Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article


Michael Huemera1

a1 Philosophy, University of Colorado at Boulder


I discuss four kinds of challenges to the reliability of ethical intuitions. Ethical intuitions have been impugned for being incoherent with each other, for being unduly influenced by culture, for being unduly influenced by biological instincts, and for being unduly influenced by personal interests and emotions. I argue that, rather than giving up on the possibility of ethical knowledge through intuition, intuitionists should use the skeptical challenges to help identify which intuitions are most likely to be reliable, and which are instead likely to be biased or otherwise distorted. In many cases, abstract, formal intuitions about value and obligation prove to be least susceptible to skeptical attack and for that reason should be given preference in our ethical reasoning over most intuitions about concrete situations. In place of the common sense morality with which intuitionism has traditionally been allied, my approach is likely to generate a highly revisionary normative ethics.


I would like to thank the other contributors to this volume, and its editors, for their comments on an earlier draft of this essay.