Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 1043–1049 | Cite as

The Norm of Moral Assertion: A Reply to Simion

  • Max LewisEmail author


Mona Simion has recently argued for a function-first norm of moral assertion. According to function-first accounts, the norm of any kind of assertion is determined by the function of that kind of assertion. She argues that, on the assumption that moral understanding is the goal of moral inquiry, the function of moral assertion is reliably generating moral understanding in others and that the norm of moral assertion should fall out of that function. In particular, she thinks the norm should be such that satisfying it is the most reliable way for one’s moral assertions to generate moral understanding in others—at least when all else goes well. With this in mind, she proposes The Explanation Proffering Account of Moral Assertion (EPNMA). First, I argue that satisfying EPNMA is not the only or most reliable way for one’s moral assertion to generate moral understanding in one’s audience. I propose an alternative norm on which one must accompany one’s moral assertions with a maieutic speech act, i.e., an utterance in the form of a question or assertion that aims to elicit knowledge or other epistemic states from an audience. Second, I present counterexamples to EPNMA wherein speakers make moral assertions that violate EPNMA and yet they are not intuitively epistemically criticizable for their assertion. I conclude by briefly sketching an alternative account that avoids the pitfalls of EPNMA.


Moral assertion Norm of assertion Norm of moral assertion Moral testimony Moral understanding Explanation 



I would like to thank Errol Lord, Lisa Miracchi, Mona Simion, Michael Vazquez, two anonymous referees at this journal, and audiences at Penn Normative Philosophy Group and the MIRA group at the University of Pennsylvania for discussion and comments on earlier versions of this paper.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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