Both Adam Smith's epistemology and his politics head to a stalemate. The former is under the opposing pulls of an essentialist ideal of knowledge and of a pragmatist approach to the history of science. The latter still tries to provide a foundation for a natural law, while conceiving it as non-absolute and changeable. The consequences are (i) inability to complete both the political and the epistemological works projected by Smith; (ii) decentralization of the social order, giving rise to several partial (...) orders, such as that of the market. (shrink)
The book reconstructs the history of Western ethics. The approach chosen focuses the endless dialectic of moral codes, or different kinds of ethos, moral doctrines that are preached in order to bring about a reform of existing ethos, and ethical theories that have taken shape in the context of controversies about the ethos and moral doctrines as means of justifying or reforming moral doctrines. Such dialectic is what is meant here by the phrase ‘moral traditions’, taken as a name for (...) threads of moral discourse, made in turn of other interwoven threads, including transmission of shared codes, appeals to reform of prevailing custom, rational argument about the justification of some precept on the basis of some shared general teaching or principle, and rational argument about the ultimate basis for principles and justification of authoritative teaching. That is, the approach adopted to the reading of ethical texts depends on a firm belief in the fact that philosophers hardly created any ethical doctrine out of nothing. The main point this book tries to highlight is how different philosophical theories emerged and followed each other as a result of attempts at accounting for what was going on in the world of moral traditions. Changes were propelled by controversies between different schools, and highly abstract arguments were the unintended effects of moves made by controversialists forced to transform (and occasionally to turn upside down) their own doctrines in order to face the challenge posed by other arguments. This is the reason why the book examines not only texts that already enjoy pride of place in the history of philosophy (Aristotle, Kant, Hegel), but also other texts usually treated in the histories of religions (the Bible, the Talmud, the Quran), and others considered to be much less philosophical (Plutarchus, Pufendorf). -/- 1. Plato and a response to ethical scepticism. Two different traditions of morality in VI-V century Greece are described. The birth of philosophical questioning of traditional morality and temporal and spatial variation of custom is described within the context of the v century crisis, the demise of traditional aristocratic and tyrannical rule and the birth of democracy. Two conflicting answers to the challenge are reconstructed, namely conventionalist or immoralist theories formulated by the Sophists and the eudemonist and intellectualist Socratic theory. Plato’s own reformulation of Socrates answer to the Sophists is reconstructed. His psychological views, his classification of the four cardinal virtues and his political theory are described as parts of a unitary system, culminating in an extremely realist moral ontology identifying the idea of the good with the essence of the (moral and extra-moral) world itself. -/- 2. Aristotle and the invention of practical philosophy. Aristotle’s invention of practical philosophy as a field separated from first philosophy is shown to be an implication of his break with Plato moral ultra-realism. Aristotle’s agenda in his moral works is arguably dependent on a polemical intention, namely dismantling Socratic intellectualism. The semi-inductive or virtuously circular method of practical philosophy is illustrated, starting with the received opinions of the better and wiser individuals and trying dialectically to sift what is left of mistake and inconsistence in such opinions, finally trying to correct mistakes and make the overall practical science more consistent. The chapter illustrates then the relationship of individual ethics, or ‘monastics’, with the art and the science of the pater familias, or ‘economics’, and the science of the ruler and citizen, or politics. The nature of virtues, or better, excellences of character, is discussed, highlighting the basic role of hexis, or ‘disposition’. Prudence, or better practical wisdom, is the focus of the chapter. Its relationship with bouleusis or deliberation is examined, and its autonomous status vis-à-vis theoretical knowledge is stressed. -/- 3. Diogenes and philosophy as a way of life. The chapter provides an overview of Hellenistic ethics, which almost amounts to Hellenistic schools of philosophy, in so far as ‘philosophy’ became in these centuries primarily the name for a way of life. The typical character of the Cynical movement is highlighted, that of a school of life, not a school aimed at providing any kind of intellectual training was to be provided. -/- 4. Epicurus and ethics as self-care. The peculiar character of the Epicurean school is described, a combination of a science of well-being aiming, more than at pleasure as in the popular view, at reduction of useless suffering, of unnecessary needs, and at a balanced selection of pleasures of the best and most durable kind. -/- 5. Epictetus and ethics as therapy of the passions. The various phases of Stoicism are described, and the shifting place given to ethics in the Stoic system of idea, culminating in the paradoxical view of ethics, its impossibility in principle notwithstanding, as the only truly significant and necessary part of philosophy. Cicero is treated, showing how his own synthesis of various Hellenistic trends is as a truly philosophical enterprise, deserving serious consideration after one or two centuries when he was confined to the role of literate. Epictetus is chosen as the best example of what the Stoic tradition could yield, an art of living based on sophisticated introspection, in turn aimed at making a kind of cognitive therapy possible, dismantling obnoxious passions at their root by systematically correcting false representations. -/- 6. Philo and the reconciliation of Torah and Platonism. A reconstruction of basic ideas from a few books of the Hebrew Bible is provided, starting with the Prophetic tradition and the focus on God’s mercy as the source of motivation and standard for human behaviour. Then a comparative analysis is undertaken of a parallel tradition, namely the three codifications of the Torā (Law or, better, Instruction), highlighting how a core of moral ideas may be recognized as a basis and preamble of codification of civil law, cultural practice, and regulation of ritual purity. The importance of Leviticus is stressed as the turning point when emphasis mercy, typical of the Prophetic tradition, is combined with the legal tradition, yielding the change in sensibility of the Second Temple time. Philo of Alexandria is described as one of the three leading figures – together with Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Yeshua – at the apex the emergence of the mentioned new sensibility, gradually including mercy as an essential part of justice and establishing the starting point of both the Rabbinic and the Christian tradition. This consists precisely in the precept of one’s neighbour’s love or of the golden rule, two eventually identical precepts whose meaning is arguably more sober and sensible than the long-lasting Christian tradition deriving from John and Augustine has made us believe and no novelty vis-à-vis so-called Ancient-Testament teachings. -/- 7. Augustine and Christianity as Neo-Platonism. The first section examines the moral doctrines of so-called 'ethical Treaties' from the Talmud, a group of treaties, among which the best known is Pirqé Avot, that were left out of the six "orders" of the canon as they did not fit in any of the six groups of issues ritual or legal on which the division was based. According to Maimonides, their peculiar theme is provided by the Deòt, 'opinions', i.e., mental dispositions, that is, the translation of the Greek term hexeis and Arab akhlak (in turn providing in this language the name for ethics as such). The three topics I reconstruct are: i) the notion of Torah: The Torah is understood as the world order itself, or as the ‘Wisdom’ that existed even before creation and was ‘the tool by which the world was built’; however, the Torah is an earthly and human entity, as it was "received" by humans, and from that very moment belongs to them; ii) the relationship between love of God and love of neighbour; the treaties require us to study and practice the Torah ‘for its own sake’, that is, require us to act out of love, not out of fear or hope of reward; iii) the idea of