In these essays, John Skorupski develops a distinctive and systematic moral philosophy. He examines the central ethical concepts of reasons, the good, and morality, and applies the results to issues of culture and politics. Ethical Explorations firmly connects liberal politics to its ethical ideal, and links that ideal to modern morality and modern ideas of the good.
Defends the buck-passing account of value from the wrong kind of reason objection by arguing that in the cases proposed there are no reasons to value the intuitively worthless object, but there are practical reasons to bring it about that one values it. Also extends the account to other evaluative concepts.
This article offers a critique of John Rawls’s great work, Political Liberalism, from a non-Rawlsian liberal standpoint. It argues that Rawlsian political liberalism is influenced as much by a comprehensive view I call “radical-democracy” as by comprehensive liberal views. This can be seen in Rawls’s account of some of political liberalism’s fundamental ideas—notably the idea of society as a fair system of cooperation, the “liberal” principle of legitimacy, and the idea of public reason. I further argue that Rawls’s impressive attempt (...) to unify liberal and democratic traditions philosophically obscures the prudent liberal attitude to democracy, which remains sound. (shrink)
Can we give a uniform account of reasons in the three spheres of action, belief, and sentiment? Are reasons in these three spheres genuinely distinct, or are they in some way reducible to less than three? What kind of knowledge do we have of reasons – and what is it that we know? Some basic problems in philosophy depend on our answers to these questions.
The subject of this paper is sentimentalism. In broad terms this is the view that value concepts, moral concepts, practical reasons—some or all of these—can be analysed in terms of feeling, sentiment or emotion. More specifically, the paper discusses the following theses: (i) there are reasons to feel (‘evaluative’ reasons) that are not reducible to practical or epistemic reasons (ii) value is analysable in terms of these reasons to feel. (iii) all practical reasons are in one way or another grounded (...) in evaluative reasons. (i) and (ii) are accepted while (iii) is rejected. (shrink)
The thesis that the concept of a reason is the fundamental normative concept is in the air. In this paper I examine what it amounts to, how to formulate it, and how ambitious it should be. I distinguish a semantic version, according to which any normative predicate is definitionally reducible to a reason predicate, and a conceptual version, according to which the sole normative ingredient in any normative concept is the concept of a reason. Although I reject the semantic version (...) I examine its potential in some detail. And I claim that the conceptual version is plausible. (shrink)
It seems common at the moment to make agent-neutrality a necessary condition of ‘consequentialism” and to hold that deontological ethics are agent-relative. This note argues that both these tendencies regrettably obscure useful terms and distinctions. It concludes by considering what it would be best, now, to mean by ‘utilitarianism” and making a proposal.
This paper argues that normative claims are truth‐apt contents of cognition – propositions about what there is reason to believe, to do or to feel – but that their truth is not a matter of correspondence or representation. We do not have to choose between realism about the normative and non‐cognitivism about it. The universality of reasons, combined with the spontaneity of normative responses, suffices to give normative claims the distinctive link to a ‘convergence commitment’ which characterises any genuine judgement; (...) an accurate epistemology of normative discourse need postulate no faculty of receptivity to a special domain of normative fact. Some general arguments for the view that cognitivism about a domain of discourse imposes realism about it are considered and rejected. (shrink)
We use such terms as good, bad, right, wrong, should, ought , in many ways other than moral: good evidence and bad argument, right answers and wrong notes, novels which should be read and policies which ought not to be adopted. The moral is a sphere of the practical and the practical itself only a sphere or the normative. Norms guide us in all we believe, feel and do. Do these normative words then have a specifically moral sense? If so (...) can it be defined? (shrink)
In an article in Utilitas Theo van Willigenburg has argued that moral valuation is distinguished from other forms of valuation by the Kantian concept of respect. He criticizes, from that standpoint, an account I put forward, which builds on the connections between moral wrongdoing, blame and withdrawal of recognition. I examine the difference between these two approaches and defend my own.
What outcomes are good, and what there is reason for one to do, is not generally determined by what one thinks or even what one has reason to think. But is a similarly ‘externalist’ account of the distinctively moral concepts, the concepts of moral duty or obligation, of moral wrongness, blameworthiness and guilt, appropriate? I argue not; and on that basis I suggest that an externalist account is not appropriate for the concept of a virtue either.
