The Emergence of the Dualism of Practical Reason in Post-Hobbesian British Moral Philosophy

Dissertation, University of Notre Dame (1994)
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Abstract

One feature common to a great variety of contemporary ethical theories that differ significantly at other points is the centrality of the dichotomy between egoism and altruism. Morality is considered to be altruistic, and therefore opposed to egoism. This understanding of the relationships among egoism, morality, and altruism stands in contrast to those of the most important ancient and medieval ethical theories. Though Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas disagree with one another elsewhere, they share the belief that there is seldom, if ever, conflict between morality and true self-love. The distinction between virtuous and vicious living is understood, not in terms of a dichotomy between egoism and altruism, but in terms of the distinction between false and true self-love. ;This dissertation focuses on an historical sequence of philosophical mistakes that led to the adoption by most contemporary philosophers of an understanding of the relationship between self-love and morality that was widely held in the pre-modern world, but was understood by the most important ancient and medieval philosophers to be false. The early, British critics of Thomas Hobbes, in their haste to correct his mistakes, made errors of their own that were at least as great. In order to achieve their objective of defending Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Thomism from Hobbism, they should have criticized Hobbes for maintaining that human persons are naturally solitary. They criticized him instead for maintaining that we are naturally selfish--and then argued that it is natural to promote both one's own good and the good of others. In doing so, they drove a wedge between self-love and love of other persons. ;Among the historical consequences of this misdiagnosis is Henry Sidgwick's "dualism of practical reason," which he called "the profoundest problem in ethics." In G. E. Moore's critique of Sidgwick, we find one of the roots of the contemporary belief that the chief opponent of morality is egoism. Among the virtues of the more traditional understanding of egoism, morality, and altruism is that it can, while most modern moral theories cannot, satisfactorily answer the question "Why be ethical?".

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David Lutz
University of Notre Dame (PhD)

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