Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 68 (2):315 (1994)
When wc compare contemporary moral philosophy with thc wcll-known moral systems of earlier centuries, wc should bc struck by thc fact that a certain assumption about human well being that is now widely taken for granted was universally rcjcctcd in thc past. The contemporary moral climate prcdisposcs us to bc pluralistic about thc human good, whcrcas earlier systems of ethics embraced a conception of wcll being that wc would now call narrow and restrictive. One way to convey thc sort of contrast I have in mind is to note that according to Plato and Aristotle, there is one kind of lifc, that of thc philosopher, that rcprcscnts thc summit of human tlourishing, and all other lives arc worth leading to thc cxtcnt that they approximate this ideal. Certain other ethical theories of thc past were in a way more narrow than this, for whereas Plato and Aristotle maintained that many things are in thcmsclvcs worthwhile, others argued that there is only one intrinsic g00d—plcasurc according to thc Epicurcans, virtue according to thc Stoics. By contrast, it is now widely assumed that all such approaches arc too exclusive, that not only arc there many typcs of intrinsic goods but there is no cnc specific kind of lifc—whcthcr it is that of a philosopher or a poet or anyone clsc—that is thc single human ideal} Even hedonism, a conception of thc good that had a powerful influence in thc modern period, has few contemporary proponents. A consensus has arisen in our time that there is no single ultimate cud that provides thc measure by which thc worth of all other goods must bc assessed.
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