This paper defends the claim that there is deontic knowledge – knowledge of rightness and wrongness – which can be inferred from aretaic knowledge – knowledge of the possession of virtue-attributes. In doing so, it seeks to address two forceful objections, identified at the outset. The first is that the only way of making the claim appear plausible is by assuming a practice of virtue-ascription which actually makes the reverse inference. The second objection is that there is that “aretaic cognitivism” will face a familiar non-cognitivist challenge – that the cognitivist must choose between an “intuitionism” and a “naturalism”, against both of which there are well-known attacks – and that there is no reason to believe that this challenge can be met any more readily than by a direct deontic cognitivism. After a first section in which I outline a certain weak sense of the term “norm” in which our actions are often normatively guided, the defence of aretaic cognitivism begins with a schematic expression of the practical norms which are central to a number of important moral virtues. Guidance by any one of the schematized norms is not sufficient to guarantee the virtuousness of an action, because there may be countervailing applications of competing practical norms. However, aretaic knowledge does not require knowledge that there are no such countervailing considerations – and what it does require can apparently be satisfied. Therefore, I argue, both objections can be met: there are at least some circumstances in which our possession of aretaic knowledge does not depend on the possession of deontic knowledge, and since it does not, there is a way between the horns of the non-cognitivist’s dilemma.
Are there good grounds for thinking that the moral values of action are to be derived from those of character? This “virtue ethical” claim is sometimes thought of as a kind of normative ethical theory; sometimes as form of opposition to any such theory. However, the best case to be made for it supports neither of these claims. Rather, it leads us to a distinctive view in moral epistemology: the view that my warrant for a particular moral judgement derives from my warrant for believing that I am a good moral judge. This view seems to confront a regress-problem. For the belief that I am a good moral judge is itself a particular moral judgement. So it seems that, on this view, I need to derive my warrant for believing that I am a good moral judge from my warrant for believing that I am a good judge of moral judges; and so on. I show how this worry can be met, and trace the implications of the resulting view for warranted moral judgement.
What is the significance of empirical work on moral judgement for moral philosophy? Although the more radical conclusions that some writers have attempted to draw from this work are overstated, few areas of moral philosophy can remain unaffected by it. The most important question it raises is in moral epistemology. Given the explanation of our moral experience, how far can we trust it? Responding to this, the view defended here emphasizes the interrelatedness of moral psychology and moral epistemology. On this view, the empirical study of moral judgement does have important implications for moral philosophy. But moral philosophy also has important implications for the empirical study of moral judgement.
A critical essay discussing the Pyrrhonian skepticism about morality advocated by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Moral Skepticisms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
“Moral Disagreement, Self-Trust, and Complacency”