Recently, the idea that human beings may be totally egoistic has resurfaced in philosophical and psychological discussions. But many of the arguments for that conclusion are conceptually flawed. Psychologists are making a conceptual error when they think of the desire to avoid guilt as egoistic; and the same is true of the common view that the desire to avoid others’ disapproval is also egoistic. Sober and Wilson argue against this latter idea on the grounds that such a desire is relational, (...) but a deeper reason stems from the fact that it places such intrinsic importance on other human beings. And other basic human desires, like the desire for love, the desire for revenge, the impulse to imitate others, and the desire to belong, also treat others as important and on those grounds cannot count as egoistic. Another line of recent argument for egoism stems from the work of Robert Cialdini et al., and claims that the way we identify and feel one with those other people we empathize with and seek to help shows us to be thinking of those others as part of or identical with ourselves. This is supposed to show that our putative altruism is basically self-centered and egoistic, but Cialdini arguably misinterprets what we mean when we speak of feeling one with someone else, and the phenomena he mentions don’t therefore stand in favor of psychological egoism. More generally, many of the positive and negative emotions we feel toward others are best interpreted as non-egoistic, and there is no reason at this point to doubt that humans are capable of altruistic motivation. (shrink)
Ethicists haven’t paid much attention recently to the Chinese complementarity of yin and yang. That complementarity can be updated to take into account and also form the basis for some of our contemporary ethical thinking. In my From Enlightenment to Receptivity, I argue that Western thought has overemphasized rational control/autonomy at the expense of the countervailing virtue of receptivity, and it turns out that the yin/yang complementarity can be profitably viewed as anticipating and clarifying a complementarity between receptivity and rational (...) control that recent developments in Western philosophical thought point us toward. But just as Western philosophy has overemphasized rational autonomy, Chinese thinking hasn’t sufficiently appreciated its importance. Both Chinese and Western thought need to seek a more even balance between autonomy/control and receptivity, but the idea of such balance comes more from yin and yang than from anything in previous Western philosophy. (shrink)
This new book by Michael Slote argues that Western philosophy on the whole has overemphasized rational control and autonomy at the expense of the important countervailing value and virtue of receptivity. Recently the ideas of caring and empathy have received a great deal of philosophical and public attention, but both these notions rest on the deeper and broader value of receptivity, and in From Enlightenment to Receptivity, Slote seeks to show that we need to focus more on receptivity if we (...) are to attain a more balanced sense and understanding of what is important to us. -/- Beginning with a critique of Enlightenment thinking that calls into question its denial of any central role to considerations of emotion and empathy, he goes on to show how a greater emphasis on these factors and on the receptivity that underlies them can give us a more realistic, balanced, and sensitive understanding of our core ethical and epistemological values. This means rejecting post-modernism's blanket rejection of reason and of compelling real values and recognizing, rather, that receptivity should play a major role in how we lead our lives as individuals, in how we relate to nature, in how we acquire knowledge about the world, and in how we relate morally and politically with others. (shrink)
Justin D'Arms says that moral disapproval is more closely tied to anger than to the “empathic chill” effect I emphasized in Moral Sentimentalism, but I argue that anger is in several ways inappropriate or unsatisfactory as a basis for understanding disapproval. I go on to explain briefly why I think we need not share D'Arms's worries about the possibility of nonveridical empathy but then focus on what he says about the reference-fixing theory of moral terminology defended in Moral Sentimentalism. I (...) explain why I think his interpretations of my view—both at the Spindel Conference and subsequently—misunderstand the (Kripkean) character of that view. My reply to Lori Watson questions whether her criticisms of Moral Sentimentalism's account of morality are sufficiently sensitive to the self−other asymmetry that typifies so much of ordinary moral thinking. (shrink)
Introduction -- Feminism and partial values -- The impossibility of perfection -- Alternative views -- Perfection, moral dilemmas, and moral cost -- Connections with care ethics and romanticism -- Relational profiles of goods and virtues -- Conclusion -- Appendix. Men's philosophy, women's philosophy.
