Moral internalism, amoralist skepticism and the factivity effect

Philosophical Psychology 29 (8):1095-1111 (2016)
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Philosophers are divided over moral internalism, the claim that moral judgement entails some motivation to comply with that judgement. Against moral internalism, externalists defend the conceptual coherence of scenarios in which an individual makes genuine moral judgements but is entirely unmoved by them. This is amoralist skepticism and these scenarios can be called amoralist scenarios. While the coherence of amoralist scenarios is disputed, philosophers seem to agree that the coherence of amoralist scenarios is not affected by whether the amoralist is described as having moral knowledge or mere belief. But recent experimental research challenges this assumption. When evaluating amoralist scenarios, people’s intuitions lean towards externalism when the amoralist is described as knowing that X is morally wrong, whereas people’s intuitions lean towards internalism when the amoralist is described as believing that X is morally wrong. Call this the factivity effect. In this paper, I argue that the factivity effect is unlikely to be explained as an experimental artifact and that as a consequence, the traditional dispute over moral internalism and amoralist skepticism may need a major overhaul. The results of three studies testing the factivity effect provide support for this thesis. Implications of these results for the traditional debate over moral internalism are discussed.

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Kenneth Shields
University of Indianapolis


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