The Object of Morality is the title of a book I wrote a good many years ago shortly before I deviated irreversibly into university administration. I do not want to plug that book; nevertheless, it may not be completely irrelevant to say something of what it was about and take a rather rapid trot over its theme.
Professor Frankena mentions me as one of the participants in what he calls the Movement in moral philosophy, and I think he is right; I was so moving, or being moved along among others, ten years or so ago, and I think I find myself still inclined to so move, while recognising with regret, when I come to look back at it, that, as he courteously observes, “what such writers say is not as clear as one would like.” I embark (...) on commenting upon his lectures with considerable trepidation, however, for the reason that, while his own writing surely is as clear as one could reasonably hope for, I have had great difficulty in figuring out what exactly it is in the Movement that he substantially dissents from, and have the lurking suspicion that there may be something that I have just failed to see. Tentatively, though, I tend to think that the root of my difficulty has been that he offers, in opposition to the Movement, an account of these matters that is really, in the end, not intelligible; and my main task in this commentative piece will be to try to explain why I think that. (shrink)
In a broadcast talk delivered in 1956, the late J. L. Austin began by outlining to his listeners his now well-known concept of ‘the performative utterance and its infelicities’; and at the end of that first section of his talk he made this comment: ‘That equips us, we may suppose, with two shining new tools to crack the crib of reality maybe. It also equips us – it always does – with two shining new skids under our metaphysical feet’. In (...) this talk I intend to illustrate a particular respect in which, in moral philosophy, the partial pessimism of Austin's comment has proved abundantly justified. I shall try to show how in this field one shining new tool has led in fact to the skidding of moral philosophers' feet – how one bright idea has led some influential theorists off in the wrong direction, and the rest of us back in the end, with rather little gained, to a position not far from that of our predecessors of about a hundred years ago. This dismal story, I should in justice make clear at the outset, is not that of the whole of moral philosophy, not even of moral philosophy in English; I shall be tracing only one out of several concurrent lines of thought, but the line which I shall trace will be, I think, readily recognised as having been, and perhaps as still being, more conspicuous than most. (shrink)
The influence of J. L. Austin on contemporary philosophy was substantial during his lifetime, and has grown greatly since his death, at the height of his powers, in 1960. Philosophical Papers, first published in 1961, was the first of three volumes of Austin's work to be edited by J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock. Together with Sense and Sensibilia and How to do things with Words, it has extended Austin's influence far beyond the circle who knew him or read (...) the handful of papers he published in journals. (shrink)
The question that I want to debate a little in this paper could be put in this way: what, and how much, empirical information is required for, or relevant to, moral philosophy? That question may well strike one as somewhat vague and woolly. Rightly so. What is needed to get rather clearer about its answer or possible answers is chiefly, I believe, to get clearer about its sense.