What is the relationship between epistemology and ethics

How does ethics influence epistemology? - Philosophy Stack Exchange

what is the relationship between epistemology and ethics

Source for information on Epistemology and Ethics, Parallel Between: even partially, by citing a relation between them and names of observable qualities. It presents and replies to several problems that arise in this connection. It addresses arguments for ethical skepticism, the view that one cannot have moral . Metaethics is the part of ethical theory which studies and relations among, moral mental states.

In any case, he does not think that foundationalism works for moral beliefs. There are no good grounds, he argues, for accepting that we have a faculty that justifies foundational moral beliefs.

Every attempt to argue that we do is essentially a form of dogmatism. It is an attempt to strongly insist on our most cherished moral beliefs in order to avoid having to defend them. They are not even viable as general epistemologies. No matter how coherent a set of beliefs is, there are any number of equally coherent sets that are inconsistent with it. So coherentism fails to explain how beliefs, in general, can be justified. Contextualists confuse mere persuasion with argument: Non-Traditional Approaches For various reasons, many philosophers reject one or more of the essential assumptions of traditional moral epistemology.

Below we briefly introduce four sample kinds of non-traditional approaches. Unlike foundationalism, coherentism, and contextualism, these theories are all potentially compatible. There could be a reliabilist, noncognitivist, ideal-decision-based, politicized theory. Some of these are even, in the end, compatible with traditional theories or close analogues of traditional theories.

what is the relationship between epistemology and ethics

They all, however, reject one or more of the traditional assumptions as starting points. Reliabilist Theories I am probably average in my ability to correctly recognize dollar bills.

Yet I am also, sadly, average in my lack of understanding of the complex physical, economic, sociological, and political conditions that make dollar bills be dollar bills. Somehow I nevertheless reliably recognize and daily form practically successful beliefs about dollar bills. David Coppthe reliabilist moral epistemologist whose example this is, wants us to see that the traditional internalist outcome seems preposterous.

It is false because, Copp thinks, it is the reliability, or lack of reliability, of the processes by which we form beliefs that justifies, or fails to justify, our beliefs; not, as epistemic internalists insist, our deep skeptic-proof insight into their truth conditions. Whether we perceive, understand, or can even recognize, how such processes are reliable in us, as epistemic internalism demands, is beside the point.

Copp proposes and defends an anti-internalist, that is, externalist, moral epistemology. He argues that we or at least the best of us have a reliable moral sensitivity, much as we have a reliable dollar bill sensitivity. Our relevant moral sensitivity is made up of a certain combination of i a heightened tendency to notice morally relevant features of a situation, such as the pain produced by burning a cat alive and the much less morally significant enjoyment that doing this might bring to a gang of thugs; ii a reliable tendency to draw correct moral conclusions from these features, such as the conclusion that burning the cat, under the circumstances, is morally reprehensible; and iii a reliable tendency to be motivated in a morally appropriate way, such as being motivated to do something, if feasible, to prevent the thugs from burning the cat alive ; We can, as ethical theorists do, legitimately struggle towards the exactly right combination of i — iii.

We need only have combinations that reliably produce true beliefs in us, in order for our thus produced moral beliefs to be justified. Noncognitivist Theories In his provocative attack on traditional, speculative philosophy, Language, Truth, and Logic, A. I am simply evincing my moral disapproval of it. It does not make claims: Hence [moral] cognitivism—an essential ingredient of traditional moral epistemology—is false. So, the whole enterprise of moral epistemology, that is, the study of moral knowledge, is doomed from the start: Ayer, however, does not mean to entirely relegate the concerns of moral epistemology to the dustbin.

He only means to demote them. We can accept noncognitivism and still argue that some moral feelings are more reasonable or appropriate to given kinds of circumstances than others. We can have more or less justification although not epistemic justification for having, or tending to have, certain moral attitudes. We can thus have better and worse moral theories.

Moral Epistemology

While we might think that noncognitivism degrades ethics too much by disconnecting it from the promise of truth, we might appreciate that it allows us to non-skeptically avoid a host of messy ethical and epistemic problems associated with moral realism. According to moral realism, moral claims represent the world as being thus and so; they are true when the world really is thus and so and false when it is not.

