Moral Testimony and Moral Epistomology
Ethics, Vol. 120, No. 1, pg. 94–127, 2009.
am going to defend pessimism about moral testimony; that is, I am going
to argue that there are circumstances in which you have no reason to
trust moral testimony (in fact, you have reason not to put your trust
in it), even if your interlocutor is reliable and trustworthy regarding
the matter in question, and you know her to be so. But I will begin by
agreeing with the optimists: I will simply accept that you can acquire
moral knowledge through testimony. This claim has been defended recently, and I have nothing to add to those arguments.
But if optimists are right that trusting moral testimony can give us
moral knowledge, their question is pressing: what reasons could there
be not to trust moral testimony or defer to moral experts? I will
answer this question by taking a new look at moral epistemology. I will
argue that a centrally important concept in moral epistemology is not
moral knowledge, but what I call “moral understanding,” and that the
latter relates to testimony and to expertise quite differently from the
I set out my conception of moral understanding and explain how it differs from moral knowledge (both knowledge that p, and knowledge why p) in Section II. In Section III,
I argue that moral understanding is extremely important: it plays a
vital role in good character and in morally worthy action. I then show
(in Sec. IV)
that, given the importance of our acquiring and using moral
understanding, we have strong reasons neither to trust moral testimony
nor to defer to moral experts, though taking moral advice is both
acceptable and often very useful.
Ethical traditions which defend trusting moral testimony and deferring
to moral experts are, I will argue, missing something of vital moral
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(Something interesting I found)Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010