The Loss of Moral Knowledge

Seminar in Ethics

The seminar will study the disappearance of accepted moral knowledge from contemporary Western culture, and the essential role of developments of moral theory during the late 19th and 20th century in that disappearance.  The dialectic of naturalism and intuitionism up to the positivist era will be examined, then the outworkings of ethical theory as "the logic of moral discourse" will be followed from Ayer and Stevenson to MacIntyre and Rawls.  A centerpiece of the discussion will be Elizabeth Anscombe's 1958 paper, "Modern Moral Philosophy," and her claim that "it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that it should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology."  The way in which moral distinctions have been made out as depending upon language, logic and 'rationality' will be closely scrutinized, and logic and rationality will be rejected as a basis of moral distinctions as a case of obscurum per obscurius at best.  It will be suggested that the distinction between naturalism and intuitionism is not helpful (due to unclarities in the ideas of "nature" and "intuition" deriving from the contrasts through which they derive whatever meaning they have), and that in fact appeals to logic and rationality are simply other forms of 'intuitionism.'  At the end—if there is time, and the seminar leader's audacity does not fail him—an outline of a theory of moral virtue and obligation will be offered, based upon common understandings of character and obligation undepleted by Empiricism and the Transcendentalisms to which it historically gives rise.

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Seminar in Ethics: The Loss of Moral Knowledge

The seminar will study the disappearance of accepted moral knowledge from contemporary Western culture, and the essential role of developments of moral theory during the late 19th and 20th century in that disappearance.  The dialectic of naturalism and intuitionism up to the positivist era will be examined, then the outworkings of ethical theory as "the logic of moral discourse" will be followed from Ayer and Stevenson to MacIntyre and Rawls.  A centerpiece of the discussion will be Elizabeth Anscombe's 1958 paper, "Modern Moral Philosophy," and her claim that "it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that it should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology."  

The way in which moral distinctions have been made out as depending upon language, logic and 'rationality' will be closely scrutinized, and logic and rationality will be rejected as a basis of moral distinctions as a case of obscurum per obscurius at best.  It will be suggested that the distinction between naturalism and intuitionism is not helpful (due to unclarities in the ideas of "nature" and "intuition" deriving from the contrasts through which they derive whatever meaning they have), and that in fact appeals to logic and rationality are simply other forms of 'intuitionism.'  At the end—if there is time, and the seminar leader's audacity does not fail him—an outline of a theory of moral virtue and obligation will be offered, based upon common understandings of character and obligation undepleted by Empiricism and the Transcendentalisms to which it historically gives rise.

 

TEXTS:
  1. W. D. Hudson, Modern Moral Philosophy
  2. Mary Warnock, Ethics Since 1900
  3. Cahn and Haber, 20th Century Ethical Theory
  4. A. MacIntyre, After Virtue
  5. R. Audi, Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character
  6. Alan Goldman, Moral Knowledge
  7. John H. Dreher, Moral Legitimacy and the Social Arts
     

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