Philosophy Index

Gilbert Harman

Gilbert Harman (1938– ) is an American philosopher and professor at Princeton University. He has made contributions to epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and philosophy of mind.

Moral Relativism

In his account of ethics, Harman argues for a sort of moral relativism. Harman insists that claims of “ought”, as in “A ought to do P”, really amount to the claim that A should do P given that A has similar moral attitudes to us, that motivate A to do P. In other words, one ought to do something if driven by the same ethical motivations as we are in making the claim.

According to Harman, when one encounters an individual who does not share the same moral motivations, it is correct to call that person morally bad or evil, but in that situation one is speaking from within an ethical view. Hence, claims of immorality are essentially indexed by the morality in question. The individual who is beleived to be evil in one group isn’t necessarily acting in error, but may be acting correctly according to his or her motivating moral views.

Harman’s doctoral dissertation from Harvard University was republished in 1990 as Scepticism and the Definition of Knowledge.

Selected Works

  • Thought (1973)
  • Change in View: Principles of Reasoning (1986)
  • Scepticism and the Definition of Knowledge (1990)
  • Reasoning, Meaning and Mind (1999)


Name: Gilbert Harman
Born: 1938
Degrees: Ph.D. (Harvard University, 1964)
Awards: Jean Nicod Prize (2005)