Source of Moral Knowledge


  • Ayesha Gautam University of Delhi



Source, Knowledge, reason, experience, intuition


One cannot deny the fact that we all have some understanding of moral issues. Each one of us can be said to have some sense of what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is bad, what ought to be done, and what ought not to be done. This moral understanding can be in the form of some vague idea, notion, or simply a gut feeling. No matter who the person is, from which culture or community the person belongs to, everybody faces a moral quandary sometime or other in one’s life. All of this presupposes that there is some fundamental sense or understanding of what is right and what is wrong. We all seem to have some understanding about actions that are right and those that are wrong. Some actions, for instance, torturing babies just for fun, killing an innocent person, raping, etc. are exemplars of morally wrong actions. Assisting a person in need, giving to famine relief, etc. on the other hand are examples of morally right actions. The present essay is an attempt to delve into the question of the source of moral knowledge. Three sources, experience, reason, and intuition have been identified. Views of philosophers like G.E Moore, WD Ross, Immanuel Kant, JS Mill, Plato, Samuel Clarke, Aristotle Hume, and Anthony Ashley Cooper have been discussed to gain clarity about the issue.



Armstrong, Sinnott Walter. Moral Skepticisms. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Armstrong, Sinnott Walter & Mark Timmons., ed. Moral Knowledge: New Readings in Moral Epistemology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996

Armstrong, Sinnott Walter. ‘‘An Argument for Descriptivism’’ Southern Journal of Philosophy 37 (2), (1999): 281-91

Armstrong, Sinnott Walter. “The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (fall 2011 edition), Edward N. Zeta (Ed.), URL:

Aristotle, Metaphysics. Joe Sachs (trans.), Green Lion Press, 1999.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Joe Sachs (trans.), Focus Philosophical Library, Pullins Press, 2002.

Ash Sara, “The Regress Argument for Moral Skepticism”, writing sample, published by URL:, New Mexico State University: USA,

Audi, Robert. “Intuitionism, Pluralism, and the Foundations of Ethics.” In Moral Knowledge: New Readings in Moral Epistemology, edited by Walter Sinnott- Armstrong and Mark Timmons, 101-136. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997

Ayer, A.J, Language, Truth and Logic, London: V Gollancz Ltd, 1946

Ayer, A. J. Language, Truth and Logic, New York: Dover Publication, 1952

Ayer, A.J. ‘The Problem of Knowledge’, London, Macmillan, 1956

Balguy, John. The Second Part of the Foundation of Moral Goodness: Illustrating and Enforcing the Principles and Reasonings Contained in the Former. 2nd ed. London: John Pemberton, 1733

Barrett, K. “A Functionalist Approach to Shame and Guilt”. In J. Tangney and K. Fischer (Ed.), Self-Conscious Emotions: The Psychology of Shame, Guilt, Embarrassment, and Pride . New York: The Guilford Press, 1995

Bellah, Robert N (Ed.). Emile Durkheim: On Morality and Society, Selected Writings, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973

Clarke, Samuel. 1738, The Works, B. Hoadly (ed.), London; reprint New York: Garland Publishing Co, 2002

Clarke Samuel: A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation, London: Kessinger Publishing, 1732

Connor O’ D.J and Carr Brian, Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge, Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1982.

Cohen, Adam. “What the Monkeys Can Teach Humans About Making America Fairer.” The New York Times, September 21, 2003

Churchland, CF Paul. The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995

David Killoren, ‘Moral Intuition, Reliability and Disagreement’, Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, vol. 4, no1, January 2010

Dreier, James. “Expressivist embeddings and minimalist truth”, Philosophical Studies 83 (1) (1996): 29-51

Durkheim, Emile “Le'Education Morale” Glencoe: Free Press, 1961

Durkheim, Emile. Sociology and Philosophy. New York: Free Press.1974

Elizabeth J. Dansie, “An Empirical investigation of the adaptive nature of Shame”, Masters of Science, Psychology thesis, Utah State University Logan, Utah, 2009

Fisher Andrew and Kierchin Simon (Ed), Arguing about Metaethics, London and New York: Rutledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2006

Foot Phillipa, Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.2001

Foot, Philippa. “The problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect.” Oxford Review 5 (1967): 5-15.

Gettier Edmund, ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?’ Analysis 23,121-3, (1963)

Geach, Peter. ‘Assertion’. Philosophical Review 74 (1965): 449–65.

Gibbard Allan, Thinking How to Live. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003

Gill B Michael. “Moral Rationalism vs. Moral Sentimentalism: Is morality like Math or Beauty”s, Philosophy Compass 2/1 (2007): 16–30, 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2006.0005

Goldman H Allan, Moral Knowledge, London, and New York: Rutledge Publication, 1988

Greene Joshua, ‘Cognitive Neuroscience and the Structure of the Moral Mind’ In Laurence S, Carruthers P and Stich S, The Innate Mind: Structure and Contents. New York: Oxford University Press; 2005.

