Radcliffe Humanities
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Moral Philosophy Seminar Week 8 TT12

Event Name Moral Philosophy Seminar Week 8 TT12
Start Date 11th Jun 2012 4:30pm
End Date 11th Jun 2012 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours

Sergio Tenenbaum (Toronto) to be held in the Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Oxford - Moral Philosophy Seminar webpage


In “Moral Faith”, Robert Adams discusses some interesting phenomena regarding moral commitment. Adams thinks that often our moral commitment outstrips what we are epistemically entitled to believe; unlike Hume’s famous wise person, we do not proportion our belief to our evidence. For instance, Adams claims that “if I factor into my practical deliberations ‘a 10% chance that morality is a delusion’… then I have stepped outside the moral life” (“Moral Faith”, Journal of Philosophy 1995, pp. 90-1). I argue that if we display moral faith in these cases, then a natural way of thinking about how moral intuitions give rise to knowledge turns out to be deeply problematic. If Adams is right, we will have difficulties accepting the view that moral intuitions constitute either evidence or knowledge; I argue that if our moral commitments are not sensitive to evidence, our moral intuitions cannot be regarded as any kind of cognitive achievement. But is Adams correct that the phenomena of interest are best understood as instances of what he defines as “faith”? I argue that they are not; rather, at least in some cases of moral intuitions, we should conclude that our moral knowledge is certain. The appearance that there can be no certainty here is the result of certain dubious views about second-order or indirect doubts. Nonetheless, discussing the phenomena that lead Adams to postulate moral faith brings to light the nature of the epistemic warrant that can justify various kinds of moral commitments. I argue that this suggests a different role for moral theory to play in relation to moral intuitions. Moral theory is often thought to justify (a subset of) our moral intuitions by systematizing them and showing how they flow from relatively few plausible principles. I argue instead that moral theory plays an essential role in explaining the nature of our epistemic warrant, especially the kind of demanding epistemic warrant that we must presuppose in order to regard the moral commitment of the virtuous agent as justified. Finally, I argue that a particular kind of Kantian theory is best suited to provide this explanation.

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