sanctification of daily life: having disappeared with the destruction of the Temple the possibility of any conflict between liturgical service and everyday life, the latter is assumed to be in itself divine service: to give food to the poor has the same value as sacrifices in the Temple, and as an implication, the insistence become recurrent on the goodness of created things in themselves along with a polemic against ascetic currents. The conclusions drawn are: i) the moral teachings of the Talmud and those of Yeshua are, rather than similar, virtually identical; one may safely say that the precept of love and the golden rule are central ones for all Talmudic rabbis, that mercy plays an indispensable role alongside with justice, and the latter is not a different thing from one’s neighbour’s love; ii) a peculiarity of Talmud rabbis facing Yeshua is the idea of study as worship, and knowledge as a source of justice; but this is an idea of Judaism after the Temple's destruction that cannot be attributed to the Pharisees of Yeshua’s time; iii) the relation of study and practice in the Talmud parallels that between faith and deeds in Paul's epistles, that is, respectively faith or learning are a necessary and sufficient condition to be recognized as righteous , but deeds are the inevitable effect of either faith or learning. The sayings ascribed to Yeshua are examined first, yielding the conclusion that a close equivalent may be found for every saying in Talmudic literature and yet the whole is ascribed to one rabbi, with rather consistent stress on God’s mercy and unconditional forgiving as the mark of true imitation of God. Thus, Yeshua’s teaching is pure Judaism. The third section describes briefly the galaxy of Gnostic currents and Manichaeism, trying to sketch the profile of moral teachings resulting from an encounter of Asian spiritual traditions, Hellenistic lore and sparks of teachings from apocalyptic Jewish currents. The last section summarizes the turbulent history of several encounters between Christian currents and Hellenistic philosophical schools. The first one was with late Cynicism. Recent, rather controversial, literature discovered the jargon and a few topics from the Stoic-Cynical popular philosophy in a few books from the New Testament itself. This, far from proving that Rabbi Yeshua had been influenced by cynic preachers, is a proof of the necessity felt by Christian preachers to translate the original ‘Christian’ teaching into a Greek lexicon deeply impregnated with cynic terminology. The second was with Platonism, yielding the mild and temperate moral teaching of Clemens of Alexandria, teaching the sanctity of nature and the human body, the joy of moderate fruition of ‘natural’ kinds of pleasures, and the beauty of the marital life – in short, the opposite of the standard picture of Medieval Christianity. Ambrose of Milan brings about a different kind of synthesis, namely with Middle Platonism, where Stoic themes prevail. The most shocking case is Augustine, where an early Manichean education is overcome in a former phase by a synthesis of Plotinian Neo-Platonism and Christian preaching, yielding a sustained polemic with the Manicheans and rather optimistic views on life and Creation, the body and sexuality, and Hebrew-Judaic tradition not far from Clemens of Alexandria. In a later phase, occasioned by controversy on the opposite front, with such Christian currents as the Pelagians and Donatists, Augustine comes back to heavily anti-Judaic and world-denying ascetic attitudes where is earlier Manichean upbringing seems to emerge again. The tragedy of medieval Christianity will be the later Augustine’s overwhelming influence. A final section is dedicated to the monastic tradition where a curious mixture of world-denying asceticism with an astonishingly penetrating ‘science’ of introspection emerges. -/- 8. Al Farabi and the reconciliation of Islam and Platonism. The Qurān and the qadit, that is, collections of sayings ascribed to the prophet Muhammad contain a wealth of precepts and catalogues of virtues mirroring moral contents from the Jewish and the Christian traditions, among them the basic notion of imitation of the Deity, where mercy is assumed to be its basic trait. An important tradition within Islam, namely Sufism, stressed to the utmost degree the role of mercy, turning Islam into a mystic doctrine centred on retreat from the world, abandonment to God’s will, and a peaceful and fraternal attitude to our fellow-beings. A secular literary tradition originating in the Sassanid Empire, the literature of advice to the Prince had for a time a widespread influence in the newly constituted Arabic-Islamic commonwealth. In a later phase, the legacy of Hellenic philosophy made its way into the intellectual elite of the Islamic world. The first important legacy was Platonic, and the Republic became the main text for Islamic Platonism. Al-Farabi wrote an enjoyable remake of the Platonic Republic, arguing that the citizen’s virtues were the basis on which the political building needs to rest. The secular lawgiver is enlightened by the light of reason in his everyday practice of governance, but room is made for the Prophet as the voice of revealed truth that confirms and completes the rational truth that philosophy may afford. In a second phase also Aristotelian and Stoic influence were assimilated. Miskawayh’s treatise was the masterwork at the time Arabic philosophy reached its Zenith. It is a treatment of the soul’s diseases and their remedies, combining the Aristotelian doctrine of the golden mean with the Stoic doctrine of the passions and elements of Galenic medicine. Towards the eleventh-twelve centuries a war raged among theologians and philosophers, finally won by the former with disappearance of philosophy as such. The newly established mainstream, yet, was no kind of intolerant fanaticism. It drew from the work of mystic theologian Al-Ghazālī, the best heir of Sufism, teaching a tolerant and peaceful attitude to our fellow-beings and a passive attitude to destiny as an expression of the Divine will. -/- 9. Moshe ben Maimon and the reconciliation of Torah and Aristotelian ethics. The encounter between the Talmudic tradition and Hellenic philosophy had taken place a first time in Alexandria at the time of Philo but the two traditions had parted way again. In fact, the kind of Platonic Judaism founded by Philo survived only within Christianity, in the fourth Gospel and then in writings by Clemens of Alexandria. The Talmudic literature had absorbed just less striking traits from the Hellenic Philosophy, namely an idea of ethics as care of the self and a role for the education of character as propaedeutic to theoretical knowledge. In the Arabic-Islamic world, a second round started when Jewish authors writing in Arabic undertook the task to prove the full compatibility of the tradition deriving from Torah and Platonic philosophy. The culmination of this attempt is provided by Moshe ben Maimon who tried to use Aristotelian ethics as a language into which the teaching from the Pirké Avot could be translated. -/- 10. Thomas Aquinas and the reconciliation of Christian morality and Aristotelian ethics. In the first section the fresh start is described of philosophical ethics in Latin Europe at the turn of the Millennium. In a first phase, Anselm and Peter Abelard built on a Platonic and Augustinian legacy. In this phase. remarkable innovations are introduced, including Abelard’s claim of the obliging character of erring consciousness. In a second phase, the rediscovery of Nicomachean Ethics thanks to Latin translation of Arabic versions gives birth to a new wave of ethical studies, recovering the very idea of Aristotelian practical philosophy, with the potential implication of full legitimization of natural morality, i.e. ethics without Revelation. Aquinas’s ethics is a theological ethics out of which it would be vain to try to extract a self-contained philosophical ethics. His treatment of topics in philosophical ethics, yet, does not boil down to repetition of Aristotelian arguments but is rather a creative reshaping of such arguments. For example, he introduces also in the practical philosophy a first principle parallel to the principle of non-contradiction; and he also carries out a synthesis of Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and neo-Platonism. Even though it is essentially moral theology, Aquinas’s doctrine - unlike Augustine – grants full citizenship to "natural" morality, firstly by rejecting the claim that the corruption of human nature due to the original sin is so radical as to leave "pure nature" incapable of moral goodness. The doctrine is presented in a more sophisticated formulation in a few of the Quaestiones, such as De Malo and De Veritate, in