Directed duties are duties that an agent owes to some party – a party who would be wronged if the duty were violated. A ‘direction problem’ asks what it is about a duty in virtue of which it is directed towards one party, if any, rather than another. I discuss three theories of moral direction: control, demand and interest theories. Although none of these theories can be rejected out of hand, all three face serious difficulties.
Gopal Sreenivasan’s “hybrid theory” states that a moral duty is directed toward an individual because her interests justify the assignment of control over the duty. An alternative “plain theory” states that the individual’s interests justify the duty itself. I argue that a strong moral status constraint explains Sreenivasan’s instrumentalization objection to a Razian plain theory but that his own model violates this constraint. I suggest how both approaches can be reformulated to satisfy the constraint, and I argue that a reformulated (...) plain theory can also avoid an insufficiency objection. The hybrid approach consequently has no clear advantage over the plain approach. (shrink)
Nietzsche famously attacked traditional morality, and propounded a controversial ethics of 'life-enhancement'. Simon May presents a radically new view of Nietzsche's thought, which is shown to be both revolutionary and conservative, and to have much to offer us today after the demise of old values and the 'death of God'.
Instrumentalism about moral compromise in politics appears inconsistent with accepting both the existence of non-instrumental or principled reasons for moral compromise in close personal friendships and a rich ideal of civic friendship. Using a robust conception of political reconciliation during democratic transitions as an example of civic friendship, I argue that all three claims are compatible. Spouses have principled reasons for compromise because they commit to sharing responsibility for their joint success as partners in life, and not because their relationship (...) involves strong affective attitudes of goodwill, solidarity, trust, and the like. Since shared responsibility for ends is an inappropriate element in the political relationship between citizens, the members of a divided society may manifest the constitutive attitudes of political reconciliation without any commitment to principled reasons for moral compromise. (shrink)
I argue against Rawls's claim that the liberal principle of legitimacy would be selected in the original position in addition to a democratic principle. Since a religious democracy could satisfy the democratic principle, the parties in the original position would not exclude it as illegitimate.
On the Genealogy of Morality is Nietzsche's most influential, provocative, and challenging work of ethics. In this volume of newly commissioned essays, fourteen leading philosophers offer fresh insights into many of the work's central questions: How did our dominant values originate and what functions do they really serve? What future does the concept of 'evil' have - and can it be revalued? What sorts of virtues and ideals does Nietzsche advocate, and are they necessarily incompatible with aspirations to democracy and (...) a free society? What are the nature, role, and scope of genealogy in his critique of morality - and why doesn't his own evaluative standard receive a genealogical critique? Taken together, this superb collection illuminates what a post-Christian and indeed post-moral life might look like, and asks to what extent Nietzsche's Genealogy manages to move beyond morality. (shrink)
Book synopsis: Simon May presents a fresh and wide-ranging critique of Nietzsche's famous attack on traditional morality, and of his controversial ethics of 'life-enhancement'. He reveals Nietzsche as both revolutionary and conservative–as one who repudiates traditional 'moral' conceptions of God, guilt, asceticism, pity, and truthfulness, and yet retains a demanding ethics of discipline, conscience, 'self-creation', generosity, and honesty. In particular, May shows how Nietzsche rejects truthfulness as an unconditional value and yet celebrates it as one of his own highest values, (...) whose worth is determined by who is pursuing it, for what end, and when in their lives. May is strongly critical of various aspects of Nietzsche's thought–his self-defeating conception of justice, his assumption that 'life-enhancement' necessarily demands world-affirmation, his ambition to de-deify the world, and the impossible and undesirable autonomy of the Übermensch. But Nietzsche is shown to offer modernity key elements of a coherent ethic, and to provide moral philosophy with important tools for reassessing some of its most cherished values and concepts. May's book will be illuminating not just for scholars and students of Nietzsche, in philosophy, literature, and history of ideas, but for anyone interested in current debates about ethics and modernity. (shrink)
Book synopsis: The principal aim of this volume is to elucidate what freedom, sovereignty, and autonomy mean for Nietzsche and what philosophical resources he gives us to re-think these crucial concepts. A related aim is to examine how Nietzsche connects these concepts to his thoughts about life-affirmation, self-love, promise-making, agency, the 'will to nothingness', and the 'eternal recurrence', as well as to his search for a 'genealogical' understanding of morality. These twelve essays by leading Nietzsche scholars ask such key questions (...) as: Can we reconcile his rejection of free will with his positive invocations of the notion of free will? How does Nietzsche's celebration of freedom and free spirits sit with his claim that we all have an unchangeable fate? What is the relation between his concepts of freedom and self-overcoming? The depth in which these and related issues are explored gives this volume its value, not only to those interested in Nietzsche, but to all who are concerned with the free will debate, ethics, theory of action, and the history of philosophy. (shrink)
Book synopsis: On the Genealogy of Morality is Nietzsche's most influential, provocative, and challenging work of ethics. In this volume of newly commissioned essays, fourteen leading philosophers offer fresh insights into many of the work's central questions: How did our dominant values originate and what functions do they really serve? What future does the concept of 'evil' have - and can it be revalued? What sorts of virtues and ideals does Nietzsche advocate, and are they necessarily incompatible with aspirations to (...) democracy and a free society? What are the nature, role, and scope of genealogy in his critique of morality - and why doesn't his own evaluative standard receive a genealogical critique? Taken together, this superb collection illuminates what a post-Christian and indeed post-moral life might look like, and asks to what extent Nietzsche's Genealogy manages to move beyond morality. (shrink)
I argue that some instances of constitutional religious establishment can be consistent with an expressivist interpretation of democratic legitimacy. Whether official religious endorsements disparage or exclude religious minorities depends on a number of contextual considerations, including the philosophical content of the religion in question, the attitudes of the majority, and the underlying purpose of the official status of the religious doctrine.