There has recently been a good deal of interest in moral sentimentalism, but most of that interest has been exclusively either in metaethical questions about the meaning of moral terms or in normative issues about benevolence and/or caring and their place in morality. In Moral Sentimentalism Michael Slote attempts to deal with both sorts of issues and to do so, primarily, in terms of the notion or phenomenon of empathy. Hume sought to do something like this over two centuries ago, (...) though he didn't have the term "empathy" and used "sympathy" instead; and in effect Slote is seeking to give moral sentimentalism a "second wind" in and for contemporary circumstances. By relying systematically on empathy in its account of normative morality and in what it has to say about the meaning of moral vocabulary, Moral Sentimentalism offers a unified overall ethical picture that can then be tested against ethical rationalism. Rationalism has recently dominated the scene in ethics, but by showing how sentimentalism can make coherent and intuitive sense of such preferred rationalist notions as autonomy, respect, and justice--and by showing how a sentimentalism based in empathy can deal with ethically significant aspects of the moral life that rationalism tends to ignore or skimp on--Slote hopes a wider and more active debate between rationalism and sentimentalism can be set in motion. There are signs that sentimentalist modes of thought are gaining new footholds on the way ethics is done, and this new book is very hopeful about these possibilities. (shrink)
Confucian thinkers seem to have had something like our present concept of empathy long before that notion was self-consciously available in the West. Wang Yang-Mingâs talk of forming one body with others and similar ideas in the writings of Cheng Hao and, much earlier, of Mengzi make it clear that the Confucian traditions not only had the idea of empathy but saw its essential relation to phenomena like compassion, benevolence, and sympathy that are constitutive of the altruistic side of morality. (...) Nowadays, there is increasing interest among Western psychologists and philosophers in the phenomenon of empathy, and it would be lovely and welcome if, having originated these ideas, Chinese philosophers would now take up and help develop what has recently been said and done about empathy, and its relation to altruism, in the West. (shrink)
The aim of this series is to bring together important recent writings in major areas of philosophical inquiry, selected from a variety of sources, mostly periodicals, which may not be conveniently available to the university student or the general reader. The editors of each volume contribute an introductory essay on the items chosen and on the questions with which they deal. A selective bibliography is appended as a guide to further reading. -/- This volume brings together much of the strongest (...) and most influential work undertaken in the field of virtue ethics over the last four decades. The ethics of virtue predominated in the ancient world, and recent moral philosophy has seen a revival of interest in virtue ethics as a rival to Kantian and utilitarian approaches to morality. Divided into four sections, it includes articles critical of other traditions; early attempts to offer a positive vision of virtue ethics; some later criticisms of the revival of virtue ethics; and, finally, some recent, more theoretically ambitious essays in virtue ethics. This collection should appeal not only to students and others seeking a wider knowledge of contemporary developments in moral philosophy, but to professional philosophers as well. (shrink)
The theory of important criteria -- Value judgments and the theory of important criteria -- The rationality of aesthetic value judgments -- Inapplicable concepts -- Morality and ignorance -- Time in counterfactuals -- Assertion and belief -- Understanding free will -- Selective necessity and the free-will problem -- Is virtue possible? -- Morality not a system of imperatives -- Review of Alvin Plantinga's God and other minds -- Utilitarianism, moral dilemmas, and moral cost -- Object utilitarianism -- Utilitarian virtue -- (...) Moderation, rationality, and virtue -- Rational dilemmas and rational supererogation -- Ethics naturalized -- Nietzsche and virtue ethics -- Caring versus the philosophers -- Global caring, global justice -- Empathy and objectivity -- In place of moral reasoning -- Some thoughts for the future. (shrink)
Julia Driver's Uneasy Virtue offers a theory of virtue and the virtues without being an instance of virtue ethics. It presents a consequentialist challenge to recent virtue ethics, but its positive views – and especially its interesting examples – have great significance in their own right. Driver's defence of ‘virtues of ignorance’ has force despite all the challenges to it that have been mounted over the years. But there are also examples differing from those Driver has mentioned that favour the (...) idea of such virtues. Perhaps certain virtues of religious faith and the virtue necessary for dealing as best one can with moral dilemmas both require ignorance. However, some of the examples Driver does discuss raise the question whether virtue status is based solely on consequences, rather than perhaps having (in addition) a motivational component. (shrink)
In a way reminiscent of Hume's approach in the Treatise, a reviving moral sentimentalism can use the notion of empathy to ground both its normative account of moral obligation and its metaethical account of moral language. A virtuous person is empathically caring about others and expresses such feeling/motivation in her actions. But the judgment that something is right or good is also based in empathy, and the sentimentalist can espouse a form of moral realism by making use of a Kripkean (...) reference-fixer theory of the role of feelings of approval and disapproval in moral judgment. (shrink)
Morals from Motives develops a virtue ethics inspired more by Hume and Hutcheson's moral sentimentalism than by recently-influential Aristotelianism. It argues that a reconfigured and expanded "morality of caring" can offer a general account of right and wrong action as well as social justice. Expanding the frontiers of ethics, it goes on to show how a motive-based "pure" virtue theory can also help us to understand the nature of human well-being and practical reason.
The recent revival of virtue ethics may have a salutary effect on normative ethical theory. Over the past few years, an ‘agent-based’ virtue ethics inspired by the moral sentimentalism of Hutcheson, Hume, Martineau, and (more recently) Nel Noddings has taken shape. Because this approach allows room for a generalized humanitarianism that is notably absent in Aristotle, it may have more contemporary promise than neo-Aristotelian views. But agent-based virtue ethics also enables us to make some new distinctions within more familiar views (...) and to that extent, therefore, has something to offer advocates of the very approaches with which it disagrees. (shrink)
Moral psychology as a discipline is centrally concerned with psychological issues that arise in connection with the moral evaluation of actions. It deals with the psychological presuppositions of valid morality, that is, with assumptions it seems necessary for us to make in order for there to be such a thing as objective or binding moral requirements: for example, if we lack free will or are all incapable of unselfishness, then it is not clear how morality can really apply to human (...) beings. Moral psychology also deals with what one might call the psychological accompaniments of actual right, or wrong, action, for example, with questions about the nature and possibility of moral weakness or self-deception, and with questions about the kinds of motives that ought to motivate moral agents. Moreover, in the approach to ethics known as ‘virtue ethics’ questions about right and wrong action merge with questions about the motives, dispositions, and abilities of moral agents, and moral psychology plays a more central role than it does in other forms of ethical theory. (shrink)
This volume brings together much of the most influential work undertaken in the field of virtue ethics over the last four decades. The ethics of virtue predominated in the ancient world, and recent moral philosophy has seen a revival of interest in virtue ethics as a rival to Kantian and utilitarian approaches to morality. Divided into four sections, the collection includes articles critical of other traditions; early attempts to offer a positive vision of virtue ethics; some later criticisms of the (...) revival of virtue ethics; and, finally, some recent, more theoretically ambitious essays in virtue ethics. (shrink)