Making Sense of Moral Perception

Rafe McGregor

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)
    44 Downloads (Pure)


    The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that Francis Hutcheson’s moral sense theory offers a satisfactory account of moral perception. I introduce Hutcheson’s work in §1 and indicate why the existence of a sixth sense is not implausible. I provide a summary of Robert Cowan and Robert Audi’s respective theories of evaluative perception in §2, identifying three problematic objections: the Directness Objection to Cowan’s ethical perception and the aesthetic and perceptual model objections to Audi’s moral perception. §3 examines Hutcheson’s moral sense theory, focusing on his discussion of benevolence, the desire for the happiness of others. I deal with the unresolved issues in Hutcheson’s account by recourse to Charles Darwin’s evolutionary perspective on the moral sense in §4, arguing for the moral sense as the second-order faculty for judging benevolence. I return, in §5, to the objections, showing that moral sense theory solves all three problems and therefore offers a satisfactory account of moral perception.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)745-758
    Number of pages14
    JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
    Issue number4
    Early online date1 May 2015
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2015


    • Charles Darwin
    • Francis Hutcheson
    • Moral perception
    • Moral sense theory
    • Sensory modalities


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