Noted scholar and humanist argues that we can find answers to important human questions without recourse to faith in a supernatural deity. What gives purpose to our existence? What happens to our mind and body when we die? What invests our lives with meaning and propels us to go on from day to day? These are some of the questions that have occupied humankind for centuries. Do solutions to these problems of life and death depend, as many believe, on the (...) existence and intervention of a supernatural creator god? In this contribution to the Prometheus Lecture Series, noted scholar and humanist Kurt Baier, one of the leading ethical theorists of the 20th century, contends that rational humanism is the best alternative to theism. In Problems of Life & Death: A Humanist Perspective, he offers a lively discussion of humanism and supernaturalism; problems of practical wisdom featuring death and the good; and traditional moral problems. Part one traces contemporary rational humanism to its roots in ancient Greece; its revival in the Christian renaissance; its development during the scientific revolution, the 18th century Enlightenment, the Darwinian theory of evolution, and its contemporary developments. Part two answers broad questions of practical wisdom from the rationalist point of view. The third part offers a rationalist conception of morality to replace "the will of God" as the impetus for human action. Baier then applies this moral stance to a number of contemporary moral problems including how to lead a rewarding life, homosexual behavior, birth control, and suicide. With fresh ideas, a carefully argued thesis, and convincing conclusions, Baier shows how the rational humanist can come to grips with some of the deepest problems of human existence, without assumptions based on religious faith. (shrink)
1. It seems that the description and explanation of what is going on in inanimate nature differ in important respects from the description and explanation of what is going on when that involves human beings or certain animals. The difference is sometimes expressed by saying that whereas in the former case what we describe and explain is always events, in the latter it is sometimes events and sometimes actions. Material objects, one might say, do not do anything, do not perform (...) actions, are not agents. The question arises whether the differences between material objects and agents, and consequently between events and actions, are such as to render inapplicable to actions the categories of explanation employed in the natural sciences. This question is sometimes answered in the affirmative. In particular, it is argued that actions do not admit of causal explanations, or of explanations in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, or in terms which imply that the occurrence of an action is wholly determined. Or it is argued more cautiously, that, even if some kinds of action are so explicable, the most important kinds, those which are voluntary, intentional, deliberate, cannot be. In this essay, I argue for a third theory. It shares with the first two the view that in the narration and description of events and actions we do not employ exactly the same categories and that, therefore, in the explanation of one, reference may have to be made to types of fact not mentioned in the explanation of the other. Thus, in the explanation of why I raised my arm, I may have to refer to my purpose, intention or aim, whereas in the explanation of my arm’s going up, this may be irrelevant. Nevertheless, the theory here defended maintains that all kinds of action, including intentional ones, admit of causal or deterministic explanations. (shrink)
Gauthier's magnificent book erects a conception of morality, “morals by agreement,” on the foundation of his own theory of practical rationality. This is as it should be if, as he claims, following Hobbes and others, there is an initial “presumption against morality” and no theory of morals “can ever serve any useful purpose, unless it can show that all the duties it recommends are also truly endorsed in each individual's reason”, indeed, that it is a requirement of rationality that one (...) always satisfy the requirements of morality. This means, however, that the initial assumption against morality is inherited by his theory of practical rationality. His theory of morals therefore can serve a useful purpose only if his theory of rationality is sound. In this paper, I want to explore some of the more dubious aspects of that theory to see whether it can bear the heavy load of justification that “morals by agreement” places on it. (shrink)
In this paper I wish to discuss two types of moral judgment, the ascription of moral value and of moral worth. Such judgments attribute evaluative properties to persons. There can be little doubt that such judgments are frequently passed and that, though many people find them distasteful, they are indispensable to the effective operation of a morality. To take seriously the slogan ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’ is to treat morality as a private, personal matter, which is solely a (...) person’s own concern. But so taken, the slogan invites indiscriminate mutual condonation of, and so connivance at, immorality. I therefore ignore possible objections to such judgments on the grounds of their supposed illegitimacy. (shrink)
Probably no one has done more than Frankena to bring about the recent shift in philosophical interest from the primarily linguistic concerns of metaethics to what he calls “meta-morals,” that is, to questions about morality as a whole. Instead of investigating what so-called ethical terms stood for, or whether ethical utterances employed propositions or proposals or imperatives or whether they expressed feelings, beliefs, descriptions or prescriptions, or whether they conformed to ordinary propositional logic or to an imperatival or some other (...) logic of their own, Frankena set out to investigate the moral enterprise itself. Quite recently he put together the results of these reflections in two series of lectures, “Three Questions About Morality” and Thinking About Morality. My own views had always been very close to his, but these recent lectures, which for the first time put his thoughts on this topic together in a systematic way, have made clear to me that, while the starting point of our investigations is indeed the same, our conclusions diverge on a number of important points. I want to take up some of the problems to which we offer different solutions. (shrink)
Until quite recently, the virtually unchallenged position of those scientists who studied the way people acquire their morality was cultural and ethical relativism. The central tenet of that position is this: although all societies have a morality, that is, a set of general authoritative norms and standards to which its members are expected if not compelled to conform, these norms and standards not only vary enormously from one society to another, but there is no objective way of ranking them. In (...) particular, there is no single ideal objective moral order, to which these various social moralities can be seen as less or more successful approximations, and which enables us to appraise them, on the basis of the degree of that approximation, as less or more advanced, sound, or valid. The whole of morality is thus construed as “agent-morality”: a measure of a person’s concern to conform his behavior to “objective” norms and standards; on the relativist view those dominant in the group to which he belongs. On this view, the role of moral education would be confined to assisting and making more efficient the informal processes by which the current moral norms and standards of the group become internalized in its members. Socialization is conceived as a purely one-way process: that of moulding the individual so that he will conform to the group mores. (shrink)
My two major theses are that (i) prescriptivism obscures certain parallels between practical and theoretical reasoning, Lends plausibility to the false view that practical reasoning is not empirically based, And misunderstands ordinary usage; (ii) the main difference between claims of theoretical and practical reasoning lies in the logical relation between the conclusions of such claims and what they license: beliefs and intuitions, Respectively.
My topic is Gert’s rich, probing, and brilliantly illuminating treatment of an “evergreen” in moral theory, the question, “Why be moral?” He offers three different reasons which, he claims, together constitute an “adequate” and “satisfactory” as well as “the best possible” answer. Here, it suffices to examine its gist: Acting morally is never irrational, hence always rational, hence never rationally forbidden, sometimes rationally required, and always rationally allowed. As he acknowledges, his claim “that it is only rationally allowed to act (...) morally may not be strong enough for some philosophers, but that…is the most that can be shown”. He concedes “that in the important decisions about whether or not to act morally, rationality does not provide a guide.… Disappointing as this conclusion seems at first, any other conclusion would be worse. Were rationality ever to prohibit acting morally, one would be forced, in the case of conflict, to advocate either irrational or immoral behavior. If rationality were always to require acting morally, one would be forced to regard all immoral actions as irrational, including that which was clearly in the self-interest of the agent. Contrasted with either of these alternatives, the conclusion seems far less disappointing than before”. (shrink)