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Moral judgement

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L053-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

The term ‘moral judgement’ can refer to an activity, a state, a state-content, a capacity or a virtue. The activity of moral judgement is that of thinking about whether something has a moral attribute. The thing assessed might be an action, person, institution or state of affairs, and the attribute might either be general (such as rightness or badness) or specific (such as loyalty or injustice). If I engage in this activity and make up my mind, then the result will be the formation of a psychological state: the state of judging that the thing has the attribute. The state should then be distinguished from its content: what is judged by me, rather than my judging it. My psychological state of judging that human trafficking is wrong is a feature of me with a duration and location that depend on me. But the content of that state – the wrongness of human trafficking itself – is not a feature of me. Philosophers also frequently use ‘moral judgement’ to refer to a capacity: our alleged capacity ‘to go beyond the application of rules’ when we deliberate morally. And, going further, it can be used as a term of commendation, referring to a moral virtue (or set of virtues) that we might also call ‘moral discernment’ or ‘moral wisdom’, displayed when we exercise that capacity well. Someone with the virtue of moral judgement, it is often claimed, has an appropriate sensitivity to the way in which the individuality of a person or the particularity of a context can determine how it is right to act, think and feel – a sensitivity that cannot be captured in any general rule. Moral judgement in these various senses raises four main groups of philosophical questions. First, what kind of psychological state is the state of moral judgement? Is it, either wholly or in part, a belief, or is it some kind of noncognitive state? Secondly, what is required in order for a moral judgement-state, or the content of that state, to be justified? What kind of support do moral judgements require? Thirdly, how ought the activity of moral judgement to be conducted? In particular, what role within this activity is properly played by the application of rules? Do we need a capacity that goes beyond rule-application? And, fourthly, what is it to possess the virtue of moral judgement?

Citing this article:
Cullity, Garrett. Moral judgement, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L053-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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