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Metaethics

Metaethics

Moral Relativism: A Reader

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Are all moral truths relative or do certain moral truths hold for all cultures and people? In Moral Relativism: A Reader, this and related questions are addressed by twenty-one contemporary moral philosophers and thinkers. This engaging and nontechnical anthology, the only up-to-date collection devoted solely to the topic of moral relativism, is accessible to a wide range of readers including undergraduate students from various disciplines. The selections are organized under six main topics: (1) General Issues; (2) Relativism and Moral Diversity; (3) On the Coherence of Moral Relativism; (4) Defense and Criticism; (5) Relativism, Realism, and Rationality; and (6) Case Study on Relativism. Contributors include Ruth Benedict, Richard Brandt, Thomas L. Carson, Philippa Foot, Gordon Graham, Gilbert Harman, Loretta M. Kopelman, David Lyons, J. L. Mackie, Michele Moody-Adams, Paul K. Moser, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum, Karl Popper, Betsy Postow, James Rachels, W. D. Ross, T. M. Scanlon, William Graham Sumner, and Carl Wellman. The volume concludes with a case study on female circumcision/genital mutilation that vividly brings into focus the practical aspects and implications of moral relativism. An ideal primary text for courses in moral relativism, Moral Relativism: A Reader can also be used as a supplementary text for introductory courses in ethics and for courses in various disciplines — anthropology, sociology, theology, political science, and cultural studies — that discuss relativism. The volume’s pedagogical and research value is enhanced by a topical bibliography on moral relativism and a substantial general introduction that includes explanatory summaries of the twenty selections.

From Metaphysics to Ethics

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Frank Jackson champions the cause of conceptual analysis as central to philosophical inquiry. In recent years conceptual analysis has been undervalued and widely misunderstood, suggests Jackson. He argues that such analysis is mistakenly clouded in mystery, preventing a whole range of important questions from being productively addressed. He anchors his argument in discussions of specific philosophical issues, starting with the metaphysical doctrine of physicalism and moving on, via free will, meaning, personal identity, motion, and change, to ethics and the philosophy of color. In this way the book not only offers a methodological program for philosophy, but also casts new light on some much-debated problems and their interrelations. ~ Book Description

Evolutionary Origins of Morality

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Four principal papers and a total of 43 peer commentaries on the evolutionary origins of morality. To what extent is human morality the outcome of a continuous development from motives, emotions and social behaviour found in nonhuman animals? Jerome Kagan, Hans Kummer, Peter Railton and others discuss the first principal paper by primatologists Jessica Flack and Frans de Waal. The second paper, by cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm, synthesizes social science and biological evidence to support his theory of how our hominid ancestors became moral. In the third paper philosopher Elliott Sober and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson argue that an evolutionary understanding of human nature allows sacrifice for others and ultimate desires for another’s good. Finally Brian Skyrms argues that game theory based on adaptive dynamics must join the social scientist’s use of rational choice and classical game theory to explain cooperation.

Phillip E. Johnson on Evolution and Ethics

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The logic implies that it may be only natural for robot vehicles [us] to murder, rob, rape or enslave other robots to satisfy their genetic masters. Indeed, ruthless extermination of rival genes should be nearly as powerful an imperative as propagation of one’s own. Modern Darwinism seems also to leave no basis for valuing the humane arts like poetry and music except to the extent that such things are useful in spreading the genes by (for example) building tribal solidarity. Nineteenth-century Darwinists, writing for European gentlemen who took their own social order for granted, might have been able to shrug aside such objections on the ground that science requires that we take an unsentimental view of the realities of life. Darwin himself coolly predicted in The Descent of Man that the most highly developed humans would soon exterminate the other races because that is how natural selection works. Such casual references to genocide only began to seem reprehensible after Hitler, Stalin and Mao demonstrated what they meant in practice. Nowadays even the most uncompromising Darwinists have to make some concessions to morality, even at the cost of logical contradiction.

