Richard Kraut (Harvard University Press: May 2009), 304 pages.
Have Rawls and Nozick met their match? The titans of late-twentieth-century social philosophy do indeed find an acute critic--and possible successor--in Kraut. For in this groundbreaking inquiry into the nature of goodness, Kraut exposes the inadequacy of all previous ethical thinking, including Rawls' and Nozick's. Kraut is particularly thorough in his demolition of the cognitive theory that requires each individual to construct his or her own definition of the good. Because good must mean good for, Kraut argues, human good finally entails whatever fosters human flourishing, a flourishing that almost everyone can recognize and agree on. Kraut's focus on human flourishing quickly exposes common fallacies, such as Rawls' belief that right (justice) outweighs goodness and Nozick's idea that a "hyper-plane" safeguards individual autonomy in defining goodness. Likewise discredited are Hobbes' vision of combative egos fighting for private goods along with Betham's utilitarian calculus for summing up different kinds of good. In contrast, Aristotle's multidimensional model of human well-being survives very well in Kraut's paradigm. Religious-minded readers may protest that Kraut metaphysically impoverishes human goodness when he explicitly rejects immortality. But many other readers will praise him for enriching contemporary dialogue about fundamental ethical questions. An essential acquisition in social philosophy. ~ Bryce Christensen for Booklist
J. Budziszewski (Ignatius Press; Rev Exp edition: February 15, 2011), 300 pages.
In this new revised edition of his groundbreaking work, Professor J. Budziszewski questions the modern assumption that moral truths are unknowable. With clear and logical arguments he rehabilitates the natural law tradition and restores confidence in a moral code based upon human nature. What We Can't Not Know explains the rational foundation of what we all really know to be right and wrong and shows how that foundation has been kicked out from under western society. Having gone through stages of atheism and nihilism in his own search for truth, Budziszewski understands the philosophical and personal roots of moral relativism. With wisdom born of both experience and rigorous intellectual inquiry, he offers a firm foothold to those who are attempting either to understand or to defend the reasonableness of traditional morality. While natural law bridges the chasms that can be caused by religious and philosophical differences, Budziszewski believes that natural law theory has entered a new phase, in which theology will again have pride of place. While religious belief might appear to hamper the search for common ground, Budziszewski demonstrates that it is not an obstacle, but a pathway to apprehending universal norms of behavior. ~ Book Description
T. M. Scanlon (Harvard University Press: February 1999), 432 pages.
How do we judge whether an action is morally right or wrong? If an action is wrong, what reason does that give us not to do it? Why should we give such reasons priority over our other concerns and values? In this book, T. M. Scanlon offers new answers to these questions, as they apply to the central part of morality that concerns what we owe to each other. According to his contractualist view, thinking about right and wrong is thinking about what we do in terms that could be justified to others and that they could not reasonably reject. He shows how the special authority of conclusions about right and wrong arises from the value of being related to others in this way, and he shows how familiar moral ideas such as fairness and responsibility can be understood through their role in this process of mutual justification and criticism. Scanlon bases his contractualism on a broader account of reasons, value, and individual well-being that challenges standard views about these crucial notions. He argues that desires do not provide us with reasons, that states of affairs are not the primary bearers of value, and that well-being is not as important for rational decision-making as it is commonly held to be. Scanlon is a pluralist about both moral and non-moral values. He argues that, taking this plurality of values into account, contractualism allows for most of the variability in moral requirements that relativists have claimed, while still accounting for the full force of our judgments of right and wrong. ~ Product Description
Kai Nielsen (Prometheus: Jul 1, 1989), 300 pages.
Noted philosopher Kai Nielsen offers an answer to this fundamental question - a question that reaches in to grasp at the very heart of ethics itself. Essentially, this innocent inquiry masks a confusion that so many of us get caught in as we think about moral issues. We fail to realise that there is a difference between judging human behaviour within an ethical context, or set of moral principles, and justifying the principles themselves. According to Nielsen, it is precisely this basic muddle that has spawned all sorts of challenges to morality, from relativism and institutionism to egoism and scepticism.Nielsen first argues the case for these challenges in the strongest possible terms; then he shows that their failure to establish themselves demonstrates a fundamental flaw - an inability to understand what it means to have good reasons for the moral claims we make. In his search for "good reasons" Nielsen must face the innocent question "Why be moral?" He tries to show us that skirmishes among supporters of specific moral principles require a different sort of resolution than those that occur between groups of ethical principles. Justifying an action within a moral point of view is quite different from making the case for having a moral point of view in the first place. ~ Product Description
A Refutation of Every Argument Brought Against the Truth of Christianity, and Revealed Religion, by Thomas Paine, in the First Part of His Work, Called "The Age of Reason." (G.B. Whittaker: 1825), pp. 10-11.
I too, believe the equality of man, considered as a moral agent, for "God is no respecter of persons;" so that Mr. Paine's Deism and my Christianity, here teach the same doctrine. But where are to be found Mr. Paine's authorities for "doing justice?" What page of nature is inscribed with this precept? It is, to our eyes, rather contra-indicated than enforced by nature. The instinct of nature makes one animal prey upon another; and, surely, this is not an exemplification of Mr. Paine's doing justice! The hawk will destroy the lark, and the lark will destroy the worm. Is this a lesson for man to learn, and practice in social life? Nor is this example solitary, nor contrary to the general designs of nature, as is manifest from the various provisions she has made to facilitate the capture and destruction of weaker animals by the stronger; from the spider that preys upon a fly, to the lion that feasts upon an ox. Nor do we learn to respect property more than person from the instincts of nature. Every animal plunders the stores of others when opportunity offers; evincing in no single instance a regard of justice. And what would it avail, if we were to behold the strictest justice every where observed by instinctive natures? What would make that duty obligatory upon man?
"Kant, God, and Immortality" in Religion and Morality (Ashgate Publishing: 2005), p. 7.
The trouble with acting solely on the basis of natural incentives like sympathy is therefore this. The maxims which are guiding our actions are derived from desires which aren't shared by all (possible) rational beings, and thus can't be regarded as expressions of pure moral reason. ¶ Why does Kant adopt this position? A person's emotions, feelings, and inclinations are part of his or her biological inheritance. However admirable they may be, acts that are only expressions of feeling and inclination are acts of human animals, of beings caught up in the web of nature, locked into the system of natural causes and effects. When we act because we see that something is right, however, our behavior is an expression of our reason and will, of those aspects of ourselves which transcend nature. ¶ Two "worlds" or realities must be distinguished. The phenomenal world or world of appearances discloses itself in sense perception and is investigated by science. It includes observable substances, qualities, and events, and theoretical entities like subatomic particles which science postulates to explain them. "Behind" the world of appearances lies the noumenal world — reality as it is in itself, and not as it manifests itself to us. This world is inaccessible to theoretical reason and is therefore, in the strict sense, unknowable. But human beings belong to both worlds. As parts of nature, we are members of the phenomenal world, and our behavior can be explained in terms of natural causality. As free and rational beings, we are members of the noumenal world, and our actions are self-determined.
J. Budziszewski (Intervarsity Press: June, 1997), 252 pages.
Since the great works of classic Greek philosophy are seldom taught either at the high school or college level, the author gives a brief but convincing grounding in Aristotle. Proceeding through other great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, he relentlessly shows the universal applicability of moral principles. The book is a very effective foil for those post-modern thinkers who believe (without proof) that mankind has moved beyond the natural law, or that there is no such thing. The book is written at a very readable level. ~ W. Patrick Cunningham