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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 44, 1998

Theoretical Ethics

Christopher W. Gowans
Pages 88-95

Self-Worth and Moral Knowledge
A Moral Argument for a Moderate Moral Skepticism

I argue that persons are unlikely to have moral knowledge insofar as they lack certain moral virtues; that persons are commonly deficient in these virtues, and hence that they are regularly unlikely to have adequate moral knowledge. I propose a version of this argument that employs a broad conception of self-worth, a virtue found in a wide range of moral traditions that suppose a person would have an appropriate sense of self-worth in the face of tendencies both to overestimate and underestimate the value of one’s self. I begin by noting some distinctive features of this argument that distinguish it from more common arguments for moral skepticism. This is followed by an elucidation of the virtue of self-worth. I then consider some connections between self-worth and moral knowledge and, more briefly, the extent of self-worth among persons. Finally, I respond to the objection that the argument is incoherent because it presupposes moral knowledge that it later undermines.

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