Moral Perception and the Contents of Experience

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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I defend the thesis that at least some moral properties can be part of the contents of experience. I argue for this claim using a contrast argument, a type of argument commonly found in the literature on the philosophy of perception. I first appeal to psychological research on what I call emotionally empathetic dysfunctional individuals (eedis) to establish a phenomenal contrast between eedis and normal individuals in some moral situations. I then argue that the best explanation for this contrast, assuming non-skeptical moral realism, is that badness is represented in the normal individual’s experience but not in the eedi’s experience. I consider and reject four alternative explanations of the contrast.

Moral Perception and the Contents of Experience

in Journal of Moral Philosophy



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McGrath (2004) Chappell (2008) Väyrynen (2008) Audi (2010 2013) Cullison (2010a) McBrayer (2010a 2010b) and Cowan (2013a 2013b).


Siegel (2010) p.4.


Cowan (2013b) 12.


Vayrynen (2008) and Cowan (2013) both contain excellent discussions of this issue.


Siegel (2006 2010forthcoming) Bayne (2009). For an auditory application of a contrast argument see O’Callaghan (2011). Cowan (2013b 5n16) mentions contrast arguments in the context of a discussion of moral perception but does not himself provide such an argument.


Hare (1985).


Blair (2006) Hare (1991) Arnett (1997).


Skeem et al. (2011).


Blair et al. (1997)


Blair (1999).


Patrick et al. (1993).


Blair (2006) pp.9–13.


Most famously by William James (1884).


Blair (1995).


Huemer (2001 2007) Cullison (2010b) Tucker (2010) Chudnoff (2011). This view is associated with Phenomenal Conservatism in epistemology the view that seemings (intuitions) can provide prima facie justification for beliefs.


Richell et al. (2003) Blair et al.(1996).


 See de Sousa (2010).


Robert Cowan (2013a) argues that emotional experiences must be epistemically dependent since they “are or ought to be responsive to reasons” (12). He is also worried (as are many philosophers of perception) about problems with cognitive penetration. (He develops the former of these concerns in more detail in 2013b.) I cannot address these concerns here though they are certainly legitimate worries.


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