It suggests that moral talk aims, like perceptual talk, at describing. But moral talk does not seem to aim at describing; it seems to aim at prescribing. Arguably, noncognitivism can make better sense of this than realism.

Noncognitivism conceives moral talk as projecting moral emotion Ayer, [] or prescription Hare, onto a perhaps otherwise indifferent world, rather than as representing the moral features of a world which contains no moral features. Ideal Decision Theories Ideal decision theories ascribe special philosophical importance to the moral decisions of idealized persons who decide under idealized circumstances. Only some ideal decision theories are moral epistemic theories others are non-epistemic, for example, ethical or metaethical theoriesand only some of those offer whole approaches to moral epistemology.

Contractarianism and the sort of approach that Richard Brandt proposes are two ideal decision theories that are sometimes conceived as whole approaches to moral epistemology. Contractarian theories seek to ratify moral claims by appeal to the agreement of fully rational, non-biased, well-informed people in real or, more often, imagined circumstances.

Rawls, however, was a traditional coherentist when it came to moral epistemology. He did not view his contractarian decision procedure as either an ethical theory or a moral epistemology, but rather as a way of generating authoritative principles of justice that would dovetail with the best ethical theory and the best moral epistemology Some contractarian moral epistemologists think that discerning that a moral claim would be endorsed in something like the original position can justify someone in believing it Gauthier, ; Morris, Although Rawls did not hold this view, he did see his method as a kind of access to deep facts about rationality itself, facts of the sort that his more traditional moral epistemology finds ultimately decisive.

Richard Brandt suggests a different, but related, ideal decision theory. A way to demonstrate the validity of a moral system is …to show persons that if they were factually fully informed they would want a certain sort of moral system for the whole society in which they expect to live. But it does put it on the same sort of footing as our other knowledge, since all of our other knowledge is presumably about what the facts are, and to make a claim about what the facts are is to imply something about what it is like to be fully factually informed.

Politicized Theories Most recent politicized theories are feminist theories. The very idea of feminist epistemology strikes many as a mistake. What could be more impartial, and less open to political interpretation, than standards of knowledge or justified belief?

We may as well talk about feminist radio repair. However, feminist epistemologists often see the very mistake they want to address in such a response. This impartiality, or pretense of impartiality, in traditional epistemology blinds it to relevant information or standpoints of oppressed classes, such as women; or at least to the narrowness and biases that it is likely to have since its assumptions, methods, and so on were conceived and developed by socially privileged white men.

Anatole France [] famously wrote: Marx thought that the impartiality of laws can blind us to the very partialities they are designed to promote. Similarly, many feminist epistemologists argue that the alleged impartiality of traditional theories of justification or knowledge can blind us to the views of the world, and perhaps in particular the moral views of the world, they are designed to promote.

What is it that white-male-dominated, traditional moral epistemology has missed? For instance, an antebellum plantation owner would miss much that would be readily apparent to his lowliest slaves. For many topics, including moral ones, he is likely to live on some sort of epistemic Cloud Nine.

In fact, as the relative success of science illustrates, real knowing is a community activity: By wrongly conceiving knowledge as an individual activity, traditional epistemology merely codifies the individual biases, including sexisms, of its conceivers. So, it conceives actual knowledge-ascription or justification-ascription practices as mere subjects of epistemic evaluation, never as raw material upon which to base epistemic principles.

Once we reverse this trend, and go in for naturalized epistemologies see belowwe can regard the actual social and linguistic circumstances of knowledge ascriptions as starting points. Once we do that, we can have, at best, only half of a good moral epistemic theory if we ignore the special moral epistemic practices, concerns, and paradigms provided by women as traditional moral epistemology arguably has.

Feminist moral epistemologists, such as Margaret Urban Walker and Lorraine Codehave been leaders in the effort to naturalize moral epistemology. Can Moral Epistemology Be Naturalized? To naturalize a philosophical subject is to somehow bring it under the purview of natural science.

