DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L145-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2012
Retrieved December 05, 2020, from

4. Epistemology

Moral realists generally claim not only that there are moral facts and truths, but that normal people have knowledge of some of them. This raises some special metaethical problems in the realm of epistemology. How are we acquainted with moral facts, and how are our moral beliefs justified? These problems may seem especially acute for nonnaturalism, since it maintains that moral properties are fundamentally distinct from the natural properties that we can detect by our senses, and do not interact causally with the physical universe. Nonnaturalist views about moral metaphysics are generally allied with intuitionist views about moral epistemology. G. E. Moore, for example, held that we are directly acquainted with moral truths through a faculty of intellectual intuition. Many metaethicists have found the notion of a faculty of moral intuition unacceptably ‘queer’ (like Mackie 1977), but intuitionists can appeal to the analogy of our intellectual acquaintance with the truths of arithmetic and geometry. Naturalist views about moral metaphysics, by contrast, are generally allied with empiricist views about moral epistemology. According to these views moral truths are discovered through experience of the world, like most ordinary truths.

Moral antirealist have little to say about moral epistemology, since they deny that strictly speaking there are any moral truths for us to know. However, noncognitivists still owe an account of what people ordinarily mean in asserting or denying that somebody has moral knowledge (see Moral epistemology).

Another issue in moral epistemology concerns the priority of our knowledge of (i) general moral principles, and (ii) specific moral facts. On one view we have immediate knowledge of general principles of right and wrong which we then apply to specific situations to deduce whether a particular agent’s action was right or wrong. On the contrary view we have immediate intuitions of the rightness or wrongness of particular actions when we contemplate them, and our knowledge of general moral principles is reached by abstraction from these. Some philosophers known as particularists deny that there even are any true general moral principles. They maintain that all moral truth, and therefore all moral knowledge, is particular (see Moral particularism).

Citing this article:
Finlay, Stephen. Epistemology. Metaethics, 2012, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L145-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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