Moral Intuitionism Meets Empirical Psychology

Book Section

This chapter claims that recent developments in psychology and brain science cast considerable doubt on moral intuitionism. In arguing for this claim, it first develops a set of six principles concerning when non-moral beliefs require justifying beliefs to back them up. In short, whenever a belief is important, partial, controversial, emotional, subject to illusion, or explicable by dubious sources, then that belief needs to be backed up by confirming beliefs, if the believer is to be epistemically justified in holding it. By appealing to recent empirical work, moral beliefs of all sorts fall under one or more of his principles, and thus are in need of support from other relevant beliefs. If so, then moral intuitionism is incorrect: no moral beliefs enjoy the status of being non-inferentially justified. This is his strong claim. More cautiously, the chapter claims that even if there may be some individuals who, in some contexts, have moral beliefs that do not require inferential support, still, for educated adults who are well aware of the various possible distorting factors affecting beliefs, no moral beliefs are non-inferentially justified. Even if moral judgments are not themselves claims that can be confirmed or disconfirmed entirely by empirical means (including the methods of science), it does not follow that developments in the sciences, including biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, cognitive science, and brain science, are not relevant to whether a person's (or group's) moral beliefs are epistemically justified.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Sinnott-Armstrong, W

Published Date

  • January 26, 2006

Book Title

  • Metaethics after Moore

International Standard Book Number 10 (ISBN-10)

  • 0199269912

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780199269914

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199269914.003.0016

Citation Source

  • Scopus