Of course there is a long history of such sayings in all the world’s main spiritual traditions. Socrates’ remark reminds us at once of Solon’s doleful doctrine that we should call no man happy until he is dead (Herodotus Histories Book 1; Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 1100a11). And Bonhoeffer’s famous saying, while it echoes the typical teaching of many Christian spiritual masters, for instance St Thomas à Kempis and Bianco da Siena (the author of that beautiful hymn “Come down O Love (...) Divine”), is ultimately just a paraphrase of Jesus’ even more famous saying that anyone who wants to follow him must “deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16.24). (shrink)
I develop the relatively familiar idea of a variety of forms of knowledge—not just propositional knowledge but also knowledge-how and experiential knowledge—and show how this variety can be used to make interesting sense of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy, and in particular their ethics. I then add to this threefold analysis of knowledge a less familiar fourth variety, objectual knowledge, and suggest that this is also interesting and important in the understanding of Plato and Aristotle.
There is a gap between what we think and what we think we think about ethics. This gap appears when elements of our ethical reflection and our moral theories contradict each other. It also appears when something that is important in our ethical reflection is sidelined in our moral theories. The gap appears in both ways with the ethical idea glory. The present exploration of this idea is a case study of how far actual ethical reflection diverges from moral theory. (...) This divergence tells against moral theory, and in favour of less constricted and more flexible modes of ethical reflection. (shrink)
I examine the familiar criterial view of personhood, according to which the possession of personal properties such as self-consciousness, emotionality, sentience, and so forth is necessary and sufficient for the status of a person. I argue that this view confuses criteria for personhood with parts of an ideal of personhood. In normal cases, we have already identified a creature as a person before we start looking for it to manifest the personal properties, indeed this pre-identification is part of what makes (...) it possible for us to see and interpret the creature as a person in the first place. This pre-identification is typically based on biological features. Except in some interesting special or science-fiction cases, some of which I discuss, it is human animals that we identify as persons. (shrink)
I will discuss some familiar problems in the philosophy of religion which arise for theistic belief. I will argue that it may be most worthwhile to focus on a particular sort of theistic belief, capital-T ’Theism’, central to which is a particular conception both of God and of the believer’s relation to God. At the heart of ’Theism’ in this sense is the continuing experience of God, both individual and collective. Compared with the evidence for Theistic belief that is provided (...) by this experiential contact with God, most of the usually considered arguments for and against God’s existence are secondary. (shrink)
Though Socrates can easily look like a cosmopolitan in moral and political theory, a closer reading of the relevant texts shows that, in the most important sense of the term as we now use it, he turns out – disappointingly, perhaps – not to be. The reasons why not are instructive and important, both for readers of Plato and for political theorists; they have to do with the phenomenon that I shall call ethical blind-spots.
In this paper I start with the familiar accusation that divine command ethics faces a "Euthyphro dilemma". By looking at what Plato’s ’Euthyphro’ actually says, I argue that no such argument against divine-command ethics was Plato’s intention, and that, in any case, no such argument is cogent. I then explore the place of divine commands and inspiration in Plato’s thought more generally, arguing that Plato sees an important epistemic and practical role for both.
Ethics and Experience presents a wide-ranging and thought-provoking introduction to the question famously posed by Socrates: “How is life to be lived?” An excellent primer for any student taking a course on moral philosophy, the book introduces ethics as a single and broadly unified field of inquiry in which we apply reason to try and solve Socrates’ question. Ethics and Experience examines the major forms of ethical subjectivism and objectivism - including expressivism, “error theory”, naturalism, and intuitionism. The book lays (...) out the detail of the most significant contemporary moral theories - including utilitarianism, virtue ethics, Kantianism, and contractarianism – and reconsiders these theories in the light of two questions that should perhaps be asked more often: Is moral theory, with its tendency to regiment ethical thought and experience, really the best way for us to apply reason to deciding how to live? And, might it not be more truly reasonable to look for less system and more insight? (shrink)
I develop an anti-theory view of ethics. Moral theory (Kantian, utilitarian, virtue ethical, etc.) is the dominant approach to ethics among academic philosophers. But moral theory's hunt for a single Master Factor (utility, universalisability, virtue . . .) is implausibly systematising and reductionist. Perhaps scientism drives the approach? But good science always insists on respect for the data, even messy data: I criticise Singer's remarks on infanticide as a clear instance of moral theory failing to respect the data of moral (...) perceptions and moral intuitions. Moral theory also fails to provide a coherent basis for real-world motivation, justification, explanation, and prediction of good and bad, right and wrong. Consider for instance the marginal place of love in moral theory, compared with its central place in people's actual ethical outlooks and decision making. Hence, moral theory typically fails to ground any adequate ethical outlook. I propose that it is the notion of an ethical outlook that philosophical ethicists should pursue, not the unfruitful and distorting notion of a moral theory. (shrink)
I develop an account of moral perception which is able to deal well with familiar naturalistic non-realist complaints about ontological extravagance and ‘queerness’. I show how this account can also ground a cogent response to familiar objections presented by Simon Blackburn (about supervenience) and J.L. Mackie (about motivation). The familiar realist's problem about relativism, however, remains.
