The course of normative ethics in the 20th century was a roller-coaster ride, from a period of skilled and confident theorizing in the first third of the century, through a virtual disappearance in the face of various forms of skepticism in the middle third, to a partial revival, though shadowed by remnants of that skepticism, in the final third. The ideal future of normative ethics therefore lies in its past. It must entirely shed its traces of mid-century skepticism if it (...) is to return to the levels of insight provided by G. E. Moore, Hastings Rashdall, J. M. E. McTaggart, W. D. Ross, C. D. Broad, and other early 20th century moral theorists. (shrink)
As its title suggests, Robert Audi’s The Good in the Right1 defends an intuitionist moral view like W.D. Ross’s in The Right and the Good. Ross was an intuitionist, first, in metaethics, where he held that there are self-evident moral truths that can be known by intuition. But he was also an intuitionist in the different sense used in normative ethics, since he held that there are irreducibly many such truths. Some concern the intrinsic goods, which are in turn plural, (...) so there are prima facie duties to promote pleasure, knowledge, virtue, and just distributions. But others are deontological, requiring one apart from any consequences to keep promises, not lie, make reparations, express gratitude, and not injure others. Audi embraces both these intuitionist views, but in each case with an important addition. Ross sometimes said that if a proposition does not need proof, it is incapable of proof, or cannot be justified inferentially. Audi argues persuasively that this is not so. A proposition that is selfevident, in the sense that understanding it justifies one in believing it, can also be derivable from other self-evident propositions in a way that increases its justification. And he exploits this possibility in his normative ethics. Whereas Ross held that his prima facie duties are underivative, Audi suggests that, while self-evident, they can also be grounded in a more abstract principle. More specifically, he argues in Chapter 4 of his book that they can be grounded in Kant’s categorical imperative, which he applies primarily in its second, or formula of humanity, version. The result is to transform what Audi calls Rossian intuitionism into Kantian 1 intuitionism, where specific duties about promoting pleasure and keeping promises derive from a more fundamental requirement to respect rational personhood. I will not challenge Audi’s version of metaethical intuitionism, which I think is the most subtle and persuasive yet given. Nor will I question his normative starting-point in Ross’s theory of prima facie duties, which I find unimpeachable.. (shrink)
I became interested in normative ethics in my last term as a philosophy undergraduate at the University of Toronto. Influenced by a traditional conception of the discipline, I’d till then studied mostly history of philosophy, with a special interest in, of all things, Hegel. But seeing the value of a balanced philosophy program, I enrolled in an ethics seminar in the winter of 1975. I’d studied the ethics of Plato, Leibniz, Hegel, and others in my history courses, but this was (...) my first exposure to contemporary thought on the subject. The seminar had only one other student, and since he was fairly quiet I had something close to a one-on-one tutorial with the instructor, Wayne Sumner – another contributor to this volume. I was immensely taken both by Wayne’s teaching and by the seminar’s topic, which was utilitarianism. Our study of it included both theoretical questions such as act- vs. ruleutilitarianism and applied ones such as our obligations to future generations. I found all these questions intellectually engaging and also humanly important, given their connection to live ethical issues – in short, I was hooked. I was especially impressed by two non-utilitarian texts we read. One was the last chapter of G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, meant to illustrate a non- 1 utilitarian or ideal consequentialist theory. I was attracted by Moore’s general account of the good, which values states such as love and aesthetic appreciation alongside pleasure, and saw in his principle of organic unities a far clearer statement of ideas I had encountered in more pretentious form in Hegel. The second was Chapter 2 of W. D. Ross’s The Right and the Good, which defends a pluralist deontology against consequentialism. I thought Ross’s criticisms of consequentialism were right on the mark, and again clearly and precisely expressed. I had no idea these texts were largely passé in current discussions of the subject. At this time I was applying to graduate programs in philosophy, and given my new interest decided to specialize in ethics.. (shrink)
