The british moralists on human nature and the birth of secular ethics. (Review)

Journal of the History of Philosophy 46 (2):pp. 323-324 (2008)
The book covers a long period of the history of British moral philosophy, from the Cam-bridge Platonists to Hume, through Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. The choice of authors, which leaves aside such major figures as Adam Smith and Reid, is justified by the focus on the issue of the relationships between morality and human nature. Hume is the end of the story insofar as he liberates moral theory from a normative conception of human nature so that, contrary to his predecessors, he suggests that ‘good’ is not synonymous with ‘natural’ in the sense that ‘evil’ would be synonymous with ‘unnatural’. Gill’s survey of the British moralists terminates with Hume because it purposes to characterize the “Copernican” inversion carried out by Hume as the result of a gradual shift from an initially “Ptolemaic” position: drawing on Hutcheson’s account of moral judgment, Hume ascribes to psychological states that which traditional moral philosophy used to attribute to the nature of things. Hume goes further than either Shaftesbury or Hutcheson, since he transforms moral philosophy into a theoretical or “metaphysical” undertaking.
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DOI 10.1353/hph.0.0018
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