The independence of practical ethics

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 22 (2):87-105 (2001)
After criticizing three common conceptions of therelationship between practical ethics and ethical theory, analternative modeled on Aristotle's conception of the relationshipbetween rhetoric and philosophical ethics is explored. Thisaccount is unique in that it neither denigrates the project ofsearching for an adequate comprehensive ethical theory norsubordinates practical ethics to that project. Because the purpose of practical ethics, on this view, is tosecure the cooperation of other persons in a way that respectstheir status as free and equal, it seeks to influence thejudgments of others by providing them with reasons that areaccessible to their own understanding. On this account, theindependence of practical ethics is rooted in an appreciation ofthe constraints that non-ideal circumstances place on the rolethat the philosophically refined premises of moral theory canplay in such public deliberations. Practical and philosophicalethics are united, not by shared theoretical frameworks orprinciples, but by the need to exercise intelligently the sameintellectual and affective capacities. They are separated, notby the particularity or generality of their starting points, butby their responsiveness to the practical problem of facilitatingsound normative deliberations among persons as we find them,under non-ideal circumstances.
Keywords Aristotle  ethical theory  moral reasoning  particularism  rhetoric
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