I distinguish two ways that a cultural practice may be inherently objectionable. I reject the claim that polygamy is inherently "vicious" because asymmetric marriages are inevitably inegalitarian. I argue that there is good reason to think polygamy is inherently "bankrupt" insofar as a cultural ideal of asymmetric marriage presupposes stereotypical gender roles.
Love—unconditional, selfless, unchanging, sincere, and totally accepting—is worshipped today as the West's only universal religion. To challenge it is one of our few remaining taboos. In this pathbreaking and superbly written book, philosopher Simon May does just that, dissecting our resilient ruling ideas of love and showing how they are the product of a long and powerful cultural heritage. Tracing over 2,500 years of human thought and history, May shows how our ideal of love developed from its Hebraic and Greek (...) origins alongside Christianity until, during the last two centuries, "God is love" became "love is God"—so hubristic, so escapist, so untruthful to the real nature of love, that it has booby-trapped relationships everywhere with deluded expectations. Brilliantly, May explores the very different philosophers and writers, both skeptics and believers, who dared to think differently: from Aristotle's perfect friendship and Ovid's celebration of sex and "the chase," to Rousseau's personal authenticity, Nietzsche's affirmation, Freud's concepts of loss and mourning, and boredom in Proust. Against our belief that love is an all-powerful solution to finding meaning, security, and happiness in life, May reveals with great clarity what love actually is: the intense desire for someone whom we believe can ground and affirm our very existence. The feeling that "makes the world go round" turns out to be a harbinger of home--and in that sense, of the sacred. (shrink)
The question of how to affirm one's life in view of suffering and loss is central to Nietzsche's philosophy. He shows, I claim, that one can affirm – take joy or find beauty in – one's life as a whole, conceived as necessary in all its elements, while also despising parts of it. Yet he mostly pictures such life-affirmation as achievable only via an atheistic theodicy that relies on a key ambition of the very system of morality that he famously (...) attacks: namely to explain or justify suffering in terms of a higher end to which it is essential. I argue that affirmation of one's life is more powerful without the crutch of any theodicy, and point to Job as a paragon of one who can affirm his life without seeking an answer to the question of the meaning or value of suffering – indeed who can dispense altogether with that question. (shrink)
Simon May develops a radically new understanding of love as the emotion we feel towards those we experience as grounding our life--as offering us a promise of home--in a world that we supremely value. He also proposes that the child is supplanting the romantic partner as the supreme object of love.
Love plays God -- The foundation of Western love : Hebrew scripture -- From physical desire to paradise : Plato -- Love as perfect friendship : Aristotle -- Love as sexual desire : Lucretius and Ovid -- Love as the supreme virtue : Christianity -- Why Christian love isn't unconditional -- Women on top : love and the troubadours -- How human nature became loveable : from the high Middle Ages to the Renaissance -- Love as joyful understanding of the (...) whole : Spinoza -- Love as enlightened romanticism : Rousseau -- Love as religion : Schlegel and Novalis -- Love as the urge to procreate : Schopenhauer -- Love as affirmation of life : Nietzsche -- Love as a history of loss : Freud -- Love as terror and tedium : Proust -- Love reconsidered. (shrink)