The Subjective Import of Moral Knowledge

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Joseph P. Hester


Experience teaches that “knowledge” is more than facts garnered from physical inputs or truth derived from rational discourse. Knowledge is a human construction as we constantly typify what facts nature and society present to us, deciphering them through our own personal and cultural narratives. In itself, this should widen the scope of what knowledge embodies and put us on guard about the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive knowledge. Acknowledging that knowledge is personally and communally represented means that knowledge, empirical and normative, is often justified by the suppositions lying deeply within our cultural histories. These suppositions are the presumptive force employed to authenticate, confirm, corroborate, and substantiate knowledge claims, descriptive and prescriptive. Vindicated by enculturated habits, hewn through tradition and practice, and heralded as the pathway to truth, adjustments and assessment in our thinking is difficult. Yet, when knowledge claims are brought into the public square and undergo communal exposure, adjustments in our thinking is often required. Dialogic communication becomes a necessary means of reassessment and clarification. Consequently, all knowledge bears the imprint of subjective understanding, claims of self-evident principles defining the a priori starting places of our conclusions, and the social/cultural perspectives in which rational discourse and normative prescriptions are formed and applied. With an inclination to objectify the sensory and rational (rational empiricism) and cast moral knowledge into the bin of the unstable and impulsive, we often ignore the skewed and hermeneutical nature of both. In this regard, to release moral knowledge from restrictive and reductionist interpretations, a thoughtful reconsideration is required. But, let’s not jump to the conclusion that all that we think and believe are on an equal footing, factually or morally. We should not forget that we are cognitive creatures involved in thinking, reasoning, remembering, recommending behaviors thought of as moral, and building our lives through insightful and creative re-examination.

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Hester, J. P. (2020). The Subjective Import of Moral Knowledge. Humanities Bulletin, 3(2), 140–156. Retrieved from

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