the Summa contra Gentes and in the commentaries to Aristotle than in the famous Summa Theologica, but the latter work includes the only or the largest exposition of some decisive part of the theory. Thus, the Summa Theologica should be read for what it is more than criticized for not being what it was not meant to be. It was not meant to be the brilliant synthesis of all that Reason he had been able to produce with what Revelation had added about which the Neo-Thomists used to dream, but rather a manual for the training of preachers and confessors, where theoretical claims are not too demanding and a few serious tensions are left. Besides a jump between the Prima Secundae and the Secunda Secundae, being the former an essay in virtue theory and the latter a handbook for confessors, the most serious tension is perhaps the one between the ethics of right reason presented in most of Ia-IIae and the eudemonistic ethics developed in quaestiones 1-5 of the same part; the alternative ethical theory which also may be found in Augustine, the Stoic view of a cosmic reason eventually coincident with the moral law, was believed by Anselm (followed by John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham) to be incompatible with eudemonism. It is questionable whether Thomas could reduce the tension proving that it is just an apparent tension, in so far as the right reason and bliss derived from knowledge of God tend to coincide, but this is just a conjecture. Thomas’s ethics is a virtue ethic, not a law-based one, and moral judgment focuses on the virtues, particularly charity, not on the commandments and even less on absolute prohibitions; Thomas, however, would not have considered a drastic alternative between law and the virtues such as the one which has been advanced in late twentieth-century philosophy to be justified. Nonetheless, when it discusses ‘special’ virtues, it ceases to be an ethics of virtue and becomes a disappointing and often contradictory discussion of legal and illegal acts. Such a discussion takes most of the time ‘reasonable’ middle positions on controversial issues but not the alternative approach that Aristotelianism would have made possible; even when some occasional Aristotelian claim shows up, such as money’s barrenness as a reason against usury, this seems to be made by an author who apparently ignores the Aristotelian Thomas of the Prima Secundae. It is an ethic of human autonomy which recognizes the binding character of the individual conscience and, potentially, even a duty to disobey unjust laws. It is true that what Thomas writes in his discussion of death penalty and persecution of heretics is simply disgusting, and yet we should blame Thomas the man, not Thomist ethical theory. Finally, Thomas’s ethics is not ethical ‘absolutism’, as both traditionalist Catholic theologians and secularist enemies of dogmatic morality tend to believe. It is instead an ethic of prudential judgment. Exceptions to this approach – or better results of logical fallacies – are such claims as the absolute character of negative precepts and of the existence of "intrinsically evil acts", claims that simply cease to make sense in the light of Thomas’s own distinction between human act and natural act, carrying consequences Thomas did not live long enough to draw or was not consistent enough to dare to draw. -/- 11. Francisco de Vitoria and casuistry. The first topic illustrated is the discussion about the notion of pura natura, namely the human condition after the original sin and before divine revelation. The core notion was already there in Aquinas but was later developed by Caietanus (Thomas de Vio) with a number of interesting implications: firstly a view of human nature as such much more positive than Augustine’s and his followers’ view, including both Calvinists and Jansenists; secondly, the implication that the philosopher’s morality, as opposed to the Christian’s morality, is a quite respectable kind of morality; thirdly, that theocracy and prosecution of the unfaithful lacked justification, with more far-fetching consequences than Aquinas himself had dared to draw. The second topic is casuistry, a new name for a comparatively older way of thinking, which was already there in late Stoicism and Cicero as well as in the Talmudic literature. This is an approach aimed at yielding probable enough solutions for doubtful cases even in absence of completely safe staring points. The genre developed from medieval reference books for confessors and became by the sixteenth-century a sophisticated tool-box for dealing with various fields of applied ethics. Francisco Vitoria, the main authority of Baroque Scholasticism, was a controversial figure, among the proponents of the new discipline of casuistry and a consistent proponent of more separation between the religious and the civil authority, stricter limits to the legitimacy of war, innate rights of non-Christian nations in the New World based on the notion of pura natura, providing a standard of ‘natural’ goodness, previous to revelation, on which the Indian nations were judged to live in a naturally good condition, provided with the institutions of family, justice, and religion had accordingly a right to full respect by Christian sovereigns. Bartolomé de Las Casas, arguing along similar lines, was the leader of a historical battle in defence of the rights of the Indios. -/- 12. Michel de Montaigne and the art of living. A short description of one of the Renaissance Phyrronism, one of the classical philosophies revived in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Montaigne combines the sceptical epistemology with an understanding of ethics – indeed of philosophy as a whole – in terms of an art of living inspired by two basic ideas, sagesse, that is, practical wisdom as the only kind of rationality available after theology, science, and tradition have declared bankrupt, and an aesthetic ideal of self-transformation through the art of writing and introspection. -/- 13. Pierre Nicole and neo-Augustinianism. The chapter illustrates first the vicissitudes of Augustinianism newly born after the late medieval triumph of Thomist Aristotelianism in the alternative Protestant and Catholic versions processed by the Calvinists and the Jansenists. Then it illustrates the doctrines of Pierre Nicole, Blaise Pascal’s best disciple, on the impossibility of introspection, on the ubiquity of self-deception, on the incurably evil character of the passion of love, and on the two moralities, the one of the man of the world, the morality of honesty which is indispensable for granting peace and order but devoid of any true value for eternal salvation, since the same external behaviour may be prompted by opposite motivations, and the morality of charity, the only true one but also useless to society. The third topic is Pierre Malebranche’s view of self-deception as a ubiquitous phenomenon accounting for human action and responsibility and his reformulated theory of self-love, no less ubiquitous than for Nicole and yet not as incurably evil, given the distinction between morally indifferent and even necessary amour de soi and vicious amour proper, a distinction on which the whole of Rousseau’s moral and political theory rests. -/- 14. Samuel von Pufendorf and the new science of morality. The chapter is dedicated to the discovery of the idea of a ‘new moral science’. Hugo Grotius is discussed first highlighting the real character of his project, much closer to the Thomist idea of a natural law accessible to non-corrupted human reason when human beings are living in a state of pura natura. Then Hobbes’s combination of scepticism, voluntarism, and conventionalism is described and both the continuity with Grotius’s new science, in the search for non-revealed rational morality, and the break with him, in the adoption of voluntarism and refusal of an intellectualist view of natural law, are illustrated. Pufendorf’s work is illustrated as a synthesis of the two previous attempts and the – up to Schneewind underestimated – paradigmatic example of the new science of morality. -/- 15. Richard Cumberland and consequentialist voluntarism. The chapter gives an overview of eighteenth-century Anglican ethics, noticing how the Cambridge tradition gave special weight to natural theology as opposed to positive or revealed theology – and how two Cambridge fellows, John Gay and Thomas Brown, elaborated on Cumberland’s (and Malebranche’s, as well as Leibniz’s) strategy for finding a third way between intellectualist view and voluntarist view of the laws of nature. The result of their elaboration was a kind of a rational-choice account of the origins of natural laws, where a law-giver God chooses among a number possible sets of laws on a maximizing criterion, and God’s maximandum is happiness for his creatures. The chapter notices also how such a solution aimed at solving at once the problem of evil and that of the foundation of moral obligation by proving how God’s choice was justified as far as it was the one minimising the amount of suffering in the world. 