"Moral perception": an examination and revision

Will, Tyler L., author
Tropman, Elizabeth, advisor
MacKenzie, Matthew D., committee member
Plaisance, Patrick, committee member
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In the recent metaethics literature, some theorists have advanced what seems to be a novel moral epistemology or explanation of how it is that agents come to form moral beliefs and acquire moral knowledge. Known to this point simply as “moral perception,” this view claims that it is possible to “perceive” moral facts in much the same way that agents routinely perceive properties such as color, size, or shape. For the moral perceptionist, it is plausible to think that one may “see” when an injustice has been committed or “hear” some immorality in a genuine and robust sense. In this thesis, I consider the coherence and prospects of “moral perception” as a candidate moral epistemology and conclude that it is effectively interchangeable with some more established—if frequently misunderstood—varieties of moral intuitionism. In chapter 1, I take up and examine recent characterizations of moral perception in the literature. As I make clear below, there is no single account of this position, and consequently the first chapter represents an interpretation—admittedly one of many possible—of what has been styled as moral perception. These soundings in the literature are necessarily selective, and I emphasize that moral perception epistemologies seem to be motivated by three core claims. Supporters of moral perception epistemologies seem led to argue that moral properties can be represented in perception, that such cases have distinctive moral phenomenologies, and that an agent’s perception and awareness of such properties is non-inferential. I pursue each of the claims in turn and demonstrate how they may help to give some needed definition to and help to effectively delimit the idea of a moral perception. With the interpretive account of moral perception in hand, chapter 2 assesses the prospects of moral perception epistemologies going forward. My principal argument is that despite its initial promise, moral perception theories may fail to provide a unique account of moral knowledge. By emphasizing the directness, immediacy, and non-inferentiality of moral beliefs, moral perceptionists advance an epistemology that bears important similarities to many articulations of moral intuitionism. I dedicate chapter 2 to explicating these many points of overlap between moral perceptions and intuitions. In view of these many similarities, I contend that the moral perception may in fact be best defended as a particular form of intuitionism. I attempt to make good on this claim by advancing a provisional form of appearance intuitionism which I argue offers a form of moral perception view in all but name.
Includes bibliographical references.
2015 Summer.
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