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A Principle of Psychological Realism for Moral Epistemology

Norbert Paulo


This chapter starts from Owen Flanagan’s Principle of Minimal Psychological Realism for first-order moral theory. The author argues that a similar principle of psychological realism also applies to (second-order) moral epistemic decision procedures which are used to determine the proper contents of first-order morality. He calls it the Principle of Minimal Psychological Realism for Moral Epistemic Decision Procedures (PRDP): “Make sure when constructing a moral epistemic decision procedure that the character and decision processing prescribed are possible, or are perceived to be possible, for creatures like us”. Just as consequentialists implicitly endorse PMPR in first-order morality, so do proponents of Rawlsian moral epistemology implicitly endorse PRDP. Applying PRDP to different elements of Rawls’ moral epistemic decision procedure, the author shows that his requirements concerning considered judgements do not violate the PRDP. Things are more complicated when it comes to the epistemic requirements concerning competent judges though. Some of them - particularly openness for belief revision and bias avoidance - are very demanding and might even violate the ought-implies-can principle. However, they do not violate the more flexible PRDP. There is one requirement in Rawls that does violate PRDP though, namely the requirement to imagine a social deliberation among a group of competent judges. PRDP does not apply to epistemic ideals that are not meant to be actually carried out. If proponents of such moral epistemic views were to develop decision procedures, PRDP would apply to these, too, the author argues.

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