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The Epistemological Implications of the Causes of Moral Beliefs

O'Neill, Elizabeth (2015) The Epistemological Implications of the Causes of Moral Beliefs. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation investigates what the causes of moral beliefs indicate about the epistemic status of those beliefs. I argue that information about the causes of moral beliefs can tell us whether those beliefs track the truth, and that truth tracking is the primary epistemic property that should concern us in the moral domain. I formulate three novel debunking arguments that employ information about the causes of moral beliefs to support conclusions about truth tracking while minimizing normative assumptions. These arguments lead to the conclusion that harm-related moral beliefs that hinge on sympathy, moral beliefs influenced by disgust, certain political beliefs, and beliefs about punishment that are subject to the influence of extraneous emotions do not track moral truth. For each of these types of moral beliefs, information about the proximal causes of the moral belief supports epistemic conclusions. I compare the value of information about proximal and distal causes for assessing epistemic status: I argue that proximal causes are a superior source of information, but under certain conditions, we should take information about distal causes into account. In the case of beliefs about the fair distribution of resources, information about their proximal causes may be consistent with us tracking truth, but information about their distal, evolutionary origins tell us that we lack reason to think that we track their truth. Thus, using empirical information about the causes of moral beliefs, I offer selective debunking arguments for five types of moral beliefs.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMachery, Edouardmachery@pitt.eduMACHERY
Committee MemberWoodward, Jamesjfw@pitt.eduJFW
Committee MemberLennox, Jamesjglennox@pitt.eduJGLENNOX
Committee MemberSetiya,
Committee MemberSchafer, Karlschaferk@pitt.eduSCHAFERK
Date: 27 September 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 May 2015
Approval Date: 27 September 2015
Submission Date: 21 July 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 148
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: etiological debunking, truth-tracking, moral psychology, evolution of morality, moral beliefs
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2015 23:49
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2020 05:15


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