16. Richard Price and intuitionism. The chapter describes first the doctrines of the Cambridge Platonists, an example of hyper-rationalist reaction to Calvinism. Secondly it describes the sophisticated and universally ignored – from Sidgwick to Anscombe –version of what was later labelled ‘ethical intuitionism’ – showing how it escapes familiar objections and misrepresentations of intuitionism – from Mill to Rawls – in grounding its argument on transcendental arguments while carefully avoiding recourse to introspection and psychological evidence, which has been taken as a too easy target by critics of intuitionism. Thirdly, the chapter discusses Whewell’s ‘philosophy of morality’, as opposed to ‘systematic morality’, not unlike Kant’s distinction between a pure and an empirical moral philosophy. Whewell worked out a systematization of traditional normative ethics as a first step before its rational justification; he believed that the point in the philosophy of morality is justifying a few rational truths about the structure of morality such as to rule hedonism, eudemonism, and consequentialism; yet a system of positive morality cannot be derived solely from such rational truths but requires consideration of the ongoing dialectics between idea and fact in historically given moralities. Whewell’s intuitionism turns out closer to Kantian ethics than commentators have made us believe until now, and quite different from what Sidgwick meant by intuitionism. -/- 17. Adam Smith and the morality of role-switch. The chapter describes first, Hutcheson’s attempt at basing the ‘new science’ of natural law on different bedrock than Pufendorf and the English Platonists, namely a moral sense, a faculty whose existence is assumed to be proved on an empirical basis. The second step is a reconstruction of Hume’s rejoinder in terms of a new science of man including morality on an ‘experimental’ basis, that is, a ‘Newtonian’ hypothetical-deductive approach, distinguished from Hutcheson’s allegedly uncritical descriptive approach to human nature. The third step is a reconstruction of Adam Smith theory of morality understood as emerging from a spontaneous interplay of exchanges of situations (the most basic meaning of the word ‘sympathy’ as construed by this author). -/- 18. Jeremy Bentham and utilitarianism. The bulk of the chapter is dedicated to the doctrines of Jeremy Bentham. The Enlightenment spirit that suggested the idea of a new morality, free from religion, is illustrated. The notion of utility is illustrated as well as the subsequent formulations of the principle of utility. The idea of felicific calculus is discussed, showing how its inner difficulties prompted several reformulations of the principle of utility in order to avoid undesirable implications of proposed formulations. The role of the thesis of spontaneous convergence between interest and duty is discussed, showing how it left numberless questions open, and the distinction between the virtues of prudence, justice and beneficence is described as a way out of the deadlocks of classical utilitarianism. After Bentham, Mill’s reformed utilitarianism is reconstructed, showing how it is a kind of mixed system – as closer to common sense as it gives up Bentham’s claims to consistency and simplicity – resulting as unintended consequences from the controversies in which Mill was too keen to engage. The hidden agenda of the controversy between Utilitarianism and Intuitionism, going beyond the image of the battle between Prejudice and Reason, is described, showing how both competing philosophical outlooks turn out to be more research programs than self-contained doctrinal bodies, and such programs appear to be implemented, and indeed radically transformed while in progress thanks to their enemies no less than to their supporters. -/- 19. Immanuel Kant, practical reason and judgment. The chapter argues that Kant took from Moses Mendelssohn the idea of a distinction between geometry of morals and a practical ethic. He was drastically misunderstood by his followers precisely on this point. He had learned from the sceptics and the Jansenists the lesson that men are prompted to act by deceptive ends, and he was aware that human actions are also empirical phenomena, where laws like the laws of Nature may be detected. His practical ethics made room for judgment as a holistic procedure for assessing the saliency of relevant moral qualities in one given situation; this procedure yields the same results as the geometry of morals does for abstract cases but does so immediately and without balancing conflicting duties with each other, since what makes for the salient quality of a situation is perceived from the very beginning. Kant's practical philosophy is richer than the received image, making room for an ‘empirical moral philosophy’ or moral anthropology including treatment of commerce, needs, value and price, happiness and well-being; the overall social theory and philosophy of history is less different from Adam Smith's than the received image makes believe; the paradox of happiness is central to Kant's philosophy; a distinction between happiness and well-being is clearly drawn; the distinction plays a basic role in establishing a link between the economic and the moral life. -/- 20. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and the critique of abstract universalism. The chapter describes first the Romantic movement and the implications some of its concerns, rescuing passions, community, tradition, the individual as the bearer of a unique destiny, and the longing for organic unity between the individual, mankind and nature. Hegel’s contribution is discussed then, highlighting how, on the one hand, he shared a number of these concerns and on the other he had more rationalist leanings. The notion of morality is the pivotal point of the reconstruction, highlighting how Hegel construes this notion as a key to his own diagnosis of the malaise of modernity – the separation of individual and Gemeinschaft – and how his attack on Kant turns around this very idea. -/- 21. Friedrich Nietzsche against Christianity and the Enlightenment. The chapter illustrates first the idea of deconstruction of the back-world of values. Nietzsche claims to be legitimate heir of the French moralists, Leibniz, Kant and Hegel, in so far as he allegedly carries out to its deepest implications their discovery of what lies behind traditional naïve belief in the existence of an objective realm of values just waiting for description by the philosopher. The two exemplars form which genealogy draws inspiration are the classical philologist’s historical reconstructions of lost meanings and the chemist’s decomposition of elements. Then the genealogy of the notions of good and evil carried out in the first dissertation of Genealogy of morals is illustrated with its paradoxical conclusion that will to power is in fact the only ‘genuine’ kind of goodness. The third point illustrated is the dialectic of ascetism and self-realization with its ambiguous outcome. The suggested interpretation of such outcome is that Nietzsche’s normative ethics is a kind of virtue ethics taking an aesthetic ideal as a normative standard -/- 22. George Edward Moore and ideal utilitarianism. The chapter discusses the ideas of common sense and common-sense morality in Sidgwick. I argue that, far from aiming at overcoming common-sense morality, Sidgwick aimed purposely at grounding a consist code of morality by methods allegedly taken from the natural sciences to reach, also in ethics, the same kind of “mature” knowledge as in the natural sciences. His whole polemics with intuitionism was vitiated by the a priori assumption that the widespread ethos of the educated part of humankind, not the theories of the intuitionist philosophers, was what was worth considering as the expression of intuitionist ethics. In spite of a naïve positivist starting-point, Sidgwick was encouraged by his own approach in exploring the fruitfulness of coherentist methods for normative ethics. Thus, Sidgwick left an ambivalent legacy to twentieth-century ethics: the dogmatic idea of a “new” morality of a consequentialist kind, and the fruitful idea that we can argue rationally in normative ethics albeit without shared foundations. Then it reconstructs the background of ideas, concerns and intentions out of which Moore’s early essays, the preliminary version, and then the final version of Principia Ethica originated. I stress the role of religious concerns, as well