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Moral Disagreement and Epistemic Advantages: A Challenge to McGrath

by Ben Sherman

Sarah McGrath (2008; 2011) argues that, when it comes to our controversial moral views, we have no reason to think that we are less likely to be in error than those who disagree with us. I refer to this position as the Moral Peer View (MPV). Under pressure from Nathan King (2011a; 2011b), McGrath admits that the MPV need not always have been true, though she maintains it is true now. Although King seems to think that there should be current counterexamples to the MPV, he holds back from actually proposing any. I argue that those of us who favor marriage equality and gender equality are currently in a position to reject the MPV with regard to these issues, and I propose conditions under which people can reasonably take their moral beliefs to be epistemically advantaged. King and McGrath agree that opponents of slavery like William Wilberforce could reasonably believe that they enjoyed an epistemic advantage over proponents of slavery, and I suggest that proponents of marriage equality and gender equality might make similar claims. I propose that we can make additional claims to epistemic advantages if we believe that (1) almost everyone who considers the matter admits that there are advantages, (2) those who disagree with us would admit that there are advantages and (3) we can give a plausible explanation as to why those who we think are epistemically disadvantaged have not noticed that they are disadvantaged. Finally, I argue that it is reasonable to think that our controversial beliefs are justified if we can find reasons to think that our opponents are mistaken, and do not see similar reasons to think ourselves mistaken. This is a better policy than supposing that we are just as prone to mistakes as our opponents, as the latter is both less defensible in theory, and more likely to stifle intellectual progress.

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