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Metaethics

Metaethics

Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics

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This is an important book in contemporary meta-ethics since it is the first and only book-length treatise on so-called "Cornell Realism." What is perhaps most distinctive of the Cornell Realists is that they draw on work in recent philosophy of science to argue that we have good reason to believe that moral inquiry is objective in much the same way that scientific inquiry is objective. They also adhere to a battery of views on specific meta-ethical issues, and this helps to distinguish them from other thinkers. At the center of their metaphysics of morality is the view that moral facts and properties are natural, though they cannot be reduced to the properties of physics, biology, chemistry, or any other discipline in the natural sciences. 
"David Brink’s book is the best development, synthesis, and defense now available of a naturalistic moral realism." ~ Ethics

Essays on Moral Realism

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To the best of my knowledge, this is the best single volume on the realism/anti-realism dispute in contemporary meta-ethics. Basically, what is at issue between realists and anti-realists is the objectivity of ethics. According to Sayre-McCord, the central issue is the existence of moral facts. Realists claim that such facts exist; anti-realists deny their existence. There is more to the debate than this, however. The following is a list of claims that most realists will make about morality: (i) there are moral facts (or moral truths), and these facts (or truths) are mind-independent in some important way; (ii) cognitivism about moral discourse is true: that is, moral moral claims purport to describe moral facts (or moral truths), and (at least some of) these claims successfully do so; and (iii) moral knowledge is possible, and we have some of it. ~ ctdreyer

The Argument from Conscience

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The argument from conscience is one of the only two arguments for the existence of God alluded to in Scripture, the other being the argument from design (both in Romans). Both arguments are essentially simple natural intuitions. Only when complex, artificial objections are made do these arguments begin to take on a complex appearance. The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God. Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition, which we usually call conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul.

The Virtue of Faith

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Robert Merrihew Adams has been a leader in renewing philosophical respect for the idea that moral obligation may be founded on the commands of God. This collection of Adams’ essays, two of which are previously unpublished, draws from his extensive writings on philosophical theology that discuss metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical issues surrounding the concept of God — whether God exists or not, what God is or would be like, and how we ought to relate ourselves to such a being. Adams studies the relation between religion and ethics, delving into an analysis of moral arguments for theistic belief. In several essays, he applies contemporary studies in the metaphysics of individuality, possibility and necessity, and counterfactual conditionals to issues surrounding the existence of God and problems of evil. ~ Product Description

Morality, Religious and Secular

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In Morality, Religious and Secular: The Dilemma of the Traditional Conscience, Basil Mitchell wrestles with the relationship between morality and theism. Through a critical examination of three wholly secular moral theories — rational/scientific humanism, romantic humanism and liberal humanism — he concludes that non-religious moralities, though simpler in some ways, fail to meet the demands of the ‘traditional conscience’. He argues that morals are essentially a matter of necessity, a product of human needs, undergirded by accepted conceptions of personhood and relationality. As the Western moral tradition has been most profoundly shaped by the teachings of Christianity, Mitchell questions whether or not this morality can be maintained in a wholly secular climate. ~ Brannon Hancock

Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy

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Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy is widely acknowledged to be Bernard Williams’ most important book and a contemporary classic of moral philosophy. Delivering a sustained critique of moral theory from Kant onward, Williams reorients ethical theory towards "truth, truthfulness and the meaning of an individual life." He explores and reflects on the thorniest problems in contemporary philosophy and offers new ideas about central issues such as relativism, objectivity and the possibility of ethical knowledge. This edition includes a new commentary on the text by A.W. Moore, St.Hugh’s College, Oxford. By the time of his death in 2003, Bernard Williams was one of the greatest philosophers of his generation. He taught at the Universities of Cambridge, Berkeley and Oxford. He is the author of Morality; Utilitarianism: For and Against; Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry and Truth and Truthfulness.

J.L. Mackie on Moral Properties

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Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.

Kai Nielsen and the Nature of Theistic Ethic

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Theists frequently argue that nontheists must affirm the following: (1) If there is no God, each person must define “good” and “evil” for herself. (2) If each person must define “good” and “evil” for herself, there can be no objective moral standard. (3) God does not exist. (4) Therefore there can be no objective moral standard (i.e., all moral principles are relative). Some nontheists agree (e.g., Sartre) and attempt to live with the implications of (4). Others deny (2), claiming that the existence of an objective moral standard is not dependent on religious commitment. Kai Nielsen is one of the best known and most outspoken members of this group. Nielsen argued that “the nonexistence of God does not preclude the possibility of there being an objective standard on which to base [moral] judgments.”

