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Metaethics

Metaethics

The Abolition of Man

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Lewis observes that man’s increasing power over nature is at the same time the unavoidable empowering of some men over other men, whether it be nation over nation, the majority over the minority, or this generation over the next. “Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger.” Lewis imagines that day when science conquers the last domain of nature, human nature, and gains the power to determine even what it is to be human. Released thereby from the dictates of the Tao, an ultimate rule that guides behavior and law in conformity with the natural order, we will have recourse only to impulse, to emotion, to whim. “At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ — to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.” Our defeat by nature is the inevitable outcome of making ourselves mere constituents of nature. “Either we are rational spirit obliged forever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses.” Lewis’ Abolition of Man has been widely lauded as one of the great prophetic works of the twentieth century. ~ Afterall

Principia Ethica

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When Principia Ethica appeared, in 1903, it became something of a sacred text for the Cambridge-educated elite who formed the core of the Bloomsbury Group. In a letter of October 11, 1903, Strachey confesses to Moore that he is “carried away” by Principia, which inaugurates, for him, “the beginning of the Age of Reason.” Moore’s critique of convention, his caustic dismissal of his philosophical predecessors, and the relentless rigor of his method promised a revolution in morality commensurate with the modernist transformation of art and literature. Principia Ethica shifted the study of ethics away from normative questions to issues of “metaethics,” the study of ethical concepts.

Samuel Drew on Discarding the Sacred

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But, for the evils of which you complain, you have provided a singular remedy. Many, however, will think it too desperate, to be adopted without hesitation. To give stability to "staggering incredulity," you advise us to cut off, at one stroke, all that has been held venerable and sacred for ages; but, unfortunately, you have nothing to offer in its stead, but a liberation from every restraint on those unhallowed passions of our nature, which would furnish a passport to every vice. To remove doubts, you teach us to disbelieve; to promote the interests of moral virtue, you recommend: the abolition of every moral principle; and to awaken us from the delirium of superstition, you administer an opiate, which, while it cherishes the moral depravity of the heart, strangles, in the birth, every pang of conscientious remorse.

William Grisenthwaite on Nature and Morality

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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?

David Hume on Ethics as Emotivism

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Take any action allow’d to be vicious: Willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but ’tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind…

Leibniz on the Divine Command Theory

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In saying, therefore, that things are not good according to any standard of goodness, but simply by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory; for why praise him for what he has done, if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing the contrary? Where will be his justice and his wisdom if he has only a certain despotic power, if arbitrary will takes the place of reasonableness, and if in accord with the definition of tyrants, justice consists in that which is pleasing to the most powerful?

Anselm of Canterbury on Divine Command Theory

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When it is said that what God wishes is just, and that what He does not wish is unjust, we must not understand that if God wished anything improper it would be just, simply because he wished it. For if God wishes to lie, we must not conclude that it is right to lie, but rather that he is not God. For no will can ever wish to lie, unless truth in it is impaired, nay, unless the will itself be impaired by forsaking truth. When, then, it is said: “If God wishes to lie,” the meaning is simply this: “If the nature of God is such as that he wishes to lie;” and, therefore, it does not follow that falsehood is right, except it be understood in the same manner as when we speak of two impossible things: “If this be true, then that follows; because neither this nor that is true;” as if a man should say: “Supposing water to be dry, and fire to be moist;” for neither is the case. Therefore, with regard to these things, to speak the whole truth: If God desires a thing, it is right that he should desire that which involves no unfitness. For if God chooses that it should rain, it is right that it should rain; and if he desires that any man should die, then is it right that he should die. Wherefore, if it be not fitting for God to do anything unjustly, or out of course, it does not belong to his liberty or compassion or will to let the sinner go unpunished who makes no return to God of what the sinner has