What this means is controversial; but it is usually thought to involve both substantial and methodological projects. Substantially, it involves attempting to confine theories to existence claims that science countenances, or could eventually countenance. Methodologically, it involves attempting to limit philosophical inquiry to methods whose validity science can, or could eventually, vindicate.

what is the relationship between epistemology and ethics

There is nothing new about attempts to affect substantial naturalization in ethics. Over two centuries ago, Jeremy Bentham [] tried to conceive moral claims as substantially about quantities of pleasure and pain, and thus as about something that might be scientifically modeled and studied.


Efforts to naturalize episstemology are a more recent phenomenon, with a more methodological focus. The naturalized epistemology movement was launched by W. Quinewho rejected the traditional epistemological project of trying to discover, through conceptual analysis, skeptic-proof, a priori conditions for knowledge or justification.

He proposed, instead, that epistemology be reconceived as a branch of empirical psychology. Many of his followers propose less radical reforms. The effort to naturalize moral epistemology is even more recent. Most attempts take one or more of three forms: Below, we say a bit about each of these and introduce two objections that naturalized moral epistemologists strive to overcome.

Some epistemic reliabilists try to naturalize epistemology, in general, by identifying epistemic justification with observable and measurable consequences: Their rejection of traditional epistemic internalism makes room for an anti-skeptical stance by allowing justification and even knowledge in the absence of answers to traditional skeptical problems like the regress problem.

David Coppwhose moral epistemic reliabilism we sketched above, conceives his reliabilism as a naturalized moral epistemology, and defends it against several objections, including those we mention below. Feminists stand to gain from naturalized moral epistemology room to urge the relevance of their various empirical critiques of the impartiality of traditional ethics and epistemology.

The traditional pretense of impartiality in epistemology was largely upheld by the traditional conception of epistemology as only susceptible to a priori investigation. Naturalized moral epistemology opens the door to, and can even privilege, the sorts of psychological and sociological facts that feminist moral epistemologists seek to call attention to. Theories that promote scientism propose and evaluate moral epistemic theories on the basis of current scientific theory, such as current sociology, psychology, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience.

For instance, Paul Churchland tries to reconceive moral epistemology so that moral knowledge has much less to do with the truth of general moral and epistemic principles than with a kind of skill by which we build and more or less ably negotiate complex brain-to-social-space relations. One of the largest sources of objections to naturalized ethics or epistemology concerns the essential normativity value-ladenness, prescriptivity of both ethics and epistemology.

Ethics is essentially normative because it is about what we should do, not what we do. Epistemology is essentially normative because it is about what our epistemic standards should be, not what they are. Science, on the other hand, is purely descriptive. Its subject matter—how the natural world in fact is—is not normative. How then can ethics or epistemology be brought within the purview of natural science?

If we try to assimilate the naturalization of both ethics and epistemology into a naturalized moral epistemology, then the problem gets even worse: Arguably, moral and epistemic principles must be general, in the sense that they cover indefinitely many particular instances of rightness, goodness, knowledge, and so on.

Science can produce generalities, such as natural laws, on the basis of generalizing from particular observations. However, as Immanuel Kant []: Thus, if we are limited to scientific generalization from examples, then we are trapped, unable to generate the general moral [or epistemic] principles we need in order to get started.

Here are some important metaethical topics: Such topics are difficult to pursue in a vacuum. Not only does each involve an intersection or overlap between ethical theory and some other enormous topic, their problems are often inextricably interdependent.

For instance, the problem of what the objects of moral knowledge could be is larger than moral epistemology; it is also a problem of moral ontology and moral semantics.

We conclude with a brief look at this problem. We access it through the general outline of a dilemma posed by A. Ayer against moral cognitivism. If any moral claims are true, some sort of reality—something we can think of them as representing—underwrites their truth.

This reality must be either something natural or something non-natural. However, if it is something natural, then it must fall victim to G. So no moral claims are true. We briefly describe two of these, consider how they also preclude some non-naturalist theories, and then give some examples of the alleged host of other insuperable problems that confront the ethical non-naturalist.

