Naturalizing moral justification: Rethinking the method of moral epistemology

Theresa W. Tobin*, Alison M. Jaggar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The companion piece to this article, "Situating Moral Justification," challenges the idea that moral epistemology's mission is to establish a single, all-purpose reasoning strategy for moral justification because no reasoning practice can be expected to deliver authoritative moral conclusions in all social contexts. The present article argues that rethinking the mission of moral epistemology requires rethinking its method as well. Philosophers cannot learn which reasoning practices are suitable to use in particular contexts exclusively by exploring logical relations among concepts. Instead, in order to understand which reasoning practices are capable of justifying moral claims in different types of contexts, we need to study empirically the relationships between reasoning practices and the contexts in which they are used. The article proposes that philosophers investigate case studies of real-world moral disputes in which people lack shared cultural assumptions and/or are unequal in social power. It motivates and explains the proposed case study method and illustrates the philosophical value of this method through a case study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-439
Number of pages31
JournalMetaphilosophy (edited by Professor Thomas Pogge, Columbia USA and ANU Australia)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • case study method
  • cross-cultural justification
  • cultural diversity
  • epistemological bias
  • moral epistemology
  • moral justification
  • naturalized epistemology
  • social inequality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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