Philosophy Writing by Stas Medvedev

What is Moral Knowledge?

In simple terms that is the understanding of what’s right and wrong. Moral knowledge presupposes that there are moral truths accessible to us (Wilson, 2005). One possesses moral knowledge when, but only when, one’s moral opinions are true and held justifiably (Sayre-McCord, 1998). This raises additional questions:

  • Does moral knowledge exist?
  • How do we justify our moral beliefs?
  • How do we acquire moral knowledge?

There are two common forms of moral skepticism: weak and strong (Tramel, 2024). Weak skepticism allows for justified moral beliefs without claiming them as knowledge, while strong skepticism challenges the very foundation of justified moral beliefs arguing moral statements being subjective and therefore not objectively justifiable.

I believe that lying is morally wrong because it undermines trust and can harm relationships. This belief is based on my personal experiences, cultural teachings, and the observable consequences of lying in society. It might provide sufficient justification for me, but according to weak moral skepticism, a justified belief that lying is wrong does not constitute a moral knowledge that lying is universally wrong in all contexts.

According to strong skeptics, "Lying is wrong" cannot be proven or disproven through empirical observation or logical deduction alone, as it inherently involves subjective values and cultural norms, so I cannot even claim to have justified beliefs about the morality of lying.

Non-sceptics propose a variety of explanations defending that such knowledge is possible. We could divide those into two broad categories: moral rationalists and moral empiricists. Rationalists hold that morality originates in reason alone, while empiricists suggest it could at least partly originate in feelings and emotions or sentiments. There are two great analogies that have been developed to support the respective arguments. The one between morality and mathematics (moral rationalists) and the other one between morality and beauty (moral sentimentalists) (Gill, 2007).

Rationalists argue that just as 2+2=4 holds true regardless of human emotions or social norms, some moral principles are recognized and justified as true through the process of rational thinking. This viewpoint implies that moral knowledge is objective and universal and goes beyond individual experiences and cultural contexts.

Empiricists argue that our moral beliefs are formed by our experiences, cultural upbringing, and emotional responses to the actions of ourselves and others. This view aligns with the idea that moral knowledge is not about discovering objective truths but rather about understanding and articulating our subjective experiences and sentiments.

In conclusion, I can share the observation that the implications of the controversies between moral rationalism and empiricism, as well as the considerations of moral skepticism highlight the complexity of ethical decision-making.

Reference list

Gill, Michael B. (2007) 'Moral Rationalism vs. Moral Sentimentalism: Is Morality More Like Math or Beauty?', Philosophy Compass 2/1 (2007): pp. 16–30.

Sayre-McCord, Geoffrey. (1998) ‘Moral Knowledge’, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: Routledge.

Tramel, Peter. (2024) Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Moral Epistemology ( (accessed: 20 February 2024)

Wilson, Catherine. (2005) ‘Moral knowledge’, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2 ed.) ed. by Ted Honderich. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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