as that of the Idealist legacy. I argue that PE is more a patchwork of rather diverging contributions than a unitary work, not to say the paradigm of a new school in Ethics. I add a comparison with Rashdall’s almost contemporary ethical work, suggesting that the latter defends the same general claims in a different way, one that manages to pave decisive objections in a more plausible way. I end by suggesting that the emergence of Analytic Ethics was a more ambiguous phenomenon than the received view would make us believe, and that the wheat (or some other gluten-free grain) of this tradition, that is, what logic can do for philosophy, should be separated from the chaff, that is, the confused and mutually incompatible legacies of Utilitarianism and Idealism. -/- 23. Edmund Husserl and the a-priori of action. The chapter illustrates first the idea of phenomenology and the Husserl’s project of a phenomenological ethic as illustrated in his 1908-1914 lectures. The key idea is dismissing psychology and trying to ground a new science of the a priori of action, within which a more restricted field of inquiry will be the science of right actions. Then the chapter illustrates the criticism of modern moral philosophy carried out in the 1920 lectures, where the main target is naturalism, understood in the Kantian meaning of primacy of common sense. The third point illustrate is Adolph Reinach’s theory of social acts as a key the grounding of norms, a view that basically sketches the very ideas ‘discovered’ later by Clarence I. Lewis, John Searle, Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas. A final section is dedicated to Nicolai Hartman, who always refused to define himself a phenomenologist and yet developed a more articulated and detailed theory of ‘values’ – with surprising affinities with George E. Moore - than philosophers such as Max Scheler who claimed to Husserl’s legitimate heirs. -/- 24. Bertrand Russell and non-cognitivism. The chapter reconstructs first the discussion after Moore. The naturalistic-fallacy argument was widely accepted but twisted to prove instead that the intuitive character of the definition of ‘good’, its non-cognitive meaning, in a first phase identified with ‘emotive’ meaning. Alfred Julius Ayer is indicated as a typical proponent of such non-cognitivist meta-ethics. More detailed discussion is dedicated to Bertrand Russell’s ethics, a more nuanced and sophisticated doctrine, arguing that non-cognitivism does not condemn morality to arbitrariness and that the project of a rational normative ethics is still possible, heading finally to the justification of a kind of non-hedonist utilitarianism. Stevenson’s theory, another moderate version of emotivism is discussed at some length, showing how the author comes close to the discovery of the role of a pragmatic dimension of language as a basis for ethical argument. Last of all, the discussion from the Forties about Hume’s law is described, mentioning Karl Popper’s argument and Richard Hare’s early non-cognitivist but non-emotivist doctrine named prescriptivism. -/- 25. Elizabeth Anscombe and the revival of virtue ethics. The chapter discusses the three theses defended by Anscombe in 'Modern Moral Philosophy'. I argue that: a) her answer to the question "why should I be moral?" requires a solution of the problem of theodicy, and ignores any attempts to save the moral point of view without recourse to divine retribution; b) her notion of divine law is an odd one more neo-Augustinian than Biblical or Scholastic; c) her image of Kantian ethics and intuitionism is the impoverished image manufactured by consequentialist opponents for polemical purposes and that she seems strangely accept it; d) the difficulty of identifying the "relevant descriptions" of acts is not an argument in favour of an ethics of virtue and against consequentialism or Kantian ethics, and indeed the role of judgment in the latter is a response to the difficulties raised by the case of judgment concerning future action. A short look at further developments in the neo-naturalist current is given trough a reconstruction of Philippa Foot’s and Peter Geach’s critiques to the naturalist-fallacy argument and Alasdair MacIntyre’s grand reconstruction of the origins and allegedly unavoidable failure of the Enlightenment project of an autonomous ethic. -/- 26. Richard Hare and neo-Utilitarianism. The chapter addresses the issue of the complex process of self-transformation Utilitarianism underwent after Sidgwick’s and Moore’s fatal criticism and the unexpected Phoenix-like process of rebirth of a doctrine definitely refuted. A glimpse at this uproarious process is given through two examples. The first is Roy Harrod Wittgensteinian transformation of Utilitarianism in pure normative ethics depurated from hedonism as well as from whatsoever theory of the good. This results in preference utilitarianism combined with a ‘Kantian’ version of rule utilitarianism. The second is Richard Hare’s two-level preference utilitarianism where act utilitarianism plays the function of eventual rational justification of moral judgments and rule-utilitarianism that of action-guiding practical device. -/- 27. Hans-Georg Gadamer and rehabilitation of practical philosophy. The post-war rediscovery of ethics by many German thinkers and its culmination in the Sixties in the movement named ‘Rehabilitation of practical philosophy’ is described. Among the actors of such rehabilitation there were a few of Heidegger’s most brilliant disciples, and Hans-Georg Gadamer is chosen as a paradigmatic example. His reading of Aristotle’s lesson I reconstructed, starting with Heidegger’s lesson but then subtly subverting its outcome thanks to the recovery of the central role of the notion of phronesis. -/- 28. Karl-Otto Apel and the revival of Kantian ethics. Parallel to the neo-Aristotelian trend, there was in the Rehabilitation of practical philosophy a Kantian current. This started, instead than the rehabilitation of prudence, with the discovery of the pragmatic dimension of language carried out by Charles Peirce and the Oxford linguistic philosophy. On this basis, Karl-Otto Apel singled out as the decisive proponent of the linguistic and Kantian turn in German-speaking ethics, worked out the performative-contradiction argument while claiming that this was able to provide a new rational and universal basis for normative ethics. An examination of his argument is some detail is offered, followed by a more cursory reconstruction of Jürgen Habermas’s elaboration on Apel’s theory. -/- 29. John Rawls and public ethics as applied ethics. Rawls’s distinction between a “political” and a “metaphysical” approach to one central part of ethical theory, namely the theory of justice, is interpreted as a formulation of the same basic idea at the root of both the principles approach and neo-casuistry, both discussed in the following chapter, namely that it is possible to reach an agreement concerning positive moral judgments even though the discussion is still open – and in Rawls’ view never will be close – on the basic criteria for judgment. -/- 30. Beauchamp and Childress and bioethics as applied ethics. The chapter presents the revolution of applied ethics while stressing its methodological novelty, exemplified primarily by Beauchamp and Childress principles approach and then by Jonsen and Toulmin’s new casuistry. -/- . (shrink)
The paper is a comparative study of the methodologies of Malthus and Ricardo. Its claims are: (i) economic laws almost always admit of exceptions for Malthus; for Ricardo even contingent predictions allow no exception apart from random temporary variations; (ii) both rely on the prestigious Newtonian paradigm, while interpreting it according to two distinct methodological traditions (the one deriving from MacLaurin, the other from Priestley); (iii) the choice of stressing what happens during intervals or in permanent states leads to opposing (...) definitions of the main problem of economic science in so far as equilibrium is always already given for Ricardo and is never given for Malthus; (iv) their use of the ambiguous notion of "tendency" leaves unclear for both the degree of predictive power with which theories are endowed; (v) what both share is the idea of a natural order and this idea is the source of both shortcomings and endless disagreement. -/- . (shrink)