Like Moore, let's simplify by calling "the Good" whatever it is that all true moral claims collectively represent as being the case. Ethical naturalism is the view that the Good is something natural. According to the naturalistic fallacy argument, any attempt to identify the Good with something natural must commit a fallacy because goodness is a normative value-laden, prescriptive property and because nature is decidedly non-normative value-neutral, descriptive. But no identification of the Good with something natural can have this feature: However, this matters little for our purpose since his arguments seem to work, if they work, against ethical naturalist theories of every stripe, and against many non-natural ones.

They work, if they work, against any position that identifies the Good with something non-normative, even if it is something theological. What remains, then, is to identify the Good with something non-natural and normative. This seems to imply that the Good must be sui generis, that is, utterly unique. First, if the Good is sui generis, then we cannot defend the possibility of moral knowledge, since we have no independent evidence of an epistemic faculty that apprehends something as being both morally significant and utterly unique.

Again, "beliefs" must be taken broadly to go beyond mere predictions of consequences of the use of certain means to include theories, explanations, and systems of mathematical thought. In order to develop the parallel between ethics and epistemology, it is convenient to identify ethical and epistemological statements.

Ethical statements are those that imply a statement that could be expressed by some English sentence containing essentially "is a good thing that," "is a better thing," or "is morally obligatory that" on the assumption that "morally obligatory" does not introduce special concepts different from a phrase such as "it is morally wrong not to". The class of statements thus specified will be identical with the class of statements that moral philosophers have traditionally been concerned with.

Similarly, epistemological statements are those that imply a statement which could be expressed by some English sentence containing essentially "It is reasonable or warranted for a person S to place more confidence in h than in i," in which it is understood that for h and i can be substituted expressions of the form "its being true that. It is useful to identify as ethical terms those phrases whose occurrence in a sentence distinguish it as an ethical statement and to identify as epistemic terms those phrases whose occurrence in a sentence characterize it as an epistemological statement.

Problem of Ethics and Epistemology Moral philosophers have not, at least qua moral philosophers, been concerned with the acceptability of particular ethical statements such as "It would be a good thing if Jones learned to play the piano. Thus, moral philosophers have defended or criticized such statements as "Enjoyment is always a good thing, abstracted from all consideration of consequences; nothing else is so" and "An action is morally right if and only if it will produce consequences as good as those of any other action the agent could have performed instead.

Like moral philosophers, epistemologists are not concerned with the acceptability of particular epistemological statements such as "It is now highly probable that viruses are the cause of some forms of cancer.

Thus, they have examined the acceptability of such statements as "If at a time t person S seems to remember that he had the experience E at an earlier time, then he is initially warranted in believing that he did have the experience E " or "If at time t person S believes the statement h about his own experience at t, then it is reasonable for S to place at least as much confidence in h as in any other statement.

In order to distinguish this task from other concerns of epistemologists, we may call it epistemology proper. Similarly, if a person has good reason for believing a certain statement but he does not, then in the absence of any good excuse we attribute to him an intellectual fault and characterize him as intellectually open to criticism.

The excuse in either case might be much the same; for instance, a person might plead that he was very upset, not "himself. Correspondingly, it is sometimes suggested that there is a sense of "reasonable to believe" in which we may say that it is reasonable for a person to believe that any statement is true ; this sense is contrasted with the sense in which we say it is reasonable for a man to believe what is supported by the evidence he has.

Whether there are such different senses in either case we must leave an open question here. Epistemology Reducible to Ethics? Chisholm, for example have thought that there is more than just a parallel between epistemology and ethics.

They have thought that epistemic terms are properly defined by means of ethical terms. If this is correct, epistemological statements are complicated ethical statements, and, presumably, epistemology is a branch—doubtless a somewhat special one—of ethics.

Moral Epistemology | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

In accordance with this view, for example, the statement "It is warranted for S to place more confidence in h than i " might be taken to mean "For any good thing G, if S had to choose between risking it by a wager on the truth of h or risking it by a wager on the truth of i, he would be obligated to wager on h. The disadvantages of the definition are 1 that it is doubtful whether there is any useful sense of "obligated" in which the implied equivalence is true, 2 that the definition seems to be more obscure than the definiendum, and 3 that it does not seem that the meaning of "warranted belief" involves the notion of moral obligation but, conversely, that a person's being obligated to do something, in one ordinary sense, can be explained only by reference to the propositions it is reasonable for him to believe about his situation.