Anthropologists have always been concerned with the difference between traditional and scientific modes of thought and with the relationships between magic, religion and science. John Skorupski distinguishes two broadly opposed approaches to these problems: the 'intellectualist' regards primitive systems of thought and actions as cosmologies, comparable to scientific theory, which emerge and persist as attempts to control the natural world; the 'symbolist' regards them as essentially representative or expressive of the pattern of social relations in the culture in which they (...) exist. Dr Skorupski considers in particular the notions of ritual, ceremony and symbol. He shows how their understanding involves and suggests more general philosophical problems of relativism, interpretation, translation, and the connections between belief and action. These are difficult and important problems and require an unusual combination of imagination and interdisciplinary exercise. This book is intended especially for philosophers, social anthropologists, social theorists and students of comparative religion. (shrink)
A view with some considerable influence in current moral and political philosophy holds that there is a plurality of values, all of them fundamental and authoritative and yet, in some genuinely disconcerting way, in conflict . I shall call it ‘value-pluralism’.
In The Invention of Autonomy, Schneewind argues that a main development in early modern ethical thought is the transition from a conception of morality as obedience to a conception of morality as self-governance. I consider the presuppositions implicit in the latter conception and ask whether they can be maintained. Correspondence:c1 email@example.com.
Two ideas have dominated ethical thought since the time of Bentham and Kant. One is utilitarianism, the other is an idea of moral agency as self-governance. Utilitarianism says that morality must somehow subserve welfare, self-governance says that it must be graspable directly by individual moral insight. But these ideas seem to war with one another. Can we eliminate the apparent conflict by a careful review of what is plausible in the two ideas? In seeking an answer to this question I (...) examine (1) the implications of welfarism, (2) the nature of moral obligation (3) the nature of our moral knowledge. (shrink)
This paper shows how moral concepts are definable in terms of reasons for the blame sentiment. It then shows how, given that definition, the categoricity of moral obligation follows from some plausible principles about reasons for blame. The nature of moral agency is further considered in this light. In particular, in what sense is it self-governing agency? Self-governing actors must be at least self-determining: that is, they must be able to think about what reasons they have, in order in order (...) to assess what they have sufficient reason to believe, feel, or do. Thus any moral assessment implies that the person assessed is capable of self-governance in that sense. Furthermore, this notion of self-governance implies that an agent's moral obligations are relative to the agent's warranted beliefs. However it does not entail that moral agents must be autonomous, in the strong sense intended by Kant. Some consequences for modern conceptions of morality are considered. (shrink)
There can be reasons for belief, for action, and for feeling. In each case, knowledge of such reasons requires non-empirical knowledge of some truths about them: these will be truths about what there is reason to believe, to feel, or to do – either outright or on condition of certain facts obtaining. Call these a priori truths about reasons, ‘norms’. Norms are a priori true propositions about reasons.It's an epistemic norm that if something's a good explanation that's a reason to (...) believe it. It's an evaluative norm that if someone's cheated you that's a reason to be annoyed with them. There are many evaluative norms, relating to a variety of feelings. Equally, there may be various epistemic norms, even though in this case they all relate to belief. My concern here, however, is with practical norms: a priori truths about what there is reason to do.I have a suggestion about what fundamental practical norms there are, which I would like to describe and explain. It is that there are just three distinct kinds of practical norm governing what there is reason to do – three categories or generic sources of practical normativity, one may say. I call them the Bridge principle, the principle of Good, and the Demand principle – Bridge, Good and Demand for short. I have said more about them in my book, The Domain of Reasons;1 here my aim is simply to set them out and sketch some questions to which this ‘triplism of practical reason’2 gives rise. In particular, since these norms are about practical reasons, not about morality, a question I'll touch on is how moral obligation comes onto the scene. (shrink)
Dialogue, unconstrained truth-seeking discussion, is nothing but the social expression of free thought. Given the distortions and manipulations to which free thought is subject, only continued full exposure to free discussion can give us continued rational warrant for our beliefs. Socially possessed truth and disinterested, rational qualities of mind among citizens are public goods.
From the end of the Enlightenment to the middle of the twentieth century philosophy took fascinating and controversial paths whose relevance to contemporary post-modernist thought is becoming ever clearer. This volume traces the English-language side of the period, while also taking into account those continental thinkers who deeply influenced twentieth-century, English-language philosophy. The story begins with Reid, Coleridge, and Bentham--who set the agenda for much that followed--and continues with a portrait of the nineteenth century's greatest British philosopher, John Stuart Mill. (...) It then surveys the cross-currents of thought at the end of the century, including American pragmatism, a movement never more influential than now. Finally it assesses two phases of what Skorupski calls "analytic modernism"--the revolution against idealism of Moore and Russell, and the Viennese sequel whose project was to show that philosophy consists of pseudo-problems. (shrink)
This paper examines T. H. Green's and Henry Sidgwick's differing views of desireand the will, and connectedly, their differing views of an individual's good and freedom. It is argued that Sidgwick makes effective criticisms of Green, but that important elements in Green's idealist view of an individual's good and freedom survive the criticism and remain significant today. It is also suggested that Sidgwick's own account of an individual's good is unclear in an important way.