Introduction. The book is a study in Adam Smith's system of ideas; its aim is to reconstruct the peculiar framework that Adam Smith’s work provided for the shaping of a semi-autonomous new discipline, political economy; the approach adopted lies somewhere in-between the history of ideas and the history of economic analysis. My two claims are: i) The Wealth of Nations has a twofold structure, including a `natural history' of opulence and an `imaginary machine' of wealth. The imaginary machine is a (...) kind of Newtonian theory, whose connecting links are principles; provided either by `partial' characteristics of human nature or by analoga of physical mechanisms transferred to the social world; ii) a domain of the economic, understood as a self-standing social sub-system, was discovered first by Adam Smith. His `discovery' of the new continent of the economic was an `unintended result' of a deviation in his voyage to the never-found archipelago of natural jurisprudence. -/- 1. Imaginary machines and invisible chains: natural philosophy and method. The first chapter reconstructs Smith's views on the method in natural philosophy, presented primarily in the History of Astronomy (HA). The peculiar kind of semi-sceptical Newtonianism which permeates the essay is highlighted. Its reconstruction of the history of one natural science is shown to be based on the assumptions of Hume’s epistemology, and to lead to a self-aware deadlock. Smith's dilemma is between an essentialist realism and sceptical instrumentalism; the Cartesian presuppositions he shares with Hume and with the 18th century as a whole make it impossible for him to overcome his dilemma. The following chapters will show how, on the one hand, Smith's skeptical methodology encourages him in the enterprise to `carve off' a new self-contained discipline and how, on the other hand, his epistemological dilemma is reflected in the inner tensions of his moral and political theory as well as in a number of basic oscillations concerning the status of the new discipline. -/- 2. Chessboards and clocks: moral philosophy and method. -/- The second chapter reconstructs Smith's views on the method in the parallel field of moral philosophy, including the theory of moral sentiments and natural jurisprudence. I argue that The Theory of Moral Sentiments, when considered together with with the Lectures on Jurisprudence, where Smith's peculiar version of a `weaker' form of natural law is presented, wins special interest, not only for the history of ethics but even more for the history of political theory and the social sciences. The two most striking features of Smith's work in this area are highlighted. First, his effort at reformulating the `practical science' is a methodologically self-aware attempt at applying the Newtonian method to moral subjects. Secondly, this attempt ends in a stalemate as two distinguished kinds of normative order are introduced: one ultimate order of Reason, ultimately justifiable but inaccessible, and one weaker order of our `natural sentiments', to which we have empirical access, but which is so variable as to lack any ultimate value as a basis for grounding our normative claims. These two parallel conundrums may arguably account for the author's inability to publish during his lifetime both The History of Astronomy and the projected history and theory of law and government. -/- 3. Wheels, dams, and gravitation: the structure of scientific argument in The Wealth of Nations. -/- The third chapter provides the core of the book, dealing with the structure of the argument in WN. I argue that the main presupposition that makes the shift possible from a `natural history' to a `system' approach is the Newtonian contrast of `mathematical' with `physical' explanation; that is, Smith drops any discussion of the "original qualities" of human nature that could account for economic behaviour, while introducing, as `principles' for the system, a set of `hypothetical' statements of `observed' regularities in human behaviour and of `observed' super-individual self-regulating mechanisms. In bringing this presupposition to light, the coexistence of a teleological with a mechanistic approach is clarified; fresh light is shed on the notion of the invisible hand by a comparison of its occurrence in Smith with the occurrence of the same expression (until now overlooked) in the correspondence between Newton and Cotes. Finally, the peculiar semi-prescriptive and semi-descriptive character of political economy are highlighted, and the consistency of Smith's `impure' semi-prescriptive social science, when understood in his own terms, is defended against familiar charges with inconsistency and against even more familiar strained modernizations. -/- 4. Apples, deer, and frivolous trinkets: the construction of the economic. -/- The fourth chapter draws consequences from the third, examining how Smith's achievement in political economy, marking its transition to scientific status, carried a re-description of the phenomena, creating the comparatively independent and unified field of the economic. Smith's achievement is interpreted not as the `discovery' of an autonomous character already possessed by the economy out there, so much as a Gestalt-switch by which our perception of social phenomena is modified making us `see' the partial order of the economy as an isolated system. To sum up, the autonomy of the economic in social reality and the autonomy of the economic in social consciousness are shown to be two sides of one process. -/- 5. Concluding considerations: Political economy and the Enlightenment halved. -/- A few suggestions on the status of economic theory two centuries after The Wealth of Nations in its relationship to ‘practical philosophy’ are illustrated. (shrink)
This book tells the story of modern ethics, namely the story of a discourse that, after the Renaissance, went through a methodological revolution giving birth to Grotius’s and Pufendorf’s new science of natural law, leaving room for two centuries of explorations of the possible developments and implications of this new paradigm, up to the crisis of the Eighties of the eighteenth century, a crisis that carried a kind of mitosis, the act of birth of both basic paradigms of the two (...) following centuries: Kantian ethics and utilitarianism. The new science of natural law carried a fresh start for ethics, resulting from a mixture of the Old and the New. It was, as suggested by Schneewind, an attempt at rescuing the content of Scholastic and Stoic doctrines on a new methodological basis. The former was the claim of existence of objective and universal moral laws; the latter was the self-aware attempt at justifying a minimal kernel of such laws facing skeptical doubt. What Bentham and Kant did was precisely carrying this strategy further on, even if restructuring it each of them around one out of two alternative basic claims. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century critics of the Enlightenment attacked both not on their alleged failure in carrying out their own projects, but precisely on having adopted Grotius’s and Pufendorf’s project. What counter-enlightenment has been unable to spell out is which alternative project could be carried out facing the modern condition of pluralism, while on the contrary, if we takes a closer look at developments in twentieth-century ethics or at on-going discussions on practical issues, we might feel inclined to believe that Grotius’s and Pufendorf’s project is as up-to-date as ever. -/- Table of Contents -/- Preface I. Fathers of the Reformation and Schoolmen 1.1. Luther: passive justice and the good deeds; 1.2. Calvin: voluntarism and predestination; 1.3. Baroque Scholasticism; 1.4. Casuistry and Institutiones morales -/- II Neo-Platonists, neo-Stoics, neo-Sceptics 2.1. Aristotelian, neo-Platonic, neo-Epicurean and neo-Cynic Humanists; 2.2. Oeconomica and the art of living; 2.3. Neo-Stoics; 2.4. Neo-Sceptics; 2.5. Moralistic literature -/- III Neo-Augustinians 3.l. The Jansenists on natura lapsa, sufficient grace, pure love; 3.2. Nicole on the impossibility of self-knowledge; 3.3. Nicole on self-love and charity; 3.4. Nicole against civic virtue, for Christian civility; 3.5. Malebranche on general laws and necessary evil; 3.6. Malebranche on Neo-Augustinianism and Platonism. -/- IV Grotius, Pufendorf and the new moral science 4.1. Grotius against Aristotle and the sceptics; 4.2. Mersenne and Gassendi; 4.3. Descartes on ethics as the last branch of philosophy’s tree; 4.4. Hobbes on scepticism and the new moral science; 4.5. Spinoza on the new moral science as a descriptive science;4.6. Locke on voluntarism and probabilism; 4.7. Pufendorf on natural law as an exact science; 4.8. Pufendorf on physical and moral entities; 10. Pufendorf on self-preservation -/- V The empiricist version of the new moral science: from Cumberland to Paley 5.1. Cumberland against Hobbesian voluntarism; 5.2. Cumberland and theological consequentialism; 5.3. Cumberland on universal benevolence and self-love; 5.4. Shaftesbury on the moral sense; 5.5. Hutcheson on natural law and moral faculties; 5.6. Gay, Brown, Paley and theological consequentialism. -/- VI The rationalist version