Stockholm Philosophy Colloquium: Katie Steele (joint work with Pamela Robinson) (ANU)


Date: Thursday 29 September 2022

Time: 16.00 – 17.45

Location: D289

There is No Special Problem of Moral Uncertainty

Moral uncertainty is taken to be uncertainty about the right moral theory, where the candidates are treated as free-standing or independent. As such, it poses a special problem for decision making: On what basis can we decide between all the different ways of representing candidate moral theories on a single scale of moral value? No parallel ‘problem of intertheoretic comparisons’ arises for decision making under descriptive uncertainty, in which a single scale of value is presupposed and the relevant possibilities are treated as comparable with respect to it. Skeptics have concluded that there are no principles guiding decision making under moral uncertainty and thus no facts about what we ought to do that are sensitive to our moral uncertainty. The rest of us have prepared for a difficult and potentially fruitless search. However, we argue here that we have simply been looking for principles in the wrong place. The apparent dead end is the result of two wrong turns: i) we have subtly misconstrued the epistemic state of moral uncertainty, and ii) we have not considered whether there might be moral evidential standards as well as descriptive ones. By taking a different route, we find a coherent and fully general account of uncertainty-sensitive oughts in which an ought sensitive to moral uncertainty poses no special problems. Further, it is neutral about whether there are any subjective moral oughts, and about whether the ‘ought of moral uncertainty’ is a rational ought or a moral ought. Our claim is that, either way, decision making under moral uncertainty is not especially problematic.