Michael Tooley on Infantacide and Taboos

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Aside from the light it may shed on the abortion question, the issue of infantacide is both interesting and important in its own right. The theoretical interest has been mentioned: it forces one to face up to the question of what makes something a person. The practical imprtance need not be labored. Most people would prefer to raise children who do not suffer from gross deformities or from severe physical, emotional, or intellectual handicaps. If it could be shown that there is no moral objection to infanticide the happiness of society could be significantly and justifably increased. Infanticide is also of interest because of the strong emotions it arouses. The typical reaction to infanticide is like the reaction to incest or cannibalism, or the reaction of previous generations to masturbation or oral sex. The response, rather than appealing to carefully formulated moral principles, is primarily visceral. When philosophers themselves respond in this way, offering no arguments, and dismissing infanticide out of hand, it is reasonable to suspect that one is dealing with a taboo rather than with a rational prohibition.

Albert Camus (as Dr. Rieux) on Death and God

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I’ve seen too much of hospitals to relish any idea of collective punishment. But, as you know, Christians sometimes say that sort of thing without really thinking it. They’re better than they seem. [Father] Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn’t come in contact with death; that’s why he can speak with such assurance of the truth — with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has to hear a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its excellence. If [I] believed in an all-powerful God [I] would cease curing the sick and leave that to Him. But no one in the world believed in a God of that sort; no, not even Paneloux, who believed that he believed in such a God. And this was proved by the fact that no one ever threw himself on Providence completely. [S]ince the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for God if we refuse to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against death, without raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in silence?

C.S. Lewis on a Universe With No Exit

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There was one way in which the world, as … rationalism taught me to see it, gratified my wishes. It might be grim and deadly but at least it was free from the Christian God. Some people (not all) will find it hard to understand why this seemed to me such an overwhelming advantage… I was, as you may remember, one whose negative demands were more violent than his positive, far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my own permission. To such a craven the materialist’s universe had the enormous attraction that it offered you limited liabilities. No strictly infinite disaster could overtake you in it. Death ended all. And if ever finite disaster proved greater than one wished to bear suicide would always be possible. The horror of the Christian universe was that it had no door marked Exit.

Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right

Go Harry G. Frankfurt begins these lectures by asking, "What is it about human beings that makes it possible for us to take ourselves seriously?" Based on the Tanner Lectures in Moral Philosophy, Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right delves into this provocative and original question. The author maintains that taking ourselves seriously presupposes an inward-directed, reflexive oversight that enables us to focus our attention directly upon ourselves, and "it means that we are not prepared to accept ourselves just as we come. We want our thoughts, our feelings, our choices, and our behavior to make sense. We are not satisfied to think that our ideas are formed haphazardly, or that our actions are driven by transient and opaque impulses or by mindless decisions. We need to direct ourselves — or at any rate to believe that we are directing ourselves — in thoughtful conformity to stable and appropriate norms. We want to get things right." The essays delineate two features that have a critical role to play in this: our rationality, and our ability to love. Frankfurt incisively explores the roles of reason and of love in our active lives, and considers the relation between these two motivating forces of our actions. The argument is that the authority of practical reason is less fundamental than the authority of love. Love, as the author defines it, is a volitional matter, that is, it consists in what we are actually committed to caring about. Frankfurt adds that "The object of love can be almost anything — a life, a quality of experience, a person, a group, a moral ideal, a tradition, whatever." However, these objects and ideals are difficult to comprehend and often in conflict with each other. Moral principles play an important supporting role in this process as they help us develop and elucidate a vision that inspires our love. ~ Product Description

The Right and the Good

Go The Right and the Good, a classic of twentieth-century philosophy by the eminent scholar Sir David Ross, is now presented in a new edition with a substantial introduction by Philip Stratton-Lake, a leading expert on Ross. Ross's book is the pinnacle of ethical intuitionism, which was the dominant moral theory in British philosophy for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Intuitionism is now enjoying a considerable revival, and Stratton-Lake provides the context for a proper understanding of Ross's great work today. ~ Product Description

Natural Goodness

Go Philippa Foot has for many years been one of the most distinctive and influential thinkers in moral philosophy. Long dissatisfied with the moral theories of her contemporaries, she has gradually evolved a theory of her own that is radically opposed not only to emotivism and prescriptivism but also to the whole subjectivist, anti-naturalist movement deriving from David Hume. Dissatisfied with both Kantian and utilitarian ethics, she claims to have isolated a special form of evaluation that predicates goodness and defect only to living things considered as such; she finds this form of evaluation in moral judgements. Her vivid discussion covers topics such as practical rationality, erring conscience, and the relation between virtue and happiness, ending with a critique of Nietzsche's immoralism. This long-awaited book exposes a highly original approach to moral philosophy and represents a fundamental break from the assumptions of recent debates. Foot challenges many prominent philosophical arguments and attitudes; but hers is a work full of life and feeling, written for anyone intrigued by the deepest questions about goodness and human. ~ Product Description