Haack, Susan. Evidence and Inquiry: a Pragmatist Reconstruction of Epistemology. New York: Prometheus Books, 2009

Huemer Michael (Ed.), Epistemology Contemporary Readings, London: Routledge Publication, 2002

Hume David, Treatise of Morals, edited by James Hervey Hyslop, Ginn and Co Publishers, 1894

Hume David, A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge, 2nd ed. revised by P. H. Nidditch, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975

Hume David, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Ed. Tom L. Beauchamp, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998

Ichikawa, Jonathan Jenkins and Steup, Matthias, "The Analysis of Knowledge", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Oxford University Press, 1785

Kuhalampi Mia Silfver, The Sources of Moral Motivation – studies on empathy, guilt, shame and values , Social psychological studies 19 , Published by Department of Social Psychology, University of Helsinki , Helsinki, 2008

Landau Shafer Russ & Terence Cuneo (Ed), Foundation of Ethics: An Anthology, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007

Landau- Shafer, Russ (Ed), Ethical Theory: An Anthology, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007

Landau, Shafer Russ . Moral Realism: A Defense Oxford: Oxford University Press,2003

Lehrer Keith, Theory of Knowledge, Oxford: Westview Press, 2002

Lehrer Keith, ‘Knowledge, Truth and Evidence’, Analysis 23,168-75, (1965)

Lehrer Keith and Paxson Thomas, “Knowledge: Undefeated Justified True Belief”, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 66, No. 8 (Apr. 24, 1969): 225-23

Maureen Lyons, "Kantianism and Emile Durkheim's Ethical Theory" (1991). Honors Projects. Paper 21. Illinois Wesleyan University,1991, honproj/21

McCord –Sayre Geoffrey, “Skepticism about Moral Knowledge”, UNC/ Chapel Hill, September 2009

McCord, Sayre Geoffrey. “Coherentist Epistemology and Moral Theory,” In Moral Knowledge: New Readings in Moral Epistemology, edited by Walter Sinnott- Armstrong and Mark Timmons, 137-189. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

McGrath Sarah, “Moral Knowledge and Experience”, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, 6, 2010

McCurry, Ford C., "How Psychology’s Empirical Results Can Benefit the Criminal Justice System: Expert Testimony" Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 1166., 2013

Mill, Stuart John. Utilitarianism, Harvard University: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer Publishers, 1871

Miller, Alexander, An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003

Moser K Paul (Ed). The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002

Morton, Adam, A Guide through the Theory of Knowledge, Oxford: Blackwell publishing, 1997

Moore, G.E. Principia Ethica, Cambridge, Massachusset: Harvard University Press, 1960

Neta Ram and Pritchard Duncan (Ed), Arguing about Knowledge, Oxford: Rutledge Publication, 2009

Ofer Ashkenazi, Review of Rowe, David E and Schulmann, Robert, eds., Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb. H-German, H-Net Reviews. September 2012.

Peacocke, Christopher. “Moral Rationalism” The Journal of Philosophy, vol.101, no.10, (2004)

Plato, The Symposium, trans. by Christopher Gill. London: Penguin, 2003

Pritchard, Duncan. What is this thing called Knowledge? London: Rutledge, Taylor and Francis group, 2006

Raube Slawomir, “Morality and reason, Samuel Clarke’s rationalistic ethics”, Studies in Logic, Grammar and rhetoric 15(28), 2009

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Ross, W. D. “What Makes Right Acts Right?” In The Right and the Good, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.

Ross, W.D, The Right and The Good, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973

Rowe, David E and Schulmann, Robert (Ed.). Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007

Russell, Bertrand. My Philosophical Development, London and New York: Routledge Publication, 1959

Ryle, Gilbert. “Letters de M. Ryle”, Revue de Métaphysique Et de Morale 63 (1) (1958):126 – 127

Shaftesbury, the third Earl of. Anthony Ashley Cooper. Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times. Ed. Lawrence E. Klein. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1999

Shaftesbury, Third Earl of (Anthony Ashley Cooper), 1699–1714, An Inquiry Into Virtue and Merit, in D. Den Uyl (ed.), Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Vol.2, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001

Sidgwick, Henry. Method of Ethics, London: Macmillan, 1874

Simpson, John and Edmund Weiner (eds). Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989

Smith, Michael (2000). “Moral Realism” Reprinted in his Ethics and the A Priori, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004

Sosa Ernest, Jaegwon Kim, Fantl Jeremy, and Grath Mc Matthew(Ed), Epistemology: An Anthology, New York: Blackwell Publication, 2008

Sosa Ernest, Knowledge in Perspective; Selected Essays in Epistemology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991

Timmons, Mark. Morality without Foundations: A Defense of Ethical Contextualism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998

Thomas W Smythe and Thomas G. Evans, “Intuition as a basic source of Moral knowledge”, Philosophia 35. (2007): 233-247, DOI 10.1007/s 11406-007-9070-z

Tibor R. Machan, ‘Epistemology and Moral Knowledge’, The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Sep 1982). 23-49, published by Philosophy Education Society Inc., URL: 78 (accessed 24.01.11)

Walford David (Ed.), Anthony Ashley Cooper Third Earl of Shaftesbury An Inquiry Concerning Virtue Or Merit, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1714




How to Cite

Gautam, A. (2023). Source of Moral Knowledge. Tattva Journal of Philosophy, 15(1), 45-75.