Well, first of all, I’m sorry for the late post. I was pretty wiped last night, and I wound up going to bed early and completely forgot to post before doing so. However, I do have an interesting issue for you today. Epistemology is the study of how we know–specifically it is the study of knowledge, what it means to know something, how we can be said to know something, and the process that knowing follows. Ethics is the study of morality–specifically it is the study of right and wrong, what we mean by these words, whether there is a moral truth, what that moral truth might be, how we can practice it, and whether we should practice it. Now, a number of philosophers posit a strong connection between the two, even to the point of arguing that they are actually one field of study. We speak of good and bad theories and beliefs, and we also speak of morally correct and incorrect actions. We often evaluate beliefs on their impact in the world (moral), rather than on their correspondence with reality (epistemical based on a correspondence theory of truth) or their internal cohesion (epistemical based on a coherence theory of truth). So, these philosophers argue that morality and epistemology are one field–that they are both evaluations of right and wrong, good and evil in regard to the reality or coherence of the world around us.

Other philosophers argue that there distinct connections between the two fields, but that they are distinct and necessarily separate fields. These philosophers will often point out that there are wrong beliefs that are not immoral (for instance, the belief that 2+2=7) and immoral actions that are require intellectual rigor (such as successfully scamming a professor by passing off famous research as your own original work).  These thinkers argue that epistemology is a field dealing with theoretical things (i.e. knowledge generally) and ethics is a field dealing with practical things (i.e. what we should do), but that the two necessitate one another. For instance, I cannot do what I should do (ethics) unless I first know what is best to do  or what the rules say I should do (epistemology). Thus, some of them posit a sub-field that combines the two and call this moral epistemology (i.e. the study of how we know right and wrong).

Lastly, some thinkers have argued that there is absolutely no connection between the two fields. Knowing truth is one thing and doing what you should do is something else entirely. These thinkers may point out that sometimes it is a sign of virtue to believe something that seems patently untrue (for instance: a man who, contrary to all evidence, believes that his wife is not and would not cheat on him may be seen as morally virtuous, but he may also be seen as irrational). These philosophers argue for a strong distinction between ethics and epistemology that is as strong as the distinction between ethics and mathematics. They argue that it is entirely plausible for a person to be intellectually perfect (i.e. having a perfect knowledge of truth) and yet morally repugnant, and vice versa.

However, it is also generally true that, when faced with a great scientist, philosopher, or theologian who lived a morally abysmal life, or a morally upstanding man who is clearly a blithering idiot, we tend to be stymied. There is naturally a feeling that something is off, even if we can’t quite put our fingers on what that some thing is.

So, here is your question for today: given this common experience, what is (or is there) the connection between ethics and epistemology? Between morality and knowledge?

As always, write me a story of 1000 words that clearly presents and defends your answer to the question.


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