I discuss Bernard Williams’ ‘integrity objection’ – his version of the demandingness objection to unreasonably demanding ‘extremist’ moral theories such as consequentialism – and argue that it is best understood as presupposing the internal reasons thesis. However, since the internal reasons thesis is questionable, so is Williams’ integrity objection. I propose an alternative way of bringing out the unreasonableness of extremism, based on the notion of the agent’s autonomy, and show how an objection to this proposal can be outflanked by (...) a strategy that also outflanks the ‘paradox of deontology.’. (shrink)
I begin by contrasting Aristotle’s ‘world-centred’ general epistemology, and his ‘mind-centred’ (more exactly, ‘agathos-centred’) moral epistemology. I argue that Aristotle takes this approach, not because he doubts the objectivity of ethics, nor because he is an ‘ethical particularist’ (whatever one of those is), but because of the reflexive nature of ethics as a study. I further argue that, by taking the notion that ‘the good man is the measure of all things’ as central to Aristotle’s ethics, we can see how (...) to unify coherently the rather embarrassingly diverse ethical resources that Aristotle offers us. (shrink)
[About the book] Natural law theory says that humans can only live well if they recognise the goods that are natural for humans, and understand how those goods generate the system of practical guidance that we call morality. Natural law is a long-established and flourishing ethical tradition, with roots in Aristotle and Aquinas, which is increasingly recognised as a worthy competitor to Kantianism, utilitarianism and virtue ethics. The new essays in this collection represent the latest thinking - both constructive and (...) critical - of some of the most important thinkers in the field. And they reflect the growing influence, sophistication, and importance of natural law theory within contemporary ethical debate. (shrink)
I argue that if a normative theory of practical rationality is to represent an adequate and coherent response to a plurality of incommensurable goods, it cannot be a maximising theory. It will have to be a theory that recognises two responses to goods as morally licit – promotion and respect – and one as morally illicit – violation. This result has a number of interesting corollaries, some of which I indicate. Perhaps the most interesting is that it makes the existence (...) of a plurality of incommensurable goods incompatible with consequentialism. (shrink)
The paper outlines and explores a possible strategy for defending both the action/omission distinction (AOD) and the principle of double effect (PDE). The strategy is to argue that there are degrees of actionhood, and that we are in general less responsible for what has a lower degree of actionhood, because of that lower degree. Moreover, what we omit generally has a lower degree of actionhood than what we actively do, and what we do under known-but-not-intended descriptions generally has a lower (...) degree of actionhood than what we do under known-and-intended descriptions. Therefore, we are in general less responsible for what we omit than for what we do—which is just what AOD says. And we are in general less responsible for what we do under known-but-not-intended descriptions than for what we do under known-and-intended descriptions—which is just what PDE says. (shrink)
An option range is a set of alternative actions available to an agent at a given time. I ask how a moral theory’s account of option ranges relates to its recommendations about deliberative procedure (DP) and criterion of rightness (CR). I apply this question to Act Consequentialism (AC), which tells us, at any time, to perform the action with the best consequences in our option range then. If anyone can employ this command as a DP, or assess (direct or indirect) (...) compliance with it as a CR, someone must be able to tell which actions fit this description. Since the denseness of possibilia entails that any option range is indefinitely large, no one can do this. So no one can know that any option has ever emerged from any range as the best option in that range. However we come to know that a given option is right, we never come to know it in AC’s way. It is often observed that AC cannot give us a DP. AC cannot give us a CR either, unless we are omniscient. So Act Consequentialism is useless. (shrink)
Agents have aims. Any aim can be either simple or complex. If an aim is complex, then its different components make irreducibly different demands on the agent. The agent cannot rationally respond to all these demands by promoting all her different component aims at once. She must recognise a distinction between the rational response to any component aim of promoting it, and the rational response of respecting it. If the goods are incommensurable, then rational agents have complex aims. So if (...) the goods are incommensurable, rational agents do not only promote whatever aims they recognise. But consequentialism tells agents only to promote whatever aims they recognise. So if the goods are incommensurable, consequentialism is wrong. I note applications of this argument to the writings of Robert Nozick, Philip Pettit, and John Harris. (shrink)
We shall find that the metaphysical views offered on behalf of moral conclusions about abortion do nothing in defence of those conclusions. Other disputable assumptions separate each moral conclusion from the invoked metaphysical view. It is the defensibility of the other assumptions that is crucial. No metaphysical view cited on behalf of a moral conclusion substantially advances the argument in favour of the conclusion.