Moral Testimony: One of These Things Is Just Like the Others

Analytic Philosophy 55 (1):54-74 (2014)
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What, if anything, is wrong with acquiring moral beliefs on the basis of testimony? Most philosophers think that there is something wrong with it, and most point to a special problem that moral testimony is supposed to create for moral agency. Being a good moral agent involves more than bringing about the right outcomes. It also involves acting with "moral understanding" and one cannot have moral understanding of what one is doing via moral testimony. And so, adherents to this view claim, relying on moral testimony is problematic. Importantly, the problem that afflicts moral testimony, according to this view, is not a problem for testimonial knowledge in general. Indeed, critics of moral testimony acknowledge that a vast amount of our knowledge comes, completely unproblematically, from testimony. Call this the Asymmetry Thesis. We argue that while the diagnosis of what is wrong with moral testimony (when there is something wrong with it) in terms of moral understanding is correct, the lesson many of its adherents draw from it, namely that there is a principled difference between moral an non-moral testimony which renders the first, but not the second, problematic, is not. In other words, we argue that the Asymmetry Thesis is false.



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Author Profiles

Jason Decker
Carleton College
Daniel Groll
Carleton College

Citations of this work

Moral Testimony Pessimism and the Uncertain Value of Authenticity.Andreas L. Mogensen - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 95 (2):261-284.
Epistemological problems of testimony.Jonathan E. Adler - 2006 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Why don't we trust moral testimony?James Andow - 2020 - Mind and Language 35 (4):456-474.

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Internal and External Reasons.Bernard Williams - 1979 - In Ross Harrison (ed.), Rational action: studies in philosophy and social science. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 101-113.
Testimony: a philosophical study.C. A. J. Coady - 1992 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Knowing How.Jason Stanley & Timothy Willlamson - 2001 - Journal of Philosophy 98 (8):411-444.
Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives.Philippa Foot - 1972 - Philosophical Review 81 (3):305-316.

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