Making Sense of Moral Sense: Francis Hutcheson's Moral Theory in a Modern Context

Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1998)

Abstract
Any adequate moral theory must explain both the source and nature of our moral judgments. One approach, an appeal to our natural "moral sense," has traditionally been assumed to fall to four fatal objections: that it requires a mysterious "imaginary faculty," that it assumes a false harmony among our moral evaluations, that it is subject to an inevitable collapse into relativism, and that it fails clearly to resolve genuine moral disputes. I defend a moral sense ethical theory, inspired by the work of Francis Hutcheson, which responds to each of these objections. ;I show that the analogy to the standard senses becomes non-mysterious once we see how little special perceptual machinery the theory actually needs. Other problems are resolved by making clear the critical distinction between our moral judgments and the responses of the moral faculty . This shows that the moral sense theory is not, as many have assumed, obviously absurd. Rather, once we consider seriously the structure of the moral faculty, Hutcheson's view becomes both plausible and attractive. ;The theory I develop, while firmly in the tradition of the British moralists, is free of their theological assumptions. Given that none of the standard objections succeed, a modernized moral sense theory is at least as plausible as the standard alternatives, while being free from some of their more obvious problems. Thus, Hutcheson's view has much greater current importance than is standardly realized
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