Science, law, and psychology are today’s “idols of the tribe.” But to do ethics, we need a more varied approach to knowledge than we can find in the sciences. Nor can we resign ethics to law or psychology. At the same time, we need all the help we can get. Epistemic pluralism, however, does not call for us to retreat to postmodern anarchy and antiscience, or to reject the proper uses of law and psychology. The sciences tell us a good deal about how and what we can know and, above all, about how we can be assured that our knowledge is dependable. They are both contributory and critical. The law, with its attention to detail and precedent, yields insights that less historical practices fail to achieve. And psychology reminds us of the thickness of motive and feeling that embeds even the most abstract of our activities in our passions.
When we blindly reject the sciences, we are at the mercy of ignorance. When, however, we blindly defer to the sciences—turning science into scientism—we expose our assumptions, even our prejudices. These reflect a hidden curriculum, our traditional, cultural, class, gender, and political values. So we need to distinguish between bias and judgment, particularly because of the modern temptation to reduce truth to opinion and to conclude that all opinions are equally valid. In the so-called hard sciences, the job is done by structured practices in the laboratory and observatory, and by a critical community. The result is a workable notion of what is and what is not so. The distinction between bias and judgment