A Refutation of Moral Relativism

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The only boring aspect of this book is its title, which doesn’t do justice to apologist Kreeft’s intelligent, engaging dialogue between two fictional friends during a week of relaxation at Martha’s Vineyard. Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College and author of more than 25 books, describes the absolutist character ‘Isa as a Muslim fundamentalist from Palestine who teaches philosophy at the American University in Beirut. His interviewer and sparring partner is Libby Rawls, an African-American, liberal feminist journalist. Using a classic debate format, with impressive fairness to the opposite side, Kreeft defines relativism and its importance. Tracing relativism’s evolution and history in Western philosophy, Kreeft notes that relativism is a fairly modern perspective, originating within the last few hundred years. He outlines the philosophical distinctions between it and absolutism with clarity and an integrity that will delight both the layperson and the professional philosopher. For Kreeft, relativism has eroded a collective and individual sense of accountability and contributed to social decay, yet he can see the other side, especially with regard to cross-cultural differences. Although the purpose of the book is to uphold absolutism, Kreeft outlines the relativist perspective in an approachable, respectful manner. By giving counterarguments a fighting chance, this becomes a book that may actually persuade people, not just preach to the absolutist choir. ~ Publishers Weekly

David Bagget on Kant and Morality Without God

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Despite the theological and popularly conceived connections between religious devotion and moral living, the difficulties attending theological or religious ethics — the attempt to tie ethics to theology or religion in some important sense — are myriad. Thanks largely to Enlightenment thought, morality has come to be construed as independent of God so much so that the majority of moral philosophers today would without without hesitation affirm that even if God exists, morality can exist apart from God — an ontological critique — and, if the precepts or dictates of morality can be known at all, they can be known apart from religious orthodoxy or theological reflection — an epistemological critique. ¶ Since the Enlightenment, at least, and in particular since Kant’s epistemological dualism, questions of religion and “speculative metaphysics” have often been considered beyond the ken of rationality. Kant’s motivation, it has been suggested, was to spare religion from the rigorous scrutiny of the emerging science of his day; but the actual result proved to be detrimental to religious conviction, for it began to be portrayed as an inescapably subjective affair. Universal truth claims became harder to reconcile with this kind of epistemology, which is likely the inevitable while paradoxical effect of implicitly putting religion and science at odds. Religious truth claims tend to be increasingly construed as devoid of propositional content and rational evidence and are instead seen as empty faith claims rooted in a person’s imagination or a group’s collective psyche.

David Bagget on Ethical Dilemmas and Intuitions

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Sartre employs … examples like a young soldier deciding whether to go to war or to stay home and be his mother’s consolation … to show the difficulty of making certain ethical determinations, and writing like this in conjunction with the widespread use of what Christian Hoff-Sommers has called “dilemma ethics” — moral dialogue focused on trying to decide the “hard cases” — have contributed to the notion that the whole field of ethics is colored grey. The old certainties are gone; ambiguity wins the day. Everything is up for grabs when it comes to questions of morality. ¶ Despite the common nature of such views, most decisions in ethics are not fraught with ambiguity and tensions between commensurate competing commitments. As is obvious from clear examples of moral behavior, the vast majority of people’s moral intuitions remain intact and quite strong. Perhaps ethics are too often thought about in terms of the peripheral dilemmas and occasional ambiguities, overlooking and thereby skewing our perception of the vast intuitive area of agreement that actually obtains both across diverse cultures and throughout the centuries of human history. Perhaps morality has to be seen at its best, or at its worst, for it is then our intuitions are felt the strongest and distinctive features of moral facts most clearly apprehended, with no ambiguities or heart-wrenching dilemmas to cloud our vision. Eventually those dilemmas have to be accounted for as well, but the suggestion here is that they are not the proper place to begin.

Natural and Divine Law

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Though the concept of natural law took center stage during the Middle Ages, the theological aspects of this august intellectual tradition have been largely forgotten by the modern church. In this book ethicist Jean Porter shows the continuing significance of the natural law tradition for Christian ethics. Based on a careful analysis of natural law as it emerged in the medieval period, Porter’s work explores several important scholastic theologians and canonists whose writings are not only worthy of study in their own right but also make important contributions to moral reflection today. ~ Product Description

Michael Ruse on Darwinian Morality

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The Darwinian argues that morality simply does not work (from a biological perspective), unless we believe that it is objective. Darwinian theory shows that, in fact, morality is a function of (subjective) feelings; but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity.

