Advertisement

The Predicament of Moral Epistemology

  • Sushruth RavishEmail author
Article

Abstract

Moral epistemology (henceforth ME) has been spoken of as a subject matter in its own right by philosophers in the last few decades and yet the delineation of ME as a sub-discipline remains uncharted. Many eminent scholars with rich contributions have not explicitly defined the scope or demarcation of this emerging field. Drawing from their writings, the paper tries to show that philosophers working on ME either conceptualise it as an application of epistemology to moral beliefs or as encompassing issues of epistemic access to moral truths. The paper contends that such conceptions of moral epistemology are not rigorous enough to warrant a discrete sub-discipline. This puts the paper in disagreement with those scholars who justify the creation of a subject-specific ME. David Copp and Todd Stewart figure prominently among such attempts. Copp and Stewart justify ME to be a separate epistemology, by alluding to the normative nature of moral beliefs, and through the introduction of emotions into the mix, respectively. The paper tries to show that neither normativity nor emotions appear to be robust enough to create a distinct epistemology. The predicament of moral epistemologists arises from the fact that while the practitioners seem to be keen on establishing ME as a discrete sub-discipline, they end up subsuming it under a general epistemology and fail to justify the need for such a subject-specific epistemology. The only way out of this quandary, the paper asserts, is to treat ME more as a methodological project that involves extending general epistemic tools to moral beliefs as a specific case, and not as a specialised topic-specific epistemology.

Keywords

Moral epistemology Metaethics Moral beliefs 

References

  1. Arrington, R. (1989). Rationalism, realism, and relativism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Audi, R. (1991). Moral epistemology and the supervenience of ethical concepts. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 29(S1), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Audi, R. (1997). Moral knowledge and ethical character. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Blackburn, S. (1996). Securing the nots. In M. Timmons & W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Eds.), Moral knowledge? (pp. 82–100). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brink, D. (1989). Moral realism and the foundations of ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Copp, D. (1991). Normativity and the very idea of moral epistemology. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 29(S1), 189–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Copp, D. (1995). Morality, normativity, and society. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Copp, D. (2007). Morality in a natural world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dancy, J. (2010). Moral Epistemology. In J. Dancy, E. Sosa, & M. Steup (Eds.), A companion to epistemology (2nd ed., pp. 532–537). Wiley-Blackwell: Chichester.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Enoch, D. (2009). The epistemological challenge to metanormative realism: How best to understand it, and how to cope with it. Philosophical Studies, 148(3), 413–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Enoch, D. (2011). Taking morality seriously. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gentzler, J. (2005). How to know the good: the moral epistemology of plato’s republic. Philosophical Review, 114(4), 469–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Harrison, J. (1976). Hume’s moral epistemology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  14. Iltis, A. (2016). Moral epistemology and bioethics: Is the new natural law the solution to otherwise intractable disputes? Christian Bioethics, 22(2), 169–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jackson, F., & Smith, M. (2008). The Oxford handbook of contemporary philosophy (1st ed., pp. 63–85). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Jaggar, A., & Tobin, T. (2013). Situating moral justification: Rethinking the mission of moral epistemology. Metaphilosophy, 44(4), 383–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jones, K. (2008). Moral Epistemology. In F. Jackson & M. Smith (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of contemporary philosophy (1st ed., pp. 63–85). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kirchin, S. (2012). Metaethics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  19. Lemos, N. (2005). Epistemology and ethics. In P. Moser (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of epistemology (1st ed., pp. 479–512). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Lycan, W. (1986). Moral facts and moral knowledge. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 24(S1), 79–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nagel, T. (1995). Moral epistemology. In R. Bulger, E. Bobby, & H. Fineberg (Eds.), Society’s choices: Social and ethical decision making in biomedicine (1st ed., pp. 201–214). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  22. Platts, M. (1979). Ways of meaning. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  23. Quirk, M. (2004). Moral epistemology. Encyclopaedia of bioethics (3rd ed., pp. 802–812). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.Google Scholar
  24. Rhonheimer, M. (2012). Practical reason, human nature, and the epistemology of ethics: John Finnis’s contribution to the rediscovery of aristotelian ethical methodology in aquinas’s moral philosophy—A personal account. Villanova Law Review, 57(5), 884–900.Google Scholar
  25. Russell, B. (1991). Truth, justification and the inescapability: comments on copp. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 29(S1), 211–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sayre-McCord, S. (1996). Coherentist epistemology and moral theory. In M. Timmons & W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Eds.), Moral knowledge? (pp. 82–100). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Sayre-McCord, S. (2005). Moral realism. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-realism/. Accessed 13 Jul. 2016.
  28. Sayre-McCord, S. (2013). Moral epistemology. In H. LaFollette (Ed.), International encyclopaedia of ethics, 1st edn. Wiley, New York, pp. 1674–1688.Google Scholar
  29. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (1996). Moral skepticism and justification. In M. Timmons & W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Eds.), Moral knowledge? (1st ed., pp. 82–100). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2007). Moral skepticisms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Sinnott-Armstrong, W., & Timmons, M. (1996). Moral knowledge?. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Stewart, T. (2007). Topical epistemologies. Metaphilosophy, 38(1), 23–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Venturinha, N. (2016). Moral epistemology, interpersonal indeterminacy and enactivism. In P. Gálvez & J. De Gruyter (Eds.), Action, decision-making and forms of life (pp. 109–120). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  34. Zimmerman, A. (2010). Moral epistemology. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© ICPR 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities and Social SciencesIIT BombayMumbaiIndia

Personalised recommendations