Moral realism and reliance on moral testimony

  • Joshua Blanchard


Moral realism and some of its constitutive theses, e.g., cognitivism, face the following challenge. If they are true, then it seems that we should predict that deference to moral testimony is appropriate under the same conditions as deference to non-moral testimony. Yet, many philosophers intuit that deference to moral testimony is not appropriate, even in otherwise ordinary conditions. In this paper I show that the challenge is cogent only if the appropriateness in question is disambiguated in a particular way. To count against realism and its constitutive theses, moral deference must fail to be appropriate in specifically the way that the theses predict it is appropriate. I argue that this is not the case. In brief, I argue that realism and allied theses predict only that deference to moral testimony is epistemically appropriate, but that the intuitive data plausibly show only that it is not morally appropriate. If I am right, then there is reason to doubt the metaethical relevance of much of the skepticism regarding moral deference in recent literature.


Metaethics Moral testimony Moral realism Moral epistemology 



I am grateful to Brian Barnett, Alex Campbell, Ian Cruise, Sarah McGrath, Carla Merino-Rajme, Ram Neta, Ryan Preston-Roedder, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Russ Shafer-Landau, Keshav Singh, Silvan Wittwer, and audiences at both the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association and the North and South Carolina Philosophical Societies, for discussion of this paper.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of North Carolina at Chapell HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Chapel HillUSA

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