Normative Ethical theory underwent a period of refinement in some areas and proliferation in others during the 20th century. Theories prominent in the 19th century, such as Utilitarianism, underwent refinement in light of criticisms; other approaches, such as normative intuitionism and virtue ethics, were developed in new directions, ones that reflected the sophistication of analytical techniques developed by philosophers in the 20th century, particularly in ordinary language philosophy. The middle of the 20th century was marked by an interest in conceptual (...) analysis and what could be revealed about our concepts in the analysis of ‘ordinary’ language appeals to those concepts. For example, Gilbert Ryle argued that the hope of clearing up our concepts via formalizing them was futile, and instead the task of philosophy was to clear up confusions present in the ordinary use of concepts, concepts employed by ordinary people as well as specialists in a given area. Normative ethicists in the very early part of the 20th century had not yet adopted a ‘scientizing’ attitude to philosophy. They believed, for example, that one could rely on intuition in formulating ethical theories.1 Theorists in the early part of the century were also optimistic about the prospects of systematizing normative ethics in a way that would be faithful to our common sense normative judgments. This began, largely, with a critical look at Utilitarianism. (shrink)
This paper begins with the idea that we can learn a good deal about promising by examining the conditions and norms that govern promise- breaking. Sometimes promises are broken as a deliberate plan, other times they are broken because they are simply incompatible with other, more signifi cant moral norms, or because it becomes clear that they are impossible to keep. There are cases where people make promises that are actually incompatible with each other. Politicians, for example, often give such (...) incompatible promises, either intentionally, or by making too many commitments, some of which turn out to be incompatible. In making such promises, agents guarantee that at least one promise be broken. Is the agent who makes incompatible promises under any obli- gation? If ‘ought’ implies ‘can,’ and promises entail obligations, then it seems that one cannot, in fact, make promises one cannot keep. This paper explores the problem by drawing analogies between incompatible promises and other promises that cannot be kept. It suggests that we can deny ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ strictly speaking, but recognize that there is a practical limit on what the agent can be called on to do. On this view, even promises to do the impossible commit the agent. Similarly, politi- cians who promise too much are still obligated to do as promised. (shrink)
This paper responds to criticisms of sympathy-based approaches to ethics made by Jesse Prinz, focusing on the criticism that emotions are too variable to form a basis for ethics. I draw on the idea, articulated by early sentimentalists such as Hutcheson and Hume, that proper reliance on sympathy is subject to a corrective procedure in order, in part, to avoid the variability problem.
This paper focuses on an underappreciated issue that dreams raise for moral evaluation: is immorality possible in dreams? The evaluatiotial internalist is committed to answering ‘yes.’ This is because the internalist account of moral evaluation holds that the moral quality of a person's actions, what a person does, her agency in any given case is completely determined by factors that are internal to that agency, such as the person's motives and/or intentions. Actual production of either good or bad effects is (...) completely irrelevant to the moral evaluation of that agency. Since agency can be expressed in a dream, the internalist is committed to dream immorality. Some may take this as a reductio of evaluational internalism, but whether or not this is the case the issue reveals what such a theory is committed to. In this paper I explore the significance of dreams to morality, and argue that the absurdity of dream immorality supports an account of moral evaluation with an externalist component, rather than a purely internalist account of moral evaluation. (shrink)
Ethics: The Fundamentals explores core ideas and arguments in moral theory by introducing students to different philosophical approaches to ethics, including virtue ethics, Kantian ethics, divine command theory, and feminist ethics. The first volume in the new Fundamentals of Philosophy series. Presents lively, real-world examples and thoughtful discussion of key moral philosophers and their ideas. Constitutes an excellent resource for readers coming to the subject of ethics for the first time.
We seem less likely to endorse moral expertise than reasoning expertise or aesthetic expertise. This seems puzzling given that moral norms are intuitively taken to be at least more objective than aesthetic norms. One possible diagnosis of the asymmetry is that moral judgments require autonomy of judgement in away that other judgments do not. However, the author points out that aesthetic judgments that have been ‘borrowed’ by aesthetic experts generate the same autonomy worry as moral judgments which are borrowed by (...) moral experts. The author then explores various approaches to accepting the testimony of moral experts and concludes that the asymmetry may best be explained by (1) the conditions for moral expertise being more difficult to satisfy than those of aesthetic expertise and (2) the intuitive greater seriousness of accepting the moral judgments of others, since moral norms are generally viewed as more binding than aesthetic norms. (shrink)
: This essay attempts to show that sophisticated consequentialism is able to accommodate the concerns that have traditionally been raised by feminist writers in ethics. Those concerns have primarily to do with the fact that consequentialism is seen as both too demanding of the individual and neglectful of the agent's special obligations to family and friends. Here, I argue that instrumental justification for partiality can be provided, for example, even though an attitude of partiality is not characterized itself in instrumental (...) terms. (shrink)
This essay is a rejoinder to comments on Uneasy Virtue made by Onora O'Neill, John Skorupski, and Michael Slote in this issue. In Uneasy Virtue I presented criticisms of traditional virtue theory. I also presented an alternative – a consequentialist account of virtue, one which is a form of ‘pure evaluational externalism’. This type of theory holds that the moral quality of character traits is determined by factors external to agency (e.g. consequences). All three commentators took exception to this account. (...) Therefore, the bulk of my response focuses on defending the externalist account of virtue presented in the final chapters of Uneasy Virtue. (shrink)
The predominant view of moral virtue can be traced back to Aristotle. He believed that moral virtue must involve intellectual excellence. To have moral virtue one must have practical wisdom - the ability to deliberate well and to see what is morally relevant in a given context. Julia Driver challenges this classical theory of virtue, arguing that it fails to take into account virtues which do seem to involve ignorance or epistemic defect. Some 'virtues of ignorance' are counterexamples to accounts (...) of virtue which hold that moral virtue must involve practical wisdom. Modesty, for example, is generally considered to be a virtue even though the modest person may be making an inaccurate assessment of his or her accomplishments. Driver argues that we should abandon the highly intellectualist view of virtue and instead adopt a consequentialist perspective which holds that virtue is simply a character trait which systematically produces good consequences. (shrink)
This essay explores the obligations that may arise from benevolently intended interventions that go awry. The author argues that even when the intervening agent has acted with good intentions and in a non-negligent manner, she may be required to continue aid in cases where her initial intervention failed. This is surprising because it means that persons who perform supererogatory acts run the risk of incurring additional heavy obligations through no fault of their own. The author also considers deflationary accounts that (...) run counter to her own analysis. (shrink)