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Moral Philosophy A2 How is knowledge of moral truth possible? To what extent can moral truths motivate or justify action?

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Presentation on theme: "Moral Philosophy A2 How is knowledge of moral truth possible? To what extent can moral truths motivate or justify action?"— Presentation transcript:

1 Moral Philosophy A2 How is knowledge of moral truth possible? To what extent can moral truths motivate or justify action?

2 Different models of moral truth PlatoKnowledge of the Forms AristotleKnowledge of human flourishing MillKnowing what actions bring about the greatest happiness MooreKnowledge of the non-natural property of goodness Reasons-based theoryKnowledge of what we have most reason to do. Each of these models takes a different approach to the question ‘how is knowledge of moral truth?’

3 If goodness is a natural property Once we have decided which natural properties are relevant, we know moral truths empirically once. (e.g. if we have already decided that happiness is the key property we can empirically investigate how to maximise happiness). However, we cannot empirically judge which natural properties count. (e.g. the judgement that good involves maximising happiness is based on philosophical argument not empirical evidence)

4 For all the cognitivists we have considered… Moral knowledge is gained through reasoning Moral knowledge is not empirical. Whereas empirical knowledge arise through causation moral knowledge does not. While moral knowledge is thought to be based on reasoning it is perhaps not purely intellectual in the way that Maths is. Unlike Maths, moral reasoning requires a training in one’s desires and emotions.

5 What does moral reasoning rest on? Two views 1) Moral truths are ‘self-evident’. They rely on their own plausibilty without further external evidence. – But…are there really self-evident moral truths? Doesn’t the description of them as ‘self-evident’ undermine attempts to discuss and argue about them?

6 2) No judgement is self-evident – there is a framework of reasons but they cannot be boiled down to a single self-evident starting point.

7 Non-cognitivists challenge So-called ‘intuitions’ really just reflect our pre- existing values and commitments. Nietzsche – underlying apparently rational discourse is the instinct of the philosopher.

8 Task Read and make notes on the ‘key points’ on page 230.

9 The possibility of agreement over moral truth. When people have disagreements over matters of fact, we usually know how they can be resolved. However, two people both know all of the ‘facts’ about abortion but come to different moral judgements about it. In this way, moral disputes seem to go beyond the facts. This seems to support the view that values and facts are separate.

10 However… Does this oversimplify moral arguments? If two people agree on the natural facts then perhaps they disagree about reasons. Page 231 onwards

11 To what extent can moral truths motivate or justify action?

12 Understanding a moral dilemma generally requires us to act. Cognitivists face the issues of explaining the connection between moral understanding and moral action. If value statements can be factually true, how can they motivate action?





17 It can be argued that ‘mere awareness of the facts…can never be sufficient to provide the agent with reason to act.’


19 Two ways moral realists respond to this challenge: Externalists – ‘what is good for someone is a factual matter’ – we study society to determine what is good. Only those who are concerned for others will be motivated to be good – it is possible not to be moved by moral considerations. Morality is a complex system of rules that aim to promote human welfare.

20 A strange implication of externalism… One can admit that there is a duty to do something but not feel moved to do it. Someone who is not at all bothered by human welfare is still able to recognise the truth that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering. Critics point out that surely it is strange to accept that there is a moral duty but not accept that one has a reason to fulfil this.

21 Hume – an action is caused by two mental states – A belief (passive) – cognitive state – A desire (active) – motivated state – In other words, moral beliefs can only lead to actions if there are also the correct type of desires present.



24 Internalism One has a reason to do a duty if one has decided that x is the right thing to do (and therefore desires to do x) This is different to Hume’s view.

25 McDowell – A belief (a perception of truth) justifies action and desire (a desire is part of a belief)

26 McDowell’s view is therefore: – Cognitivist – Realist – Internalist – ‘the virtuous person’s way of understanding a situation is sufficient to motivate her’.

27 Two people see a situation but only one of them is motivated to act. For McDowell it is NOT the cases that they see the same facts but one person has a different desire. The difference lies in how they ‘conceive of the facts’. One is ‘virtuously sensitive’ Cognitive states are not passive.

28 Make notes on the ‘key points’ Page

29 Moral Truth Consolidation

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