This paper argues that we can acknowledge the existence of moral truths and moral progress without being committed to moral realism. Rather than defending this claim through the more familiar route of the attempted analysis of the ontological commitments of moral claims, I show how moral belief change for the better shares certain features with theoretical progress in the natural sciences. Proponents of the better theory are able to convince their peers that it is formally and empirically superior to its (...) rivals, and the better theory may be promoted to the status of the truth. Yet there is no 'decision-procedure' for ethics any more than there is for molecular biology. The betterness of true theories can be grasped through what I term 'undirectional narratives' of progress. And while there are true moral claims and perhaps numerous moral truths yet to be discovered, we should reject currently popular forms of moral realism with bivalence. Some moral claims lend themselves to the construction of fully reversible, bi-directional narratives and are likely neither true nor false. (shrink)
Moral properties are widely held to be response-dependent properties of actions, situations, events and persons. There is controversy as to whether the putative response-dependence of these properties nullifies any truth-claims for moral judgements, or rather supports them. The present paper argues that moral judgements are more profitably compared with theoretical judgements in the natural sciences than with the judgements of immediate sense-perception. The notion of moral truth is dependent on the notion of moral knowledge, which in turn is best understood (...) as a possible endpoint of theory change for the better. (shrink)
This landmark study examines the role played by the rediscovery of the writings of the ancient atomists, Epicurus and Lucretius, in the articulation of the major philosophical systems of the seventeenth century, and, more broadly, their influence on the evolution of natural science and moral and political philosophy. The target of sustained and trenchant philosophical criticism by Cicero, and of opprobrium by the Christian Fathers of the early Church, for its unflinching commitment to the absence of divine supervision and the (...) finitude of life, the Epicurean philosophy surfaced again in the period of the Scientific Revolution, when it displaced scholastic Aristotelianism. Both modern social contract theory and utilitarianism in ethics were grounded in its tenets. Catherine Wilson shows how the distinctive Epicurean image of the natural and social worlds took hold in philosophy, and how it is an acknowledged, and often unacknowledged presence in the writings of Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes, Boyle, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley. With chapters devoted to Epicurean physics and cosmology, the corpuscularian or "mechanical" philosophy, the question of the mortality of the soul, the grounds of political authority, the contested nature of the experimental philosophy, sensuality, curiosity, and the role of pleasure and utility in ethics, the author makes a persuasive case for the significance of materialism in seventeenth-century philosophy without underestimating the depth and significance of the opposition to it, and for its continued importance in the contemporary world. Lucretius's great poem, On the Nature of Things, supplies the frame of reference for this deeply-researched inquiry into the origins of modern philosophy. (shrink)
An overview of the influence of Lucretius poem On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) on the renaissance and scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and an examination of its continuing influence over physical atomism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Die Ansicht, dass Leibniz urn 1700 oder einige Zeit danach ein überzeugter Idealist war oder wurde, der allein an die Realität der Geister und ihrer Ideen glaubte, hält sich merkwürdigerweise in der neueren Sekundärliteratur. In diesem Beitrag beurteilen wir die Textgrundlage für diese Behauptung nach von uns für solide gehaltenen Kriterien einer historischen Interpretation, wobei sich die Behauptung unserer Ansicht nach als unzureichend erweist. Obwohl Leibniz zur Überzeugung gelangt war, dass wirkliche "Atome" der Natur keine Ausdehnung hätten, war er sein (...) Leben hindurch auf die Geistesunabhängigkeit lebender Kreaturen festgelegt, in der Art, die eindeutig Idealismus ausschließt. Wir versuchen, die tieferen Gründe für die Beharrlichkeit der idealistischen Sichtweise, trotz ihrer textlichen und konzeptualen Schwierigkeiten, aufzudecken, indem wir sie letztlich in den ahistorischen Präferenzen der Kommentatoren lokalisieren. (shrink)
In this essay, I argu e that Descartes considered his theory that the body is an inn ervated machine in which the soul is situated to be his most original contribution to philosophy. His ambition to prove the immortality of the soul was very poorly realized, a predictable outcome, insofar as his aims were ethical, not theological. His dualism accordingly requires reassessment.
