Might moral epistemologists be asking the wrong questions?

Journal article


Perl, Caleb. (2020). Might moral epistemologists be asking the wrong questions? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 100(3), pp. 556-585. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12564
AuthorsPerl, Caleb
Abstract

This paper suggests that moral epistemologists have been focusing on the wrong questions, or at least ignoring some of the right ones. They've been ignoring some of the right questions because they've made a mistake about the semantics and pragmatics of moral discourse.

For concreteness, I'll focus on moral skeptics, who argue that none of us have any substantive moral knowledge. Different skeptics offer different arguments. Some appeal to general empiricist strictures on what knowledge requires; others to pervasive moral disagreement; others to the dispensability of moral facts in scientific explanation; others to other considerations.1 Moral skeptics usually focus on their attention on moral realists, who take moral properties to be independent of and more fundamental than our individual evaluative attitudes. Skeptics want to show that we don't know what's permitted or required if moral realism is true. (They tend to be much less interested in showing that moral anti-realism (a la A. J. Ayer (1936), say) has skeptical consequences.2) In discussing arguments for moral skepticism, it thus makes sense to assume that some kind of moral realism is true, to focus on the issues that animate most moral skeptics.

If this paper is right, moral skeptics need to address a very new question before they can press their challenge. Moreover, the traditional arguments for moral skepticism do not illuminate the new question, which is about the role that moral judgments play in our social life. So central questions in moral epistemology would look very different if this paper is correct. I myself suspect there is no way for moral skeptics to press their challenge, once we fully internalize the lessons from this paper. Unfortunately, though, there won't be space here to substantiate this suspicion. My goal will rather be to convince you that we need to think about moral epistemology in a very new way.

§§2–3 will begin by introducing and defending a claim about the semantics and pragmatics of natural language. §4 shows that claim can have sweeping upshots for moral epistemology. §§5–7 will introduce one particular way of working out these sweeping upshots, and §7 will introduce a complication about those sweeping upshots. §9 closes with a particular illustration of the issues explored: arguments from moral disagreement.

Year2020
JournalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research
Journal citation100 (3), pp. 556-585
PublisherWiley
ISSN0031-8205
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1111/phpr.12564
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85058370235
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range556-585
Publisher's version
License
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Controlled
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online14 Dec 2018
Publication process dates
Deposited03 Sep 2021
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