Darwinian Natural Right

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This book shows how Darwinian biology supports an Aristotelian view of ethics as rooted in human nature. Defending a conception of "Darwinian natural right" based on the claim that the good is the desirable, the author argues that there are at least twenty natural desires that are universal to all human societies because they are based in human biology. The satisfaction of these natural desires constitutes a universal standard for judging social practice as either fulfilling or frustrating human nature, although prudence is required in judging what is best for particular circumstances. The author studies the familial bonding of parents and children and the conjugal bonding of men and women as illustrating social behavior that conforms to Darwinian natural right. He also studies slavery and psychopathy as illustrating social behavior that contradicts Darwinian natural right. He argues as well that the natural moral sense does not require religious belief, although such belief can sometimes reinforce the dictates of nature.

Shelly Kagan on Deriving a Moral System

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The position we have arrived at is this: in defending a moral theory, we must see how well that theory fits in with a wide variety of judgments that we are inclined to make about many different matters. We have opinions about cases, about principles, about the nature of morality, about what counts as an adequate explanation, and more. Some of these opinions are fairly specific, others are more general; some are arrived at rather "intuitively" and spontaneously, others only after considerable reflection; some are extremely difficult to give up, others are more easily abandoned. We try to find the moral theory that provides the overall fit with this eclectic set of beliefs. But if — as seems overwhelmingly likely — no theory can actually accomodate all of the relevant initial beliefs, we revise the set: we alter our beliefs, and reevaluate our theories, until we arrive as best we can at a theory that seems on balance to be more plausible than any of its rivals. Ultimately, then, defending a normative theory is a matter of arguing that it provides the best overall fit with our various considered judgments.

Shelly Kagan on How We Should Live

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How should one live? There are few questions, I think, that are as gripping and as inescapable as this one. Unlike many of the other classical questions of philosophy, this question — the central question of moral philosophy — seems pressing and important. It matters what answers we come up with, for it matters what I do with my life. What I make of myself, how I live, what I do, what kind of person I become — these things are of vital concern to each of us, even if few of us normally reflect on them in a systematic or critical fashion.

God and the Grounding of Morality

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These essays make a single central claim: that human beings can still make sense of their lives and still have a humane morality, even if their worldview is utterly secular and even if they have lost the last vestige of belief in God. “Even in a self-consciously Godless world life can be fully meaningful,” Nielsen contends. “What surely is most needed in order to make men clear sighted in confronting the official abuse of power, is that they should preserve the sense that the certification of something as legally valid is not conclusive of the question of obedience, and that, however great the aura of majesty or authority which the official system may have, its demands must in the end be submitted to a moral scrutiny.‎” (p.82)

Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character

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This book offers a unified collection of published and unpublished papers by Robert Audi, a renowned defender of the rationalist position in ethics. Taken together, the essays present a vigorous, broadly-based argument in moral epistemology and a related account of reasons for action and their bearing on moral justification and moral character. Part I details Audi’s compelling moral epistemology while Part II offers a unique vision of ethical concepts and an account of moral explanation, as well as a powerful model of moral realism. Part III extends this account of moral explanation to moral responsibility for both actions and character and to the relation between virtue and the actions that express it. Part IV elaborates a theory of reasons for action that locates them in relation to three of their traditionally major sources: desire, moral judgment, and value. Clear and illuminating, Audi’s introduction outlines and interconnects the self-contained but cumulatively arranged essays. It also places them in relation to classical and contemporary literature, and directs readers to large segments of thematically connected material spread throughout the book. Audi ends with a powerfully synthetic final essay. ~ Product Description

Written on the Heart

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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

Thomas Nagel on Ethics

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[J]ust as there was no guarantee at the beginning of cosmological and scientific speculation that we humans had the capacity to arrive at objective truth beyond the deliverances of sense-perception — that in pursing it we were doing anything more than spinning collective fantasies — so there can be no decision in advance as to whether we are or are not talking about a subject when we reflect and argue about morality. The answer must come from the results themselves. Only the effort to reason about morality can show us whether it is possible, whether, in thinking about what to do and how to live, we can find methods, reasons, and principles whose validity does not have to be subjectively or relativistically qualified.

The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality

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William Lane Craig argues first that objective morality is indefensible apart from the existence of God, and second, therefore, that the evident fact of objective morality is evidence for the existence of God. If not A (no God) then not B (no objective morality), then conversely, B therefore A. Craig justifies his thesis by noting the inability of atheism to account for moral evaluation, moral responsibility, and moral accountability. He is careful to stipulate that he is not arguing that belief in God is required for moral action and character, as the argument is sometimes misconstrued. Rather, "that if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured, but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding." ~ Afterall

The Sources of Normativity

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Ethical concepts are, or purport to be, normative. They make claims on us: they command, oblige, recommend, or guide. But where does their authority over us come from? Christine Korsgaard identifies and examines four accounts of the source of normativity that have been advocated by modern moral philosophers — voluntarism, realism, reflective endorsement, and the appeal to autonomy — and shows how Kant’s autonomy-based account emerges as a synthesis of the other three. Her discussion is followed by commentary from G.A. Cohen, Raymond Geuss, Thomas Nagel, and Bernard Williams, and a reply by Korsgaard. ~ Product Description

The Ethical Inadequacy of Naturalism

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Denying the existence and emergence of morality and ethics, Naturalism, a growing worldview, proves inadequate in explaining human nature and its qualities. Having examined the myth of evolution and scientism in Part 1, Moreland explores the jeopardy of the absence of ethics in this second part of a four-part series.

Robin Le Poidevin on Ethics

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If God is the basis of moral values, then such values must be objective, and we are, therefore, faced with the following questions: (1) How do we come to be aware of these moral values, if they exist entirely independently of us? (2) Why do moral facts supervene on natural facts? (3) How can the existence of objective moral values be reconciled with the existence of different conceptions of what is right. These difficulties are not faced by the atheist.

King Arthur on Objective Moral Laws

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You know the law we live by. And where is it written beyond Camelot live lesser people, people too weak to protect themselves, let them die? Malagant: Other people live by other laws, Arthur. Or is the law of Camelot to rule the entire world. King Arthur: There are laws that enslave men, and laws that set them free. Either what we hold to be right and good and true is right and good and true for all mankind, under God, or we’re just another robber tribe. Malagant: Your words are talking you out of peace and into war. King Arthur: There’s a peace you only find after war. If that battle must come. I will fight it!

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life

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The Goal Of Normative ethics is to develop a comprehensive, coherent system of morality that answers difficult questions. For advocates of biblical Christianity, whatever system we embrace should square with our considered, commonsense moral intuitions derived from natural law, and it should he consistent with, shed light upon, and help extend the morality contained in Scripture. Currently, there are three competing normative systems. Virtue ethics does not focus primarily on moral rules (e.g., "don’t steal") or moral actions but on describing the good person or community and the features present in a virtuous character. Deontological ethics (from deon meaning binding duty") focuses on moral rules and actions and emphasizes duty done for duty’s sake. Certain moral rules are intrinsically correct and should be followed simply because they are right. Virtue and deontological ethics are easily harmonized. But that is not the case with a third normative theory: utilitarianism.

Rawls and the Kantian Interpretation

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But apart from a pure interest in scholarship, why should Evangelicals care whether or not Rawls was Kantian? In recent years, there has been tremendous growth in the number of Bioethics Committees in acute and long term health care facilities. Since these committees are interdisciplinary, their membership is open to lawyers, nurses, social workers, doctors, clergy, and laymen, and others who are not trained in moral philosophy. There is a danger in this. Some of the literature on bioethics which is used to train people to serve on Bioethics Committees blurs or minimizes the distinction between deontological and utilitarian normative theories because both theories (especially the rule varieties of each) often imply the same moral decision. One example of this minimization of the distinction between deontological and utilitarian theories is Rawls. He is often listed as an example of a deontological theory, but I hope to show that he is closer to utilitarianism. ~ An Excerpt

Christian Ethics: Options and Issues

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An introductory presentation of Christian ethics, where the Bible is taken as the authoritative text for discussing issues such as homosexuality, abortion, war/civil disobedience, and other similar ethical issues. "This book is the most current of Geisler’s books on ethics and incorporates many of the points of previous works such as Ethics: Alternatives & Issues, Options in Contemporary Christian Ethics, and The Christian Ethic of Love. The book is, as the title suggests, a presentation of Christian ethics, so the Bible is taken as the standard text for discussing certain issues such as homosexuality, abortion, war/civil disobedience, and other similar ethical issues. But scientific and rational arguments are also used in addition to Biblical exposition to reach conclusions." ~ Cameron B. Clark @ Amazon.com

Why Be Moral?

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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