Moral theory and moral alienation

Journal of Philosophy 84 (2):102-118 (1987)

Authors
Adrian M. S. Piper
Harvard University
Abstract
Most moral theories share certain features in common with other theories. They consist of a set of propositions that are universal, general, and hence impartial. The propositions that constitute a typical moral theory are (1) universal, in that they apply to all subjects designated as within their scope. They are (2) general, in that they include no proper names or definite descriptions. They are therefore (3) impartial, in that they accord no special privilege to any particular agent's situation which cannot be justified under (2) and (3). These three features do not distinguish moral theories from other theories, nor indeed from most general categorical propositions we assert. Yet, in recent years, these features of moral theories have been the target of a certain concerted and sustained criticism, namely, that to be committed to such a moral theory, or to aspire to act in accordance with its requirements, results in what has come to be known as moral alienation. Moral alienation, according to this criticism, consists in (i) viewing one's ground projects from an impersonal, "moral point of view" engendered by one's acceptance of the theory; (ii) being prepared to sacrifice these projects to the requirements of moral principle; and (iii) making such a sacrifice specifically and self-consciously in order to conform to these requirements. Moral alienation is said to manifest itself in one (or both) of two ways, depending on the nature of the project thus susceptible to sacrifice. One may be alienated from oneself, if the project consists of tastes, convictions, or aspirations that are centrally definitive of one's self. In this case one's commitment to the project can be at best conditional on its congruence with one's moral theory. It is claimed that this must make for a rather tepid and unenthusiastic commitment indeed. Alternatively, one may be alienated from others, if the project is an interpersonal relationship such as a friendship, marriage, or collegial relationship. In this case one's responses to the other are motivated by one's awareness of what one's moral theory requires. It is claimed that this obstructs a genuine and unmediated emotional response to the other as such. My aim here will be to argue that this very compelling criticism - call it the moral-alienation criticism - is nevertheless misdirected. The real culprit is not any particular moral theory, but rather a certain familiar personality type that may or may not adopt it.
Keywords Moral theory  Alienation
Categories (categorize this paper)
ISBN(s) 0022-362X
DOI 10.2307/2026628
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Actions, Reasons, and Causes.Donald Davidson - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (23):685.
Wants as Explanations of Actions.Richard Brandt, Jaegwon Kim & Sidney Morgenbesser - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (15):425-435.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Love as a Moral Emotion.J. David Velleman - 1999 - Ethics 109 (2):338-374.
Moral Perception and Particularity.Lawrence A. Blum - 1994 - Cambridge University Press.
The Moral Contours of Empathy.Alisa L. Carse - 2005 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 8 (1-2):169-195.

View all 9 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Moral Philosophy and Moral Psychology in Mencius.James A. Ryan - 1998 - Asian Philosophy 8 (1):47 – 64.
Alienation and Moral Imperatives: A Reply to Kanungo. [REVIEW]Robert T. Sweet - 1993 - Journal of Business Ethics 12 (7):579 - 582.
An Amoral Manifesto Part I.Joel Marks - 2010 - Philosophy Now (80):30-33.
An Amoral Manifesto Part II.Joel Marks - 2010 - Philosophy Now (81):23-26.
Are Moral Philosophers Moral Experts?Bernward Gesang - 2010 - Bioethics 24 (4):153-159.
Game Theory and Moral Norms.Bruno Verbeek - 2002 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 2 (3):337-352.
On Alienation.Arnold S. Kaufman - 1965 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 8 (1-4):141 – 165.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2009-01-28

Total views
223 ( #34,591 of 2,310,671 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
24 ( #31,755 of 2,310,671 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature