This introduction to ethics judiciously combines moral theory with applied ethics to give an opportunity for students to develop acute thinking About Ethical Matters.; The Author Begins Motivating A Concern For moral discourse by dispelling often met objections over relativism and subjectivity. interweaving normative and meta-ethical considerations, a convincing modern account of moral thinking emerges.; Moral theories - consequentialism, Kantianism, contractualism - are explained and illustrated in a way that holds the reader's attention, and students of ethics will take away (...) a perceptive and practical understanding of the nature of moral reasoning and an ability, on such matters, to think afresh for themselves. (shrink)
Contemporary moral philosophy rightly gives an important place not only to theories of right action, but to the nature and value of our interpersonal moral attitudes, including such reactions as resentment, admiration and forgiveness. Whilst these concerns have always been of interest to theologians and psychologists, their philosophical importance partly derives from wider concerns about the nature of persons. The recent resurgence, for instance, of retributivist theories of punishment, which are finding favour among many philosophical writers, largely bases itself on (...) the idea that a range of ‘participant reactive attitudes’ is both socially indispensable and morally legitimate. In this web of interpersonal responses is forgiveness, which cannot properly be examined without discussion of other responses such as indignation, anger and even hatred. (shrink)
In this engaged and engaging survey Piers Benn examines the major currents of ethical theory, concentrating on sound reasoning about morality. Benn's account offers a qualified defence of Aristotelian virtue theory, while bringing out what is distinctive and valuable in a broad range of approaches, such as those of Kant and the Utilitarians. His examples emphasize the ordinary choices of everyday life - gossip, friendship, honesty, sexual relations, work, and self-realization.
This paper attempts to clarify what is, and is not, meant by claiming that special moral considerations apply to sexual behaviour that cannot apply to other areas of life. It then poses the problem by reference to virtue ethics, asking whether there are any virtues or vices specific to sex, which go beyond general considerations like justice and benevolence. This leads to a mostly sympathetic treatment of Scruton’s Aristotelian derivation of sexual morality, which stresses how some behaviour and fantasies are (...) debarred by a stable disposition to seek erotic flourishing. However, doubts are raised about some of the supposed implications of this account, and it is suggested that a better way to understand the moral distinctness of sex is to focus on the goods, rather than the evils, that arise uniquely in the erotic sphere. (shrink)
‘Twelve Step' recovery programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous teach that an alcoholic, or other addict, has a disease, and needs to accept that she is ‘powerless' over her addiction before recovery can begin. However, the disease model of addiction has been criticised on the grounds that some addicts recover without external intervention. This critique is questionable, not because such recovery does not occur, but because many genuine diseases are self-limiting. However, the disease model is better criticised on other grounds. Central (...) here is the idea of powerlessness. This article explores various supposed instances of powerlessness, including that induced by extreme fear, provocation and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is argued that while addiction is a genuine phenomenon, it is strictly inaccurate to describe it as a lack of power. However, there is a deeper sense in which the autonomy of addicts is compromised, although this does not show that addiction is a disease. (shrink)
This paper discusses the moral responsibility of psychopaths for their anti-social actions. Starting from P. F. Strawson's discussion of our participant reactive attitudes, which stresses their indispensability for meaningful human relations, the paper contrasts a variety of "normal" wrongdoers with psychopaths. It suggests that the latter are often seriously deficient in their capacity to entertain these attitudes, and that their resulting lack of proper self-evaluation may explain both their callousness and their imprudence. It is then argued that only creatures able (...) to entertain participant reactive attitudes can be proper objects of those attitudes, since these reactions have a communicative core whose expression has a point only in a shared moral world. For this reason, if psychopaths are incapable of moral understanding, they may not be proper targets of anger and resentment. This, however, may have an illiberal implication, in possibly excluding psychopaths from possessing certain rights. (shrink)
This article analyses some familiar arguments both for, and against, same-sex civil marriage. I argue that it is not enough to defend gay marriage by a simple appeal to equality, unless one addresses the view that same-sex marriage would be contrary to the objective nature and purpose of marriage. I illustrate the ways in which a stand-off is reached in discussions of this particular matter. I also suggest that there is a mystery about what the from a faithful relationship to (...) marriage amounts to, but that part of the answer is that marriage embodies a state-recognized social transition. This is underpinned by the interest that society has in marriage, largely owing to its facilitating a stable environment for children. However, I suggest that marriage also properly functions as a way to uphold commitment and love, and conclude that that there is no good reason not to uphold those things in same-sex relationships. But I concede that religious organisations with theological objections to same-sex marriage should not be obliged to conduct gay weddings. (shrink)
It has often been thought that there is a special difficulty involved in conceiving of one’s own death. It is easy to think that, while one can easily conceive of, and acknowledge, the death of another person, one cannot ever conceive of what it is for oneself to die. Various things have been inferred from this. The most extreme inference is that one’s own death, or, to be more precise, one’s own non-existence, is actually impossible, since what is inconceivable is (...) impossible. One might also try to infer that one’s existence had no beginning either, although this view is less popular. But even if one does not embrace such extravagant conclusions, conceiving of one’s own ceasing-to-be can easily seem to present a great difficulty. Some existentialist writers and theologians influenced by existentialism have made great play of the supposed mystery. Paul Edwards writes of the temptation to think of death as “existence in a dark, impenetrable abode,” as if non-existence, or the absence of experience, were in fact a peculiar kind of experience which presents us with a great mystery. On this view, even when we conceive of the death of others, we cannot grasp the essential mystery. As Heidegger puts it: “And even if, by thus Being there alongside, it were possible and feasible for us to make plain to ourselves ‘psychologically’ the dying of Others, this would by no means let us grasp the way-to-be which we would then have in mind—namely, coming-to-an-end. We are asking about the ontological meaning of the dying of the person who dies, as a possibility-of-Being which belongs to his Being. We are not asking about the way in which the deceased has Dasein-with or is still-a-Dasein with those who are left behind.” One might make a similar point as follows: I cannot observe my own passing from the world, and observe the world’s continued existence. Once I cease to exist, then “my world” finishes. Wittgenstein writes in the Tractatus: “The world is my world”—and while there is a way in which this is obviously false, it captures much of the intuition under discussion. (shrink)
Most of us care about certain people and things, and some of these concerns become personal commitments, involving our values, our relationships, our work and our religious or political stances. But what is commitement, and why should it matter? Is social commitment - for example, to the family - being eroded by individualism or ironic detachment? And how should we deal with the potential tension between devotion to a life-stance, and the doubts prompted by pursuit of rational integrity? In this (...) work, Piers Benn delves into the relationship between commitment and meaningful life, and asks whether commitment must be based on truth to provide such meaning. He also explores obstacles to commitment such as boredom, sloth and indifference. Drawing on his own experience of dithering and procrastination, he suggests that a sceptical, cautious attitude to important matters can be both a virtue and a real obstacle to human fulfillment. (shrink)
Piers Benn, lecturer in medical ethics at Imperial College, London, discusses two recent medical cases involving the so-called ‘right to die’ explaining how the cases differ legally and, perhaps, ethically.