AuthorStewart, Todd M.
AdvisorGoldman, Alvin I.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractWhat is moral epistemology? It is the attempt to construct a theory that explains whether and how moral beliefs are epistemically justified. This dissertation is an evaluation of this project. Should we develop a specialized, topic-specific epistemology that applies only to the domain of morality, or should we develop a perfectly general theory which can be applied to ethics as a special case? In chapter one, I argue that we should be very cautious about developing topic-specific epistemologies like moral epistemology, and that we are in need of a good reason to do so. I explore and ultimately reject several skeptical motivations for the pursuit of moral epistemology. In chapter two, I sketch an argument put forth by Sinnott-Armstrong that because there are strong limits on the degree to which we can convince those who doubt the truth of our ethical beliefs, therefore a weak form of skepticism is reasonable. This argument fails because it targets nothing distinctive about morality. In chapter three, I consider Harman's view that there is something about our best epistemology that forces us to deny the existence of ethical facts. I reject this argument because the presupposed epistemology risks collapsing into general skepticism. In chapter four, I develop a new argument for moral skepticism. Sometimes if a person has the justified belief that there is enough disagreement about a topic this belief can defeat the justifications for that person's own beliefs about that topic. Given apparent widespread ethical disagreement, this presents a difficult challenge. In chapter five, I attempt to defuse the epistemological problem generated by disagreement, arguing that it is reasonable to deny that there is enough moral disagreement for the argument developed in chapter four to apply. Finally, in chapter six I consider a non-skeptical motivation for the development of moral epistemology, namely that there might be a process of belief formation important to moral beliefs but not to other sorts of beliefs. I argue that the moral emotions seem to carry some epistemic force, and that better understanding the moral emotions does provide an incentive for further work on moral epistemology.
Degree ProgramGraduate College