of the new moral science: from Cudworth to Price 6.1. The Cambridge Platonists; 6.2. Shaftesbury on the moral sense; 6.3. Butler and a third way between voluntarism and scepticism; 6.4. Price and the rational character of moral truths; -/- VII Leibniz’s compromise between the new moral science and Aristotelianism 1.Leibniz against voluntarism; 2.Leibniz against the division between the physical and the moral good; 3.Leibniz on la place d’autrui and theological consequentialism; 4.Thomasius, Wolff, Crusius -/- VIII French eighteenth-century philosophers without the new moral science 8.1. The genealogy of our ideas of virtue and vice; 8.2. Maupertuis and moral arithmetic 8.3. The philosophes and the harmony of interests; 8.4. Rousseau on corruption, self-love, and virtue; 8.5. Sade on the merits of vice -/- IX Experimental moral science: Hume and Adam Smith 9.1. Mandeville’s paradox; 9.2. Hutcheson on the law of nature and moral faculties; 9.3. Hume on experimental moral philosophy and the intermediate principles; 9.4. Hume’s Law; 9.5. Hume on the fellow-feeling; 9.6. Hume on natural and artificial virtues and disinterested pleasure for utility; 9.7. Adam Smith’s anti-realist metaethics; 9.8. Adam Smith on self-deception and the paradox of happiness; 9.9. Adam Smith on sympathy and the impartial spectator; 9.10. Adam Smith on the twofold criterion for moral judgement and its paradox; 9.11. Reid on the refutation of scepticism and the self-evidence of duty -/- X Kantian ethics 10.1. Kantian metaethics: moral epistemology; 10.2. Kantian metaethics: moral ontology; 10.3. Kantian metaethics: moral psychology; 10.4. Kantian normative ethics; 10.5. Kant on the impracticability of applied ethics; 10.6. Kantian moral anthropology; 10.7. Civilisation and moralisation; 10.8. Theology on a moral basis and the origins of evil; 10.9. Fichte and the transformation of theoretical philosophy into practical philosophy XI Bentham and utilitarianism 11.1. Bentham’s linguistic theory; 11.2. Bentham’s moral ontology, psychology, and theory of action; 11.3. The principle of greatest happiness; 11.4. The critique of religious ethics; 11.5. The new morality; 11.6. Interest and duty; 11.7. Virtues; 11.8. Private ethics and legislation -/- XII Followers of the Enlightenment: liberal Judaism and Liberal Theology 12.1. Mendelssohn; 12.2. Salomon Maimon; 12.3. Haskalā and liberal Judaism; 12.4. Liberal Theology. -/- XIII Counter-Enlighteners 13.1.Romanticism and the fulfilment of individuality as the Summum Bonum; 13.2. Hegel on history as the making of liberty; 13.3. Hegel on the unhappy consciousness and the beautiful soul; 13.4. Hegel on Morality and Sittlichkeit; 13.5. Marx on ideology, alienation, and praxis; 13.6. Schopenhauer on compassion; 13.7. Kierkegaard on faith beyond ethics. -/- XIV Followers of the Enlightenment: intuitionists and utilitarian 14.1 Whewell‘s criticism of utilitarianism; 14.2 Whewell on morality and the philosophy of morality; 14.3 Whewell on the Supreme Norm; 14.4 Whewell on the conflict between duties; 14.5 Mill and the proof of the principle of utility; 14.6 Mill’s eudemonistic utilitarianism; 14.7 Mill on rules -/- XV Followers of the Enlightenment: neo-Kantians and positivists 15.1. French spiritualism; 15.2. Neo-Kantians: the Marburg school; 15.3. Neo-Kantians: the Marburg school; 15.4. Comte’s positivism and the invention of altruism; 15.5. Social Darwinism; 15.6. Wundt and an ethic of humankind -/- XVI Post-enlighteners: Sidgwick 16.1. Criticism of intuitionism; 16.2. On ethical egoism; 16.3. Criticism of utilitarianism -/- XVII Post-enlighteners: Durkheim 17.1. Sociology as physics of customs; 17.2. Morality as physics of customs and as practical science; 17.3. On Kantian ethics and utilitarianism; 17.4. The variability of moralities;17.5. Social solidarity as end and justification of morality; 17.6. Secular morality as “sociodicy”; XVIII Post-enlighteners: Nietzsche 18.1. On the Dionysian; 18.2. On the deconstruction of the world of values 18.3 On the twofold genealogy of moralities; 18.4. On ascetics and nihilism; 18.5. Normative ethics of self-fulfilment -/- Bibliography / Index of names / Index of concepts -/- . (shrink)
Although the controversy between Malthus and Ricardo has long been considered to be an important source for the history of economic thought, it has hardly been the object of a careful study qua controversy, i.e. as a polemical dialogical exchange. We have undertaken to fill this gap, within the framework of a more ambitious project that places controversies at the center of an account of the history of ideas, in science and elsewhere. It is our contention that the dialogical co-text (...) is essential for reconstructing the meaning and the evolution of science. In the present paper we try to substantiate this contention by means of a pragma-rhetorical study of this particular controversy. First, we reconstruct, through an analysis of a chunk of the correspondence, a micro-level of specific moves and countermoves which constitute a sequential structure within which also meta-scientific and meta-controversial considerations play a role. We then move to a macro-level of analysis, looking for recurrent patterns of argumentation. Finally, we draw epistemological conclusions on the nature of rationality and progress as manifested in actual scientific controversies. (shrink)
The paper discusses Ricardo's relationship to Mill and Bentham. It discusses first the origins of the myth of Ricardo's dependence from Bentham through Mill, and Halévy's contribution to the freezing of such a myth. The paper reconstructs what were their shared political commitments and activities and the kind of specific political views and agenda that may be ascribed to Ricardo himself. The paper discusses then the question of Ricardo's adhesion to Benthamite ethics. It examines fragments in Ricardo's correspondence with Maria (...) Edgeworth and Francis Place, and adds fresh light on the issue by highlighting the partial overlapping between Bentham's ethics and the kind of intuitionism with theological consequentialism that Ricardo had learned from the Unitarian minister Thomas Belsham. (shrink)
1Preface: Malthus the Utilitarian vs. Malthus the Christian moral thinker. The chapter aims at reconstructing the deadlocks of Malthus scholarship concerning his relationship to utilitarianism. It argues that Bonar created out of nothing the myth of Malthus’s ‘Utilitarianism’, which carried, in turn, a pseudo-problem concerning Malthus’s lack of consistency with his own alleged Utilitarianism; besides it argues that such misinterpretation was hard to die and still persists in Hollander’s reading of Malthus’s work. ● -/- 2 Eighteenth-century Anglican ethics. The chapter (...) gives an overview of eighteenth-century Anglican ethics, noticing how the Cambridge tradition gave special weight to natural theology as opposed to positive or revealed theology and how two Cambridge fellows, John Gay and Thomas Brown worked out a kind of a rational-choice account of the origins of natural laws, where a law-giver God chooses among a number of possible sets of laws on the basis of a maximizing criterion, happiness for his creatures. ● -/- 3 Malthus’s meta-ethics. The chapter reconstructs the two ethical chapters of the second Essay. It argues that Malthus’s ethics is not dependent on Paley’s, but is derived from Cumberland, Butler, Gay, Brown. Besides, it argues that theodicy takes a new place in the 1803 Essays and ethics becomes a key to theodicy. The new solution is that, once it has been proved that passions can be mastered and that a world where passions are under control would be a comparatively happy place, a society where moral restraint prevailed would make the middling ranks more numerous, reduce dependence, and preserve liberty. ● -/- 4 Malthus’s early normative ethics: a morality of freedom. The chapter reconstructs young Malthus’s views on the foundations of ethics, proving his adhesion to voluntarist consequentialism. Then it reconstructs his treatment of political issues, whence a clear stance emerges in favour of traditional Whig concerns, such as political freedom, personal independence and dignity. Finally, it gives a fresh look at the theological argument in the two well-known final chapters, locating it in the context of consequentialism, voluntarism, and quasi-Leibnizian theodicy. ● -/- 5 Malthus’s intermediate normative ethics: a morality of prudence. Malthus’s normative ethics focuses on two main ‘natural’ virtues, benevolence and chastity, and three artificial virtues. These include love for equality and love for liberty. A special place is granted to another virtue, prudence, which is the link between natural and artificial virtues. This special virtue also provides an invisible link between the