Normative Ethics

Edited by Jussi Suikkanen (University of Birmingham)
About this topic
Summary Moral philosophy has been divided traditionally into three categories. At the opposite ends of these categories are metaethics - the theoretical study of moral thought, language, and properties - and applied ethics - the attempt to use philosophical tools to provide practical ethical solutions to pressing moral problems. As a subject category, normative ethics lies between these two opposite ends of moral philosophy. Many philosophers in normative ethics investigate ethical theories the aim of which is to systematically describe what makes acts right and wrong. These theories include utilitarianism, consequentialism, Kantian theories, contractualism, contractarianism, virtue ethics, various pluralist views, natural law theory, and so on. Normative ethics also covers various other middle-level topics in moral philosophy such as the nature and commensurability of moral values, the justification of moral constraints and options, the existence of moral dilemmas; desert, natural rights, the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing and the Doctrine of Double Effect, the connection between evaluative notions such as goodness and deontic notions such as reasons, egoism and altruism, virtues and vices, promises and agreements and so on.
Key works Of course, all important figures in the history of philosophy ever since Plato (Plato et al 1974) and Aristotle (Aristotle & Ostwald 1911) have written on various topics in normative ethics. Furthermore, many of the central theories in normative ethics originate from the greats in the history of philosophy, for example from philosophers such as Hobbes (Hobbes 2006), Hume (Beauchamp 1998), Kant (Kant 1785), Bentham (Bentham 1780), and Mill (Mill 1987). However, normative ethics only began to develop as a field of its own after metaethics and applied ethics were introduced as new independent areas of inquiry. At the same time, John Rawls revigorated first-order normative theorising in philosophy (Rawls ms).  The contemporary keyworks in the area defend various ethical theories such as consequentialism (Kagan 1989 and Portmore 2011), rule-consequentialism (Hooker 2000), Kantian ethics (O'Neill 1989 and Korsgaard 1996), virtue ethics (Crisp & Slote 1997), and contractualism (Scanlon 1998).Other significant works investigate questions such as, for example, the connections between different ethical theories (Parfit 2011), deontological distinctions (Kamm 2007) and the paradoxical nature of moral constraints and moral freedom (Scheffler 1982).
Introductions Textbooks: Driver 2006Timmons 2001. Anthologies and Handbooks: Copp 2006, Baron et al 1997 and  Shafer-Landau 2007
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