Moral Argument Is Not Enough

Philosophical Topics 38 (1):159-180 (2010)
Slavery seems to us to be a paradigm of a morally wrong institutionalized practice. And yet for most of its millennia-long historical existence it was typically accepted as a natural, necessary, and inevitable feature of the social world. This widespread normative consensus was only challenged toward the end of the eighteenth century. Then, within a hundred years of the emergence of radical moral criticism of slavery, the existing practices had been dismantled and the institution itself “abolished.” How do we explain such a “profound transformation in moral perception” (Davis 1975)? It may seem obvious that the moral agency and character of the leaders and activists of the abolition movement, their supporters, and their governmental representatives were the primary motors of change.That is to say, the various actors involved came to see, recognize, or acknowledge the true (morally evil) nature of slavery and were thereby motivated to act against it. This “commonsense,” “moral explanation” is endorsed by most of the philosophers who have reflected on the morality of slavery. But despite the intuitiveness of thinking that it was the moral agency of the actors, pitted against the evil and injustice of slavery, that brought about the latter’s downfall, I will endeavor to show that such thinking is inadequate both to the facts and to the explanatory desiderata. I contend that it was not ignor ance of the supposedly inherent moral status of slavery that maintained people’s complicity with it, but practical barriers to them conceiving it dispensable
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  General Interest  Philosophy of Mind
Categories (categorize this paper)
ISBN(s) 0276-2080
DOI 10.5840/philtopics20103818
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history
Request removal from index
Download options
Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 27,636
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Moral Explanations.Neil Sinclair - 2013 - In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Blackwell.
Hutcheson and the "Classical" Theory of Slavery.Wylie Sypher - 1939 - Journal of Negro History 24 (3):263-280.
Jefferson, Morality, and the Problem of Slavery.Ari Helo & Peter Onuf - 2003 - The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 60 (3):583-614.
Kant on Moral Freedom and Moral Slavery.David Forman - 2012 - Kantian Review 17 (1):1-32.
Moral Value, Response-Dependence, and Rigid Designation.Brad Thompson - 2006 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 36 (1):71-94.
Slavery in Global Context.Jane Duran - 2010 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 24 (1):61-69.
Mary Anne Warren on “Full” Moral Status.Robert P. Lovering - 2004 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 42 (4):509-30.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

18 ( #270,497 of 2,169,155 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

2 ( #186,290 of 2,169,155 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.

Other forums