Can we have moral knowledge without intuition?

I'm trying to justify my ethical beliefs, but can't do so without appeal to intuition.

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    I believe our moral sense is more like a capacity to recognize rather than an intuition. Experience is required for there be something to recognize, but the moral sense itself is innate. – user3017 Oct 30 '17 at 22:18
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    The questions of having and justifying knowledge are different. For instance, many mathematicians would admit the role of intuition in producing new mathematical knowledge, but would deny it a justificatory role. Similarly, we may come to have moral beliefs intuitively, but that does not necessarily justify them. Both IEP and SEP have long articles on Moral Epistemology, i.e. answering how moral knowledge is possible. – Conifold Oct 30 '17 at 23:47
  • that's interesting. so i can have moral knowledge that something is permissible without having to try to justify it to anyone else – user29299 Oct 31 '17 at 0:10
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    More precisely, you can have an unjustified moral belief, a moral hunch so to speak. Even if true it only becomes knowledge after you can justify it (to yourself or others), at least on Plato's definition of "knowledge". – Conifold Oct 31 '17 at 0:37
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    Moral sense is not definitive enough to serve as a guide to morality in a positive way — God's written revelation is necessary for that; rather, moral sense mostly operates negatively, indicating when we sin. In that way, it serves to indicate our incapacity to live according to God's moral law, making us aware of our need for redemption. – user3017 Oct 31 '17 at 1:27

The requirement for intuition is not with morality. You can have a morality based upon just about anything, including the whims of your master, or the whims of some dead master who imagined talking to God. Many people do.

But things change when it comes to your intention to justify your thinking.

No system of justification can exist without some sort of axioms. Whether you explicitly state them or not, you have some basis for your judgments, and you string together judgments according to some set of rules, which are simply the active form of axioms.

What is not covered by accepted or negotiated rules, has to come from interpretation. That means that assent to the rules themselves requires interpretation as a basis. The rules cannot be given to you without a grounding in your interpretation of your situation.

As Descartes pointed out a long time ago, if you dwell upon it long enough, it seems obvious that interpretation necessarily involves starting from internal sensation. The feeling of assent you give to a statement, the idea that you understand anything, is based on an emotional reaction. Most folks informally call that emotion 'intuition'.


Can we have moral knowledge without intuition?

Intuition is not an infallible source of moral knowledge. It is often badly wrong. For example, lots of people in Nazi Germany thought it was perfectly acceptable to torture and murder millions of Jews.

In general, thinking of morality in terms of its source is a bad idea. Moral knowledge is created by guessing about what is right and wrong and criticising the guesses:


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