Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 469–484 | Cite as

The Argument from Moral Experience

  • Don LoebEmail author


It is often said that our moral experience, broadly construed to include our ways of thinking and talking about morality, has a certain objective-seeming character to it, and that this supports a presumption in favor of objectivist theories (according to which morality is a realm of facts or truths) and against anti-objectivist theories like Mackie’s error theory (according to which it is not). In this paper, I argue that our experience of morality does not support objectivist moral theories in this way. I begin by arguing that our moral experience does not have the uniformly objective-seeming character it is typically claimed to have. I go on to argue that even if moral experience were to presuppose or display morality as a realm of fact, we would still need a reason for taking that to support theories according to which it is such a realm. I consider what I take to be the four most promising ways of attempting to supply such a reason: (A) inference to the best explanation, (B) epistemic conservatism, (C) the Principle of Credulity, and (D) the method of wide reflective equilibrium. In each case, I argue, the strategy in question does not support a presumption in favor of objectivist moral theories.


Burden of proof Conservatism Ethics Moral experience Moral explanations Moral phenomenology Moral realism Principle of credulity Reflective equilibrium 



For their comments, encouragement, criticism, patience, and generosity, I am grateful to Paul Bloomfield, Sin yee Chan, David Christensen, Stephen Darwall, Tyler Doggett, Richard Joyce, Simon Kirchin, Hilary Kornblith, Arthur Kuflik, William Mann, Mark Moyer, Derk Pereboom, Seth Shabo, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. I wish to thank the Dean’s Office, College of Arts and Sciences, The University of Vermont for providing modest grant support for an initial draft of this paper. I am also grateful to the attendees at a colloquium at Brandeis University, a number of undergraduate students at Vermont (forced to read various drafts), and several anonymous referees (likewise). As always, my wife, Barbara Rachelson, suffered through many, many drafts and conversations about this paper and was a tremendous help to me. I started work on this paper so long ago that I am sure I have forgotten many others to whom thanks are due. You know who you are. Thanks.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentThe University of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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