Satisficing theories, whether of rationality or morality, do not require agents to maximize the good. They demand only that agents bring about outcomes that are, in one or both of two senses, “good enough.” In the first sense, an outcome is good enough if it is above some absolute threshold of goodness; this yields a view that I will call absolute-level satisficing. In the second sense, an outcome is good enough if it is reasonably close to the best outcome the (...) agent could bring about; this leads to what I will call comparative satisficing. These two views coincide in their implications for a specific sort of case, in which the situation is now fairly far below the absolute-level threshold and an agent can at best bring it to a point somewhat above that threshold. Here both absolute-level and comparative satisficing say he need not bring about his best available outcome, though of course he may; he is required only to improve the situation to the absolute threshold. But in other cases the views diverge. If the situation is now far below the absolute threshold and, no matter what, will remain below it, absolute-level satisficing requires an agent to everything he can to improve the situation; here its implications coincide with those of maximizing. But comparative satisficing is less demanding, requiring him only to make some reasonable percentage of the largest improvement he can. By contrast, if the situation is already above the absolute threshold, absolute-level satisficing does not require an agent to do anything at all to improve it, whereas comparative satisficing, which is now more demanding, still requires him to make some reasonable percentage of his best possible improvement. (shrink)
Though primarily focussed on philosophy of language, metaphysics, and epistemology, Scott Soames’s Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century contains several discussions of ethics. Volume 1 contains two chapters on Moore’s ethics, one on the emotivism of Ayer and Stevenson, and one on Ross; Volume 2 adds a chapter on Hare’s prescriptivism. The bulk of the Moore chapters as well as the ones on emotivism and Hare concern metaethics, but there is also discussion of Moore’s normative views and the chapter on (...) Ross is entirely normative. Since there is no material on ethics after Hare, the book concentrates on figures from the first half of the century. But there is much of interest in what it says about them. (shrink)
The moral issues about nationalism arise from the character of nationalism as a form of partiality. Nationalists care more about their own nation and its members than about other nations and their members; in that way nationalists are partial to their own national group. The question, then, is whether this national partiality is morally justified or, on the contrary, whether everyone ought to care impartially about all members of all nations. As Jeff McMahan emphasizes in [another chapter of the book (...) in which this essay appears], a philosophical examination of this question must consider the specific features of nationalism as one form of partiality among others. Some partiality--for example, toward one's spouse and children--seems morally acceptable and even a duty. According to commonsense moral thinking, one not only may but also should care more about one's family members than about strangers. But other instances of partiality, most notably racial partiality, are in most circumstances widely condemned. Is national partiality more like familial partiality or more like racial partiality? To answer this question, we must know what in general justifies attitudes of partiality. Caring more about certain people is appropriate when one stands in certain special relations to those people. But what are these relations, and to what degree do they hold among members of the same nation? Assuming they are present within families and not within races, to what degree are they present within nations? (shrink)
The theory of value or of the good is one of the two main branches of ethical theory, alongside the theory of the right. Whereas the theory of the right specifies which actions are right and which are wrong, the theory of value says which states of affairs are intrinsically good and which intrinsically evil. The theory of the right may say that keeping promises is right and lying wrong; the theory of value can say that pleasure is good and (...) pain evil, or that knowledge and virtue are good and vice evil. Since these states are not actions they cannot be right or wrong, but they can have positive or negative value. (shrink)
This volume contains selected essays in moral and political philosophy by Thomas Hurka. The essays address a wide variety of topics, from the well-rounded life and the value of playing games to proportionality in war and the ethics of nationalism. They also share a common aim: to illuminate the surprising richness and subtlety of our everyday moral thought by revealing its underlying structure, which they often do by representing that structure on graphs. More specifically, the essays all give what the (...) first in the volume calls "structural" as against "foundational" analyses of moral views. Eschewing the grander ambition of grounding our ideas about, say, virtue or desert in claims that use different concepts and concern some other, allegedly more fundamental topic, they examine these ideas in their own right and with close attention to their details. As well as illuminating their individual topics, the essays illustrate the insights this structural method can yield. (shrink)
