Morality and Human Nature: A New Route to Ethical Theory

Review of Metaphysics 45 (3):625-627 (1992)
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McShea asks what current value theories "authorize us to say, or do, against the child abuser, the racist, the terrorist, the oppressor and the exploiter, the liar and the cheat?" and finds that they provide insufficient grounds for ordinary moral judgments and for social and political criticism. He rejects the standard, "superficial" bifurcated schemes for classifying available positions--deontological versus teleological, Gemeinschaft versus Gesellschaft, classical versus modern, and so on--and claims that "all possible bases for value thinking" fall under one or more of the following five headings: skepticism, individualism, transcendentalism, culturalism, or human nature theory. He rejects skepticism, individualism, transcendentalism, and culturalism, and asserts that "our feelings are the only basis on which we can make value judgments.... There is no conceivable good for us but the maximum satisfaction of our strongest and most enduring feelings". He maintains that our "common genetic feeling pattern" authorizes values and that value theory should "begin with human feelings, with the study of the feelings, with the understanding of feelings not as words but as experiences had similarly by all, or almost all, of us". He defends "traditional human nature theory" as the only account that can ground the prescriptivity of value judgments and provide "an unsentimental, transcultural basis for human solidarity and interpersonal sympathy".



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