Though ‘evil’ is often used loosely as merely the generic opposite of ‘morally good’, used precisely it is the worst possible term of opprobrium available. In this essay it is taken as applying primarily to persons, secondarily to conduct; evil deeds must flow from the volition to do something evil. An evil action is one so horrendously bad that no ordinary decent human being can conceive of doing it, and an evil person is one who knowingly wills or orders such (...) actions. Malignant evil—doing evil because it is evil—is not just possible but real, and is one of several kinds of evil delineated. There are incidental discussions of cruelty, Rosenbaum on Explaining Hitler, Baumeister on Evil, and Benn on wickedness. Footnotes1 Dedicated to Alan Gewirth, in honour of his 90th birthday, and in appreciation of his superb, illuminating, and ground-breaking philosophical work over many years. (shrink)
The Golden Rule has received remarkably little philosophical discussion. No book has ever been written on it, and articles devoted to it have been exceedingly few, and usually not very searching. It is usually mentioned, where it is mentioned at all, only in passing, and most of these passing remarks have either been false, trite, or misleading, though some of them, as we shall see, have certainly been interesting enough. Considering its obvious importance and its almost universal acceptance, this dearth (...) of philosophical discussion is unfortunate, and also somewhat surprising. One of the things I hope to show about it, though only incidentally, is that there are problems connected with it of the utmost subtlety, worthy of the attention of even the most minute philosophers. (shrink)
At the beginning of one of his inimitable discourses William James once said, ‘I am only a philosopher, and there is only one thing that a philosopher can be relied on to do, and that is, to contradict other philosophers’. 1 In his succeeding discourse James himself departed from this theme. And so shall I. I shall not be contradicting other philosophers—at least not very often. What I aim to do is to take a fresh look at one of the (...) main traditions in American philosophy for insight and illumination on a way of dealing with some of the most serious issues of our time. But before I turn to that, my main theme, I want to pursue for a bit some variations on another, the cultural relevance of philosophy, for, as I view the matter, they are related. (shrink)
The very title of Sidgwick’s great work is fascinating: the methods of ethics. We hear much—and persons a hundred years ago heard much—of the methods of science. But we hear very little of the methods of ethics. Is ethics a science? No, and Sidgwick never thought that it was. But he did think that the methods, or something of the spirit, of scientific investigation could be imported into ethical studies, with results which, though they would not necessarily be dramatic and (...) would certainly not be edifying, would nevertheless be worthwhile. Sidgwick himself characterized his work as “essentially an attempt to introduce precision of thought into a subject usually treated in a too loose and popular way”. “I have thought that the predominance in the minds of moralists of a desire to edify has impeded the real progress of ethical science; and that this would be benefited by an application to it of the same disinterested curiosity to which we chiefly owe the great discoveries of physics”. (shrink)
There are a number of different ways of teaching ethics, and there is ample room for a number of different ways of teaching ethics. I am sure that there is no one way that is right, but I am also sure that there are a number of ways, some of them in widespread use, that are wrong. It is wrong, for example, to teach ethics by simply presenting and discussing a number of ethical theories, in isolation from the actual or (...) imagined problems of morality that these theories were developed in response to. It is wrong, in other words, to present ethics as a series or collection of disembodied abstractions. It is also a mistake to attempt to teach ethics simply by presenting the history of the subject, because this still presents the subject as consisting in the unregulated combat of a number of rival theories, and from this one’s students can get no idea of what the problems are with which these theories were attempting to deal, or even whether they were all attempting to deal with the same problems. Yet this is better, if only because the early and important moral philosophers almost all had a very lively sense of what the problems were with which they were attempting to deal, and a careful reading of their works will bring these out. The move to higher and higher orders of abstraction started in the nineteenth century, and has reached its peak, apparently, in this one. (shrink)
My title may generate some perplexity. It is certainly not a familiar one. So I should make it plain at the outset that I shall not be talking about the ethics of organizations or associations or groups. I want to direct attention to the ethical and valuational questions associated with social institutions, and I distinguish institutions from associations and organizations. One question I am aiming at is whether the principles and standards applicable to moral judgments of actions and of persons—call (...) them individual principles—are also applicable, or applicable with only minor changes, to the judgment and critique and evaluation of institutions and practices. This is not the sole question of institutional ethics, but it is a main one. (shrink)
This paper describes a number of the most important recent changes in the character of ethics, Such as the revival of applied ethics and the effect this is having on ethical theory. In the process discusses some recent work of note and the new role in ethics of the notion of rights, And speculates on the possibility of ethics becoming a discipline separate from philosophy while at the same time remaining moral philosophy.
A volume of lectures in American philosophy by leading authorities in the field. The leading American philosophers from Jonathan Edwards to Morris Cohen are covered and further contributions discuss American legal philosophy and the background to the American constitution. The contributors examine the distinctive aspects of American philosophy and bring out its relation to American cultural and historical experience. An extensive bibliography of the subject is also provided.
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