private and the public domains, in that it contributes to combine self-love with general happiness. This is granted by the unintended results mechanism, or “the happiness of the whole is to be the result of the happiness of individuals, and to begin first with them. No cooperation is required”. ● -/- 6 Malthus’s mature normative ethics: a morality of humanity. The chapter describes reactions by Evangelicals, such as Gisborne, Sumner, and Chalmers, to Malthus’s theory and Malthus’s transformation of his own system in order to pave objections. This amounts to incorporating The Evangelicals’ ideas into his own system. The friendly controversy with his Evangelical fellow-travellers yielded several important changes in 1806, 1817, and 1826 editions of the second Essay in the formulation of Malthusian ethics, in the adoption of moral improvement instead of happiness as the variable to be maximised, in the adoption of generalized education as the main weapon in the war on poverty. ● -/- 7 Malthus’s applied ethics. The chapter reconstructs Malthus’s treatment of a few issues in ‘applied ethics’, sexual morality, public morality, poverty, and besides, war and slavery. On the first issue, he argues the duty to marry only at a time when one is ready to carry the burden of six children as a moral duty imposed by prudence and rejects birth control because of its alleged effect of encouraging ‘indolence’. On the second issue, he defends a peculiar kind of Whiggism as anti-Machiavellian politics centred on rights, equality, and dignity. On the third issue, his final approach is a kind of Institutional approach to poverty, making room for generalized basic education, free markets for labour and allowing for a subsidiary role for private beneficence. The goal to be aimed at is bringing about circumstances which tend to elevate the character of the lower classes of society and offer them a chance of being respectable, virtuous and happy. ● -/- 8 Conclusions: strengthening the theological foundation. Malthus’s criteria for policy appraisal were not utilitarian ones. His normative ethics and his politics were sharply different from Bentham’s. Utility is just one element in Malthus’s ethics, going with laws of nature and rights, and ironically, far from being a Benthamite insertion, is the most markedly theological element in Malthus’s system of ideas. ● -/- . (shrink)
We reconstruct the text, that is, we analyse the development of the discussion between Malthus and Ricardo both in the correspondence and in published works, paying special attention to (a) the use of methodological statements, (b) some pragmatic features of the controversy, (c) considerations pertaining to the meta-level of the controversy (assessments of the status of the controversy, of ways of solving it, etc.); then, we reconstruct the co-text, that is, unpublished papers by each opponent that were not made available (...) to the other, records of exchanges between each of these and third parties, etc.; thirdly, we describe the essential features of the context, focusing on events that influenced the course of the controversy; (iv) we draw lessons from our case study on the role of co-text and context, on pragmatic and semantic interpretation, and on "casts of mind”. (shrink)
We examine the most famous controversy between economists as a means of shedding fresh light on the current debate about economic methodology. By focusing on the controversy as the primary unit of analysis, we show how methodological considerations are but one of a whole set of stratagems strategically employed by each opponent. We argue that each opponent's preference for a particular kind of stratagems expresses his own specific scientific style (within the general scientific and cultural style of an age). We (...) also describe a dynamic dimension of the controversy, independent of the participants' intentions. Such a dimension is analysed in a "cycle" of the controversy, which begins with a well-defined issue and expands to additional topics, without reaching a "solution" to the initial issue. The definition and re-definition of the issue(s) at stake and of the difference between both participants is an essential and recurrent feature of such cycles; the conclusion of a cycle does not imply a real "closure" of the controversy, but only that each opponent has reached a satisfying degree of self-clarification. The controversy, thus, does not yield persuasion -- its ostensible aim. Rather, its "benefit" seems to lie in an unintended result -- clarification and deepening of contrasting approaches to the discipline -- due to its peculiar dynamics. In so far as the history of a discipline requires a reconstruction of such contrasts, it is indispensable for it to take into account the controversies where they emerge, and to view both the positive doctrines and the methodological posture of the contenders as parts of a wider framework, that is a scientific style. (shrink)
This paper reconstructs the ways in which metaphors are used in the text of “The Wealth of Nations”. Its claims are: a) metaphor statements are basically similar to those in the “Theory of the Moral Sentiments”; b) the metaphors’ ‘primary subjects’ refer to mechanics, hydraulics, blood circulation, agriculture, medicine; c) metaphors may be lumped together into a couple of families, the family of mechanical analogies, and that of iatro-political analogies. Further claims are: a basic physico-moral analogy is the framework for (...) Smith’s psychological theory as well as for his overall social theory and for his theory of market mechanisms; a iatro-mechanical analogy is as pervasive as the physico-moral analogy and provides the framework for his overall evolutionary theory of society; the invisible-hand simile relies on the physico-moral analogy, and elaborates on the role of vis attractiva and vis a tergo in mechanics. (shrink)
The relationship between Adam Smith's official methodology and his own actual theoretical practice as a social scientist may be grasped only against the background of the Humean project of a Moral Newtonianism. The main features in Smith's methodology are: (i) the provisional character of explanatory principles; (ii) 'internal' criteria of truth; (iii) the acknowledgement of an imaginative aspect in principles, with the related problem of the relationship between internal truth and external truth, in terms of mirroring of 'real' causes. Smith's (...) Newtonian (as opposed to Cartesian) methodology makes room for progress in social theorizing in so far as it allows for a decentralization of the various fields of the Moral Science, contributing to the shaping of political economy. On the other hand, the Cartesian legacy in Smith's Newtonian methodology makes the relationship between phenomena and theoretical principles highly problematic. (shrink)
The paper reconstructs the reception of Descartes's work by the Scottish Enlighteners, from Colin MacLaurin to Dugald Stewart. The Scots' image of Descartes was a byproduct of a scientific controversy; philosophical arguments were brought into the picture more as asides than as a primary focus of interest. As soon as the Cartesian physics withered away as a real alternative to Newtonian physics, only the philosophical arguments were left, with no memory of the context out of which they originated, and the (...) focus of the discussion shifts from physics to the philosophy of mind and the theory of knowledge. (shrink)
In chapter one I will try to reconstruct a plot, or a hidden agenda, in the discussion in ethics between the beginning of the twentieth century and 1958, the year of a decisive turning point in ethics, both Anglo-Saxon and Continental, and strangely enough also the year of the beginning of the end of the Cold War, of post-Tridentine Catholicism, and perhaps something else. My hypothesis will be that there are two similar starting points for the Anglo-Saxon and the Continental (...) twentieth-century discussion, the philosophies of Henry Sidgwick and Friedrich Nietzsche, both expressions of some kind of ethical scepticism, and that a third, somewhat analogous starting-point could be found in Émile Durkheim, the proponent of the dream of the morale laïque. I will discuss how far the diagnosis formulated by Karl-Otto Apel of a kind of ‘parallel convergence' between existentialism and analytic philosophy, based on the shared division of facts and values that eventually justified two kinds of 'decisionism' is useful in making sense of the agenda of the discussion. In the second chapter I will discuss the reasons for two parallel U-turns around 1958 which brought back traditional schools of normative ethics, 'deontologism' and utilitarianism, as well as the reasons for criticism to both schools from the heterogeneous alignment of virