethical theory might fail to capture the non-arbitrariness of moral choice. The first involves claims about the bruteness of moral attitudes or (...)
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  28. “Emotion and the Ethical A Priori”.Tanner Hammond - 2023 - Phänomenologische Forschungen.
  29. Armchair Evaluative Knowledge and Sentimental Perceptualism.Michael Milona - 2023 - Philosophies 8 (3):51.
    We seem to be able to acquire evaluative knowledge by mere reflection, or “from the armchair.” But how? This question is especially pressing for proponents of sentimental perceptualism, which is the view that our evaluative knowledge is rooted in affective experiences in much the way that everyday empirical knowledge is rooted in perception. While such empirical knowledge seems partially explained by causal relations between perceptions and properties in the world, in armchair evaluative inquiry, the relevant evaluative properties are typically not (...)
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  30. Normative ethics, conversion, and pictures as tools of moral persuasion.Sarah McGrath - 2011 - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 1:268-294.
    In attempting to influence the moral views of others, activists sometimes employ pictures as tools of moral persuasion. In such cases, a viewer is confronted with an actual instance of the practice whose morality is at issue and invited to draw a general moral conclusion in response. This paper explores some of the philosophical issues that arise in connection with the use of pictures as tools of moral persuasion, with special attention to the roles of acquaintance and conversion in the (...)
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  31. Discourse Ethics and Practical Knowledge Stable Structures for Practical Reasoning.Ramírez Calle Olga - 2022 - Episteme NS: Revista Del Instituto de Filosofía de la Universidad Central de Venezuela 42:53-85.
    The present paper 1departs from the discussion on the foundation of morality in Discourse Ethics (DE) and the criticism raised against it, coming to reconstruct in a somewhat different way the foundational process. A first section is dedicated to analysing the difficulties of Habermas distinction between morality and ethics and the criticism raised against it, questioning a) the possibility to set the difference in the distinction between norms and values and b) the presumed neutrality of DE regarding ethical evaluations. A (...)
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  32. Testing for intrinsic value, for us as we are.Daniel Coren - 2023 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 66 (5):773-798.
    Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Brentano, Moore, and Chisholm suggest marks of intrinsic value. Contemporary philosophers such as Christine Korsgaard have insightful discussions of intrinsic value. But how do we verify that some specific thing really is intrinsically valuable? I propose a natural way to test for intrinsic value: first, strip the candidate bare of all considerations of good consequences; and, second, see if what remains is still a good thing. I argue that we, as ordinary human beings, have (...)
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  33. The Duty to Be Transparent When Supporting Laws in Public Discourse.Gregory Robson - 2023 - Social Theory and Practice 49 (2):337-362.
    Political liberals on the left (e.g., Rawls) and right (e.g., Nozick) have long been concerned with the moral justification of coercive legal structures. I argue that anyone who publicly advocates a new coercive law is under a moral duty to those whom the law might negatively affect. The duty is to say that the law would be impactful and why its impacts (e.g., its coerciveness and welfare effects) are worth having all-things-considered. This is a defeasible duty of transparency and disclosure. (...)
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  34. The Reliability Challenge in Moral Epistemology.Matt Lutz - 2020 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 15:284-308.
    The Reliability Challenge to moral non-naturalism has received substantial attention recently in the literature on moral epistemology. While the popularity of this particular challenge is a recent development, the challenge has a long history, as the form of this challenge can be traced back to a skeptical challenge in the philosophy of mathematics raised by Paul Benacerraf. The current Reliability Challenge is widely regarded as the most sophisticated way to develop this skeptical line of thinking, making the Reliability Challenge the (...)
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  35. Ressentiment and Self-deception in Early Phenomenology: Voigtländer, Scheler, and Reinach.Íngrid Vendrell Ferran - 2023 - In Else Voigtländer: Self, Emotion, and Sociality. Springer, Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences. pp. 103-121.
    This chapter explores the early phenomenological accounts of Ressentiment provided by Else Voigtländer, Max Scheler, and Adolf Reinach. In particular, it examines the self-deceptive processes that lead to the “inversion of values” inherent to Ressentiment, i.e., how an object previously felt as valuable is denuded of its worth when the subject realizes that she cannot achieve it. For the comparative analysis of the three accounts, attention is paid to three crucial issues: 1) the origins of Ressentiment (etiology); 2) its place (...)
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  36. Enactivism and environmental responsibilities.Suvielise Nurmi - manuscript
  37. Archétypes Moraux : l'éthique dans la préhistoire.Roberto Arruda (ed.) - 2023 - Sao Paulo: Terra à Vista.
    Les approches de la tradition philosophique de la morale reposent principalement sur des concepts et des théories métaphysiques et théologiques. Parmi les concepts éthiques traditionnels, le plus important est la théorie du commandement divin (DCT). Selon la DCT, Dieu donne des fondements moraux à l'humanité par sa création et par la Révélation. Morale et Divinité sont inséparables depuis la civilisation la plus lointaine. Ces concepts plongent dans un cadre théologique et sont principalement acceptés par la plupart des adeptes des trois (...)
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  38. Autonomy as an Ideal for Neuro-Atypical Agency: Lessons from Bipolar Disorder.Elliot Porter - 2023 - Dissertation, University of Kent
    There is a strong presumption that mental disorder injures a person's autonomy, understood as a set of capacities and as an ideal condition of agency which is worth striving for. However, recent multidimensional approaches to autonomy have revealed a greater diversity in ways of being autonomous than has previously been appreciated. This presumption, then, risks wrongly dismissing variant, neuro-atypical sorts of autonomy as non-autonomy. This is both an epistemic error, which impairs our understanding of autonomy as a phenomenon, and a (...)
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  39. Moral Judgements: The Pursuit of Comfort and its Justification.Conor Sullivan - manuscript
    This paper explores how the three most common ethical theories, utilitarianism, deontology (specifically Kantianism), and Aristotelian virtue ethics seem to fail to adequately account for what justifies the obligations that our moral judgments hold on us, and where these moral judgements arise. This is because it appears that each of the three theories seems to be a different justification for the narcissistic pursuit of one’s own individual comfort, meaning that, people only act in a way that gives them the most (...)
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  40. Do Humans Have a Reliable Conscience?Matthew Braddock - 2022 - Theological Puzzles.
    Do humans have a reliable conscience? Do we have generally reliable (though fallible) moral intuitions? Many believe so. However, this idea is hard to reconcile with two broad scientific findings. First, consider the extensive moral diversity documented in the scientific literature. The moral differences we find across cultures and history should make us wonder whether we humans really do have a reliable conscience. Second, consider the influential role of culture. The scientific literature tells us that cultural processes largely determine the (...)
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  41. Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson: Heroes for Moral Realism?John Klasios - 2017 - Quillette.
  42. Moral principles as generics.Ravi Thakral - forthcoming - Journal of the American Philosophical Association:1-20.
    I argue that moral principles involve the same sort of generalization as ordinary yet elusive generic generalizations in natural language such as 'Tigers are striped' or 'Peppers are spicy'. A notable advantage of the generic view is that it simultaneously allows for pessimism and optimism about the role and status of moral principles in our lives. It provides a new perspective on the nature of moral principles on which principles are not apt for determining the moral status of particular actions (...)
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  43. The moral epistemology of intuitionism: neuroethics and seeming states.Hossein A. Dabbagh - 2022 - New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
    Covering moral intuition, self-evidence, non-inferentiality, moral emotion and seeming states, Hossein Dabbagh defends the epistemology of moral intuitionism. His line of analysis resists the empirical challenges derived from empirical moral psychology and reveals the seeming-based account of moral intuitionism as the most tenable one. The Moral Epistemology of Intuitionism combines epistemological intuitionism with work in neuroethics to develop an account of the role that moral intuition and emotion play in moral judgment. The book culminates in a convincing argument about the (...)
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  44. Debunking, Epistemic Achievement, and Undermining Defeat.Michael Klenk - 2022 - American Philosophical Quarterly 59 (1):43-60.
    Several anti-debunkers have argued that evolutionary explanations of our moral beliefs fail to meet a necessary condition on undermining defeat called modal security. They conclude that evolution, therefore, does not debunk our moral beliefs. This article shows that modal security is false if knowledge is virtuous achievement. New information can undermine a given belief without providing reason to doubt that that belief is sensitive or safe. This leads to a novel conception of undermining defeat, and it shows that successful debunking (...)
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  45. Worldviews, Moral Seemings, and Moral Epistemology.C. Stephen Evans - 2020 - Review of Metaphysics 73 (4):815-836.
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  46. Iris Murdoch, privacy, and the limits of moral testimony.Cathy Mason - 2021 - European Journal of Philosophy 30 (3):1125-1134.
    Recent discussions of moral testimony have focused on the acceptability of forming beliefs on the basis of moral testimony, but there has been little acknowledgement of the limits to testimony's capacity to convey moral knowledge. In this paper I outline one such limit, drawing on Iris Murdoch's conception of private moral concepts. Such concepts, I suggest, plausibly play an important role in moral thought, and yet moral knowledge expressed in them cannot be testimonially acquired.
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  47. Attentional Moral Perception.Jonna Vance & Preston J. Werner - 2022 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 19 (5):501-525.
    Moral perceptualism is the view that perceptual experience is attuned to pick up on moral features in our environment, just as it is attuned to pick up on mundane features of an environment like textures, shapes, colors, pitches, and timbres. One important family of views that incorporate moral perception are those of virtue theorists and sensibility theorists. On these views, one central ability of the virtuous agent is her sensitivity to morally relevant features of situations, where this sensitivity is often (...)
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  48. Moral epistemology and professional codes of ethics.Alan Goldman - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  49. Moral epistemology and liberation movements.Lauren Woomer - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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  50. Foundationalism and coherentism in moral epistemology.Noah Lemos - 2018 - In Aaron Zimmerman, Karen Jones & Mark Timmons (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
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