The Mystery of Moral Perception

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


Accounts of non-naturalist moral perception have been advertised as an empiricist-friendly epistemological alternative to moral rationalism. I argue that these accounts of moral perception conceal a core commitment of rationalism—to substantive a priori justification—and embody its most objectionable feature—namely, “mysteriousness.” Thus, accounts of non-naturalist moral perception do not amount to an interesting alternative to moral rationalism.

The Mystery of Moral Perception

in Journal of Moral Philosophy




 See Robert AudiMoral Perception (Princeton: Princeton University Press2013); Robert Cowan ‘Perceptual Intuitionism’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 86 (2013). Andrew Cullison ‘Moral Perception’ European Journal of Philosophy 2 (2010); Terence Cuneo ‘Reidian Moral Perception’ Canadian Journal of Philosophy 33 (2002) 229–258; Justin McBrayer ‘Moral Perception and the Causal Objection’ Ratio 23 (2010) 159–175 and ‘A Limited Defense of Moral Perception’ Philosophical Studies 149 (2010) pp. 305–320; Sarah McGrath ‘Moral Knowledge by Perception’ Philosophical Perspectives 18 (2004) pp. 209–28; and Jennifer Wright ‘The Role of Moral Perception in Mature Agency’ in J. Winewski (ed.) Moral Perception (Cambridge ma: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2008) pp. 1–24.


 For example Cuneo‘Reidian Moral Perception’ pp. 256–257; Audi Moral Perception pp. 44 55; and McBrayer ‘Moral Perception and the Causal Objection’ pp. 300–306 each suggests that his account of moral perception can accommodate non-naturalist moral metaphysics.


Michael HuemerEthical Intuitionism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan2008) pp. 122–127.


 See for example McBrayer‘A Limited Defense of Moral Perception’ p. 306 and Cowan ‘Perceptual Intuitionism’ p. 1. Cp. Audi Moral Perception pp. 2–3.


 See Paul Benacerraf‘Mathematical Truth,’ The Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973) pp. 661–679 and Hartry Field Realism Mathematics and Modality (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1989).


I follow Joshua Schechter‘The Reliability Challenge and the Epistemology of Logic,’ Philosophical Perspectives 24 (2010) pp. 437–464 in formulating the Benacerraf-Field challenge in terms of reliability. Note that this is controversial. John Bengson ‘Grasping the Third Realm’ forthcoming in T. Szabo Gendler and J. Hawthorne (eds.) Oxford Studies in Epistemology Vol. 5 argues that Benacerraf’s challenge is to identify a relation between intuitions and abstracta that explains why the former are non-accidentally true. He contends that this explanatory challenge is “prior to” the reliability challenge (see pp. 3 41–43).


BonjourIn Defense of Pure Reason p. 156 claims that the “objection can be extended to rationalist a priori knowledge and justification generally and […] has frequently generally been invoked in this broader form by others.” Joshua Schechter ‘The Reliability Challenge and the Epistemology of Logic’ on pp. 441–443 discusses the scope of the objection. Justin Clarke-Doane ‘What is the Benacerref Problem?’ in F. Pataut (ed.) New Perspectives on the Philosophy of Paul Benacerraf: Truth Objects Infinity (forthcoming) catalogues different attempts to generalize the objection to non-mathematical domains.


Bengson‘Grasping the Third Realm’ p. 14 offers the similar “case of Trip” to illustrate one kind of non-causal knowledge. In Bengson’s story Trip has a hallucination in which he seems to see some colors and shapes that he has never encountered before. On the basis of this experience he is able to know certain propositions about the relationships of these shapes and colors (e.g. that red is more like orange than it is like blue). In fn 27 Bengson discusses envatment in response to the objection that the Case of Trip is metaphysically impossible. Since a properly stimulated brain can experience features to which it bears no causal connections it is not impossible that Trip could hallucinate new shapes and colors.


AudiMoral Perception p. 31. See also McBrayer ‘Moral Perception and the Causal Objection’ p. 293 and McBrayer ‘A Limited Defense of Moral Perception’ p. 307.


Cowan‘Perceptual Intuitionism’ p. 7 (italics omitted).


AudiMoral Perception p. 35. Cowan ‘Perceptual Intuitionism’ p. 6 (italics omitted).


AudiMoral Perception p. 35. Cowan ‘Perceptual Intuitionism’ pp. 6–7.


AudiMoral Perception pp. 38–39. Cowan ‘Perceptual Intuitionism’ p. 10 (italics omitted).


Cowan‘Perceptual Intuitionism’ p. 7.


AudiMoral Perception pp. 33 43.


Cowan‘Perceptual Intuitionism’ p. 13.


W.D. RossThe Right and the Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press1930) p. 33.


McBrayer‘Moral Perception and the Causal Objection’ p. 293. See Fred Dretske Seeing and Knowing (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1969) p. 9.


Cullison‘Moral Perception’ p. 162.


Cullison‘Moral Perception’ pp. 160–163.


 E.g. AudiMoral Perception pp. 55–56 Cuneo ‘Reidian Moral Perception’ pp. 256–257. McBrayer ‘Moral Perception and the Causal Objection’ p. 303 proposes an “emendation” on the causal constraint that would allow some other relations that ensure “non-accidentality” to satisfy the constraint.


 See Erik Wielenberg‘On the Evolutionary Debunking of Morality,’ Ethics 120 (2010) 441–464; David Enoch ‘The Epistemological Challenge to Metanormative Realism: How Best to Understand It and How to Cope With it’ Philosophical Studies 148 (2010) 413–438; Knut Skarsaune ‘Darwin and Moral Realism: Survival of the Iffiest’ Philosophical Studies 152 (2011) 229–243. For a very different kind of putative evolutionary vindication of our moral beliefs see Huemer Ethical Intuitionism p. 216.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 24 24 9
Full Text Views 47 47 25
PDF Downloads 5 5 1
EPUB Downloads 2 2 0