Theories of Meaning and Verification If epistemology is not reducible to ethics, there is still a parallel between the higher-order questions and theories to which epistemology proper leads and those to which normative ethics leads.

The discipline dealing with these epistemological questions and corresponding to the discipline of metaethics we may call metaepistemology. The central question of these disciplines, roughly, is how the statements of normative ethics and epistemology proper, respectively, can be supported, what is their "logic. Can such principles be supported in the same way that propositions in the empirical and mathematical sciences can be?

Whether they can be depends in part on what the meanings of the special epistemological or ethical terms are. Moral philosophers recognize three main views about the meaning of ethical terms and, correspondingly, about the ways in which ethical principles may be justified.

Three very similar views have been given by epistemologists for the meaning and support of epistemological principles. It affirms 1 that epistemic and ethical terms are meaningful and that epistemological and ethical statements are true or false and 2 that epistemic and ethical terms do not name observable qualities such as color or shape and that their meanings cannot be defined, even partially, by citing a relation between them and names of observable qualities.

Epistemic and ethical terms can be explained only by way of other epistemic and ethical terms. Hence, neither epistemic nor ethical principles can be confirmed by observation in the way that principles in the empirical sciences can be. This means that when we know ethical and epistemological statements that are not analytically true as contrasted with ones like "A person ought to do his duty" or "One cannot know something unless it is reasonable for him to believe it"our knowledge is synthetic a priori knowledge.

A clear example of this view is the theory of probability held by J.

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Keynes, who thought that "probable" is an indefinable concept and that the axioms of probability theory are a priori synthetic knowledge. It holds that epistemic and ethical terms can be explained without the use of other epistemic or ethical terms, that they can be explained exclusively by use of empirical and logical concepts. As a result it holds that nonanalytic epistemological and ethical principles have the same logical status as the principles of the empirical sciences and can be appraised ultimately by reference to the data of observation or introspection.

For example, according to one such definition of an epistemic term, the statement "It is reasonable for S to believe h " means just "S believes h. Examples of parallel definitions in ethical naturalism are familiar.

If the second definition given were accepted, it would be an analytic proposition that the principles of deductive and inductive logic are known by everyone, just as, given a utilitarian definition of "right," the principle of utilitarianism is analytic. Parallel to the claim of the ethical relativist that conflicting basic ethical principles may be affirmed with equal warrant by different persons or social groups, is it possible that conflicting basic epistemological principles may also be affirmed with equal warrant by different persons, even if a naturalistic analysis of epistemological terms is adopted?

For instance, just as the ethical relativist may affirm that different assessments of the ethical obligation of making a promise may be made with equal warrant by different persons, may someone claim with reason that different assessments, say, of the weight of an additional observation in support of some general law may be made with equal warrant by different persons?

Such questions must be left unanswered here. Noncognitivism holds, however, that epistemic and ethical terms have a function and, in a sense, ideas in meaning.

Ethical terms have been assigned various functions by different writers functions like expressing the speaker's attitudes, changing the audience's attitudes, issuing prescriptions, declaring one's principles, giving advice, entreating, urging, exhorting, and so on.

Somewhat similar proposals have been made for epistemic terms. Again, "it is probable that h " is suggested not to assert that the speaker believes h but to express his belief in h. A more complex suggestion is to say that "it is reasonable to believe h " declares or expresses the speaker's own somewhat guarded inclination to believe and usually, at the same time, as a result of people's conditioning in the use of the language, strengthens the beliefs of others in h.

Further, parallel to ideas in C. Stevenson's ethical theory, one might say that epistemic terms also have some rather indefinite descriptive meaning, perhaps to the effect that acceptance of the proposition in question would conform to generally recognized standards—the standards, perhaps, of scientists. One could say, as P.