Values typically come in pairs. Most obviously, there are the pairs of an intrinsic good and its contrasting intrinsic evil, such as pleasure and pain, virtue and vice, and desert and undesert, or getting what one deserves and getting its opposite. But in more complex cases there can be contrasting pairs with the same value. Thus, virtue has the positive form of benevolent pleasure in another’s pleasure and the negative form of compassionate pain for his pain, while desert has the (...) positive form of happiness for the virtuous and the negative form of pain for the vicious. (shrink)
Abstract: The concepts of virtue and right action are closely connected, in that we expect people with virtuous motives to at least often act rightly. Two well-known views explain this connection by defining one of the concepts in terms of the other. Instrumentalists about virtue identify virtuous motives as those that lead to right acts; virtue-ethicists identify right acts as those that are or would be done from virtuous motives. This essay outlines a rival explanation, based on the "higher-level" account (...) of virtue defended in the author's Virtue, Vice, and Value . On this account rightness and virtue go together because each is defined by a (different) relation to some other, more basic moral concept. Their frequent coincidence is therefore like a correlation between A and B based not on either's causing the other but on their being joint effects of a single common cause. (shrink)
20 century. But this common picture of Prichard underestimates his place in the history of ethics, which I believe is central. This is not because he defended completely distinctive ideas; his most important views were shared by other philosophers of his period, from Henry Sidgwick to A.C. Ewing. But it is often Prichard who stated those views most forcefully and defended them best. These views can be summarized in a slogan Prichard himself did not use: “duty is underivative.” But the (...) idea that duty is underivative can apply at three different levels. The first concerns the normative realm as a whole; here it expresses the non-naturalist view that normative truths are sui generis, neither reducible to nor derivable from non-normative truths such as those of science. Duty is underivative in the sense that truths about how we ought to act, in the broadest sense of “ought,” are self-standing. The second level focuses more narrowly on moral judgements, as one kind of normative judgement. Now the claim is that truths about how we ought morally to act are also underivative, not only from non-normative truths but also from any other normative truths; there are no non-moral “oughts” or values from which moral “oughts” derive. The final level is that of specific deontological duties such as to keep promises, not harm 1 others, and so on. For Prichard these duties do not derive from a more general consequentialist duty to promote good consequences. The main reason we ought to keep our promises or not harm others is just that we ought to; those duties, like the normative realm as a whole and moral duty in general, are self-standing. Prichard accepted all three of these claims, though he did not distinguish the first two from each other as many present-day philosophers do. My main interest is in his defense of the second claim, about moral duty in general; this appears in his famous argument that it is a mistake to ask “Why ought I to do what I morally ought to do?” because the only possible answer is “Because you morally ought to.” But I will begin by examining his defense of the third claim, about deontological duties, because it sheds light on his methodology in discussing the other two. This is the subject of Section 1; later sections will address claims one and two.. (shrink)
Many philosophers of the last century thought all moral judgments can be expressed using a few basic concepts — what are today called ‘thin’ moral concepts such as ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘right,’ and ‘wrong.’ This was the view, ﬁ rst, of the non-naturalists whose work dominated the early part of the century, including Henry Sidgwick, G.E. Moore, W.D. Ross, and C.D. Broad. Some of them recognized only one basic concept, usually either ‘ought’ or ‘good’; others thought there were two. But they (...) all assumed that other moral concepts, including such ‘thick’ ones as the virtue-concepts ‘courageous’ and ‘kindly,’ can be reductively analyzed using one or more thin concepts and some more or less determinate.. (shrink)
G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica of 1903 is often considered a revolutionary work that set a new agenda for 20 th-century ethics. This historical view is hard to sustain, however. In metaethics Moore's non naturalist position was close to that defended by Henry Sidgwick and other late..
in just war theory that is revisionist and even, as he says, “heretical.” Moreover, the general tendency of his revisions is to make the theory less permissive, or less likely to approve the use of military force. In this paper I defend a standard, more permissive version of just war theory against his revisions.