In Moral Animals, Catherine Wilson develops a theory of morality based on two fundamental premises: first that moral progress implies the evolution of moral ideals involving restraint and sacrifice; second that human beings are outfitted by nature with selfish motivations, intentions, and ambitions that place constraints on what morality can demand of them. Normative claims, she goes on to show, can be understood as projective hypotheses concerning the conduct of realistically-described nonideal agents in preferred fictional worlds. Such claims differ from (...) empirical hypotheses, insofar as they cannot be verified by observation and experiment. Yet many, though not all, moral claims are susceptible of confirmation to the extent that they command the agreement of well-informed inquirers. With this foundation in place, Wilson turns to a defense of egalitarianism intended to address the objection that the importance of our non-moral projects, our natural acquisitiveness and partiality, and our meritocratic commitments render social equality a mere abstract ideal. Employing the basic notion of a symmetrical division of the co-operative surplus, she argues that social justice with respect to global disparities in well-being, and in the condition of women relative to men, depends on the relinquishment of natural and acquired advantage that is central to the concept of morality. (shrink)
In this new introduction to a classic philosophical text, Catherine Wilson examines the arguments of Descartes' famous Meditations, the book which launched modern philosophy. Drawing on the reinterpretations of Descartes' thought of the past twenty-five years, she shows how Descartes constructs a theory of the mind, the body, nature, and God from a premise of radical uncertainty. She discusses in detail the historical context of Descartes' writings and their relationship to early modern science, and at the same time she introduces (...) concepts and problems that define the philosophical enterprise as it is understood today. Following closely the text of the Meditations and meant to be read alongside them, this survey is accessible to readers with no previous background in philosophy. It is well-suited to university-level courses on Descartes, but can also be read with profit by students in other disciplines. (shrink)
This is an essay review of Ted Honderich's recently published autobiography. Treating the work as both a study of philosophical and political culture in the second half of the twentieth century and as an exercise in self-evaluation, the reviewer discusses the problems of truth and explanation in narrative and the issues of professional and sexual morality raised by the narrative. Honderich's account is assessed as credible, illuminating, and well-written, even as questions are raised concerning the consistency of his political beliefs.
The claim that the level of well-beingeach enjoys ought to be to some extent afunction of individuals'' talents, efforts,accomplishments, and other meritoriousattributes faces serious challenge from bothegalitarians and libertarians, but also fromskeptics, who point to the poor historicalrecord of attempted merit assays and theubiquity of attribution biases arising fromlimited sweep, misattribution, custom andconvention, and mimicry. Yet merit-principlesare connected with reactive attitudes andinnate expectations, giving them some claim torecognition and there is a widespread beliefthat their use indirectly promotes thewell-being of all. (...) After critically evaluatingarguments for and against assigning a prominentrole to merit in a distributive protocol, it isargued that an entitlement to the ``doubtful andspeculative'''' but not the ``known andpresumptive'''' components of well-being can flowfrom perceived relative merit. However,statistical equality of outcome with respect togroups is mandatory. Semi-meritocracies aredefensible institutions, but existing rewardschemes by and large do not meet the conditionsof social justice. (shrink)
This essay offers a defence of the non-cognitivist approach to the interpretation of moral judgments as disguised imperatives corresponding to social rules. It addresses the body of criticism that faced R. M. Hare, and that currently faces moral anti-realists, on two levels, by providing a full semantic analysis of evaluative judgments and by arguing that anti-realism is compatible with moral aspiration despite the non-existence of obligations as the externalist imagines them. A moral judgment consists of separate descriptive and prescriptive components (...) and is to be understood as a declarative statement prefaced by an 'ideality operator'. Moral beliefs are genuinely representational, but their truth conditions can only be stated with reference to imaginary ideal worlds. Moral judgments are neither confirmed nor verified, but alternative moral positions are preferentially endorsed and adopted by individual agents on the basis of their perceived all-things-considered optimality. High aspiration moralities are normally very costly to agents in terms of their prudential and aesthetic interests, but they are theoretically as eligible as the adoption of other, less demanding sets of rules. (shrink)
Leibniz entertained the idea that, as a set of “striving possibles” competes for existence, the largest and most perfect world comes into being. The paper proposes 8 criteria for a Leibniz-world. It argues that a) there is no algorithm e.g., one involving pairwise compossibility-testing that can produce even possible Leibniz-worlds; b) individual substances presuppose completed worlds; c) the uniqueness of the actual world is a matter of theological preference, not an outcome of the assembly-process; and d) Goedel’s theorem implies that (...) there can be no algorithm for producing optimal worlds, assuming an optimal world contains truth-discerning creatures, though this is not to say that such worlds cannot arise naturally. (shrink)
The paper is adressed to Michael Levin's recent Philosophy article ‘Natural Submission, Aristotle on.’ Levin argues that rule by the naturally dominant is for the best and that the naturally submissive ought to accept it as just and even inevitable. I point out some confusions in his attempt to link merit-conferring traits in individuals with social and political dominance and question his conceptions of human welfare, inferiority, and criminality. Certain combinations of competence and forcefulness arise in real-world settings, and they (...) produce a range of outcomes not all of which are either inevitable or desirable. (shrink)