A Shared Morality

Go Boyd presents an insightful account of natural law ethics, the view that ethical principles derive from the requirements of human nature. A prime obstacle to the acceptance of this type of ethics is that it transgresses the fact-value dichotomy. Boyd responds in detail to this objection, as well as to G.E. Moore's criticism of ethical naturalism. Although he defends natural law, Boyd holds that the classical version of that view as advanced by Thomas Aquinas cannot be accepted. It is based, he writes, on outdated biology, and attention to modern evolutionary theory results in a natural law position less universalistic in its claims than the classical doctrine. Boyd further criticizes other attempts to use evolutionary biology in ethics, as expressed in Larry Arnhart's Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature and the writings of E.O. Wilson. Natural law, Boyd argues, needs to be supplemented with virtue ethics. He also compares natural law to divine command ethics and addresses postmodernist and relativist criticisms. Boyd discusses an unusually wide range of material, and his challenging book is recommended for philosophy collections. ~ Product Description

Kai Nielsen on Ethical Certainty

Go It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife-beating and child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil... I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.

Moral Realism: A Defence

Go Shafer-Landau defends non-naturalist moral realism. Moral realism is the thesis there are objective moral facts. In other words, it is the thesis that there are moral facts, and they are not constituted by what any actual or possible person (or any actual or possible group of persons) thinks, feels, believes, etc. Shafer-Landau argues that these objective moral facts are non-natural facts. The moral facts are sui generis, and in particular they are not a sort of natural facts. His non-naturalism also includes a thesis about moral language: that it cannot be analyzed into the language of the natural or social sciences. In explaining his position, Shafer-Landau emphasizes that it does not commit him to the existence of strange, inexplicable moral stuff. His position is that the moral facts are wholly constituted by non-moral (probably wholly natural) facts, though they are not identical to any non-moral facts. This rests on a form of property pluralism according to which moral properties, though not identical to non-moral properties, are realized by non-moral properties. Things have moral properties that are not identical to natural properties, and therefore moral facts (i.e. facts about which things have which moral properties) are wholly constituted by natural facts but are not themselves natural facts. ~ ctdreyer at Amazon.com

Reasons and the Good

Go In Reasons and the Good Roger Crisp answers some of the oldest questions in moral philosophy. Fundamental to ethics, he claims, is the idea of ultimate reasons for action; and he argues controversially that these reasons don't depend on moral concepts. He investigates the nature of reasons themselves, and how we come to know them. He defends a hedonistic theory of well-being and an account of practical reason according to which we can give some, though not overriding, priority to our own good over that of others. ~ Product Description • "Roger Crisp's Reason and the Good defends, in a forthright and amiable style, quite an array of doctrines in metaethics and normative ethics, many of which challenge orthodoxy.... this bold and sweeping work contains quite a number of provocative discussions of interest to theoretical ethicists of many stripes." ~ Chris Heathwood, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

The Nature of Moral Thinking

Go Most recent texts in moral philosophy have either concentrated on practical moral issues or else, if theoretical, have tended toward one-sided presentations of recent, fashionable views. Discussions of applied ethics cannot go very far without revealing underlying philosophical assumptions about how deeper, more general issues are treated. Similarly, recent approaches to ethics are difficult to understand without a knowledge of the context of the historical views against which these approaches are reacting. The Nature of Moral Thinking will satisfy the intellectually curious student, providing a solid and fair discussion of the classical philosophical questions about our moral thinking, surveying the main types of meta-ethical and normative ethical theories, while not excluding the more recent discussions of moral realism, of anti-realism, and of virtue morality. Francis Snare demonstrates that glib intellectualistic thinking about morality, especially in regard to relativism andsubjectivism, is seriously flawed. He also focuses attention on the question of whether particular theories of the origins of morality (for example, those of Nietzsche and Marx) undermine morality. All students and teachers of ethics and philosophy will find this book one of the most complete and detailed introductory-level surveys of the foundations of ethics with emphasis on the problems of the subjectivity, the relativity, and the origins of morality. ~ Product Description

What Is Good and Why

Go 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

What We Owe to Each Other

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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

The Moral Psychology Handbook

Go The Moral Psychology Handbook offers a survey of contemporary moral psychology, integrating evidence and argument from philosophy and the human sciences. The chapters cover major issues in moral psychology, including moral reasoning, character, moral emotion, positive psychology, moral rules, the neural correlates of ethical judgment, and the attribution of moral responsibility. Each chapter is a collaborative effort, written jointly by leading researchers in the field. John M. Doris is Associate Professor in the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program and Philosophy Department, Washington University in St. Louis. ~ Product Description

Bertrand Russell on Placebos

Go The fact that a belief has a good moral effect upon a man is no evidence whatsoever in favor of its truth.