Nietzsche is often regarded as a paradigmatically anti-theoretical philosopher. Bernard Williams has said that Nietzsche is so far from being a theorist that his text “is booby-trapped not only against recovering theory from it, but, in many cases, against any systematic exegesis that assimilates it to theory.”1 Many would apply this view especially to Nietzsche’s moral philosophy. They would say that even when he is making positive normative claims, as against just criticizing existing morality, his claims have neither the content (...) nor the organization characteristic of moral theory. (shrink)
Two main foundations have been proposed for the side-constraints that deontologists think make it sometimes wrong to do what will have the best effects. Thomist views agree with consequentialism that the bearers of value are always states of affairs, but hold that alongside the duty to promote good states are stronger duties not to choose against them.1 Kantian views locate the relevant values in persons, saying it is respect for persons rather than for any state that makes it wrong to (...) kill, lie, and so on.2 The central innovation of Stephen Darwall’s Welfare and Rational Care is to extend this Kantian idea from side-constraints to the concept of welfare, or of what is good for a person.3 As a good-to-be-promoted, welfare is usually understood as located in states of affairs. Darwall agrees that a person’s welfare involves her being in certain states, but argues that the value in these states derives from her value as a person. More specifically, his “rational care” theory of welfare equates a person’s welfare with those states it would be rational to want for her insofar as one cared for her for her sake, so an attitude to her is primary and to her states is derivative. Whereas standard theories take the concept of welfare to come first and define care as a desire for that, Darwall reverses this ordering. (shrink)
Our societies attach considerable value to excellence in sports. In Canada hockey players are named to the highest level of the Order of Canada; in Britain footballers and cricketers are made MBE and even knighted. And this attitude extends more widely. Sports are a subclass of the wider category of games, and we similarly admire those who excel in non-athletic games such as chess, bridge, and even Scrabble.
T. M. Scanlon has cited the value of friendship in arguing against a ‘teleological’ view of value which says that value inheres only in states of affairs and demands only that we promote it. This article argues that, whatever the teleological view's final merits, the case against it cannot be made on the basis of friendship. The view can capture Scanlon's claims about friendship if it holds, as it can consistently with its basic ideas, that (i) friendship is a higher-level (...) good consisting in appropriate attitudes to other goods and evils in a friend's life, (ii) these goods and evils have agent-relative value, i.e. more value than similar states of strangers, and (iii) the attitudes constituting friendship have less value than their objects. Given these independently plausible claims, the teleological view can agree with Scanlon that, e.g., it is wrong to betray a friend in order to promote more friendships among other people. (Published Online August 21 2006). (shrink)
Everyday moral thought uses the concepts of virtue and vice at two different levels. At what I will call a global level it applies these concepts to persons or to stable character traits or dispositions. Thus we may say that a person is brave or has a standing trait of generosity or malice. But we also apply these concepts more locally, to specific acts or mental states such as occurrent desires or feelings. Thus we may say that a particular act (...) was brave or that a desire or pleasure felt at a particular moment was malicious. Even when they concern acts, these last judgements are of virtuousness rather than of moral rightness. They therefore turn essentially on a person’s motives; while he can act rightly from a bad motive, he cannot act virtuously from a bad motive. But they assess the virtue or vice of particular acts and mental states rather than of persons or traits of character. These global and local uses of the virtue-concepts are clearly connected, in that we expect virtuous persons to perform and have, and virtuous traits to issue in, particular virtuous acts, desires, and feelings. A philosophical account of virtue should explain this connection, but there are two different ways of doing so. Each takes one of the two uses to be primary and treats the other as derivative, but they disagree about which is the primary use. A dispositional view takes the global use to be primary and identifies virtuous acts, desires, and feelings in part as ones that issue from virtuous.. (shrink)
The rhetoric of Principia Ethica, as of not a few philosophy books, is that of the clean break. Moore claims that the vast majority of previous writing on ethics has been misguided and that an entirely new start is needed. In its time, however, the book’s claims to novelty were widely disputed. Reviews in Mind, Ethics, and The Journal of Philosophy applauded the clarity of Moore’s criticisms of Mill, Spencer, and others, but said they were “not altogether original,” had for (...) the most part “already been brought out by other critics,” and were even “the standard criticisms.”1 To the Mind reviewer, “The book indicates throughout how strongly the author has been affected by Sidgwick’s views.”2 Hastings Rashdall rejected as historically inaccurate Moore’s claim that only Sidgwick before him had recognized that “good” is indefinable: “To say nothing of writers who (like Mr. Moore and myself) learned the doctrine largely from Sidgwick, I should contend that it was taught with sufficient distinctness by Plato ..., Aristotle, and a host of other writers who have studied in their school.”3 Rashdall also described Moore’s principle of organic unities as just “a new and striking way of stating a very old truth.”4 Some recent commentators have taken a similar line. Bernard Williams has said that much of Principia Ethica comes from Sidgwick,5 while Thomas Baldwin, discussing the book’s substantive values, has said the principle of organic unities “was expressly stated by Bradley,” while “McTaggart had for some years extolled the value of love, and the value of art is a central theme of romanticism.”. (shrink)
What are virtue and vice, and how do they relate to other moral properties such as goodness and rightness? Thomas Hurka defends a distinctive perfectionist view according to which the virtues are higher-level intrinsic goods, ones that involve morally appropriate attitudes to other, independent goods and evils. He develops this highly original view in detail and argues for its superiority over rival views, including those given by virtue ethics.
This paper sketches an account of the intrinsic goodness of virtue and intrinsic evil of vice that can fit within a consequentialist framework. This treats the virtues and vices as higher-level intrinsic values, ones that consist in, respectively, appropriate and inappropriate attitudes to other, lower-level values. After presenting the main general features of the account, the paper illustrates its strengths by showing how it illuminates a series of particular vices. In the course of doing so, it distinguishes between the categories (...) of what it calls pure vices (such as malice), vices of indifference (such as callousness), and vices of disproportion (such as selfishness), and shows how each category is made vicious by a different general feature of the recursive account. (shrink)
This paper distinguishes two interpretations of G. E. Moore''s principle of organic unities, which says that the intrinsic value of a whole need not equal the sum of the intrinsic values its parts would have outside it. A holistic interpretation, which was Moore''s own, says that parts retain their values when they enter a whole but that there can be an additional value in the whole as a whole that must be added to them. The conditionality interpretation, which has been (...) defended by Korsgaard, says that parts can change their values when they enter wholes, so no additional value is needed. The paper shows that the two interpretations, which differ on such apparently important issues as the nature of intrinsic value, can always yield the same conclusions about the overall value in a state of affairs, so there is in that sense nothing to choose between them. At the same time, though, the differences between the interpretations make sometimes one and sometimes the other more appropriate for expressing a given evaluative view. In this last connection the paper considers views about beauty, posthumous achievement, vices of disproportion, deserved and compassionate pain, and undeserved and malicious pleasure. (shrink)
Perfectionism is one of the great moralities of the Western tradition. It holds that certain states of humans, such as knowledge, achievement, and friendship, are good apart from any pleasure they may bring, and that the morally right act is always the one that most promotes these states. Defined more narrowly, perfectionism identifies the human good by reference to human nature: if knowledge and achievement are good, it is because they realize aspects of human nature. This book gives an account (...) of perfectionism, first in the narrower sense, analysing its central concepts and defending a theory of human nature in which rationality plays a central role. It then uses this theory to construct an elaborate account of the intrinsic value of beliefs and actions that embody rationality, and applies this account to political questions about liberty and equality. The book attempts to formulate the most defensible version of perfectionism, using contemporary analytic techniques. It aims both to regain for perfectionism a central place in contemporary moral debate and to shed light on the writings of classical perfectionists such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and T.H. Green. (shrink)
Michael Slote has defended a moral view that he calls "satisficing consequentialism." Less demanding than maximizing consequentialism, it requires only that agents bring about consequences that are "good enough." I argue that Slote's characterization of satisficing is ambiguous. His idea of consequences' being "good enough" admits of two interpretations, with different implications in (some) particular cases. One interpretation I call "absolute-level" satisficing, the other "comparative" satisficing. Once distinguished, these versions of satisficing appear in a very different light. Absolute-level satisficing is (...) indeed plausible and attractive, at least for subjective-good versions of consequentialism; comparative satisficing is not. (shrink)