Two Theories of the Good: L. W. SUMNER

Social Philosophy and Policy 9 (2):1-14 (1992)
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Abstract

Suppose that the ultimate point of ethics is to make the world a better place. If it is, we must face the question: better in what respect? If the good is prior to the right — that is, if the rationale for all requirements of the right is that they serve to further the good in one way or another — then what is this good? Is there a single fundamental value capable of underlying and unifying all of our moral categories? If so, how might it defeat the claims of rival candidates for this role? If not, is there instead a plurality of basic goods, each irreducible to any of the others? In that case, how do they fit together into a unified picture of the moral life? These are the questions I wish to address, in a necessarily limited way. To many the questions will seem hopelessly old-fashioned or misguided. Some deontologists will wish to reverse my ordering of the good and the right, holding that the right constrains acceptable conceptions of the good. For many contractarians, neither the good nor the right will seem normatively basic, since both are to be derived from a prior conception of rationality. Finally, some theorists will reject the classification of moral theories in terms of their basic normative categories, arguing that the whole foundationalist enterprise in ethics should be abandoned. In the face of these challenges to the priority of the good, and in light of the many current varieties of moral skepticism and relativism, I cannot provide a very convincing justification for raising the questions I intend to discuss.

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Author's Profile

L. W. Sumner
University of Toronto, St. George Campus

Citations of this work

The Experience Machine and Mental State Theories of Well-Being.Jason Kawall - 1999 - Journal of Value Inquiry 33 (3):381-387.
Well-Being and Virtue.Dan Haybron - 2007 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 2 (2):1-28.
Quality of Life - Three Competing Views.Peter Sondøe - 1999 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2 (1):11-23.

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References found in this work

Natural Law and Natural Rights.Richard Tuck - 1981 - Philosophical Quarterly 31 (124):282-284.
The Ethics of Environmental Concern.Robin Attfield - 1993 - Environmental Values 2 (1):76.

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