Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1065–1078 | Cite as

Sentimentalism about Moral Understanding

  • Nathan Robert HowardEmail author


Some have attempted to explain why it appears that action based on deferential moral belief lacks moral worth by appealing to claims about an attitude that is difficult to acquire through testimony, which theorists have called “moral understanding”. I argue that this state is at least partly non-cognitive. I begin by employing case-driven judgments to undermine the assumption that I argue is responsible for the strangeness of deferential moral belief: the assumption that if an agent knows that some fact gives them a moral reason to act in some way, then they’re in a position to act that way for the moral reason given by that fact. I then argue that cases from non-moral epistemology concerning properly-based belief give us independent reason to reject this assumption and conclude by sketching a Davidson-inspired account of normative reasons that explains why acting for moral reasons requires the right non-cognitive state, which is worth calling a kind of moral understanding.


Moral epistemology Moral testimony Moral understanding Primary reasons Sentimentalism Donald Davidson Normative reasons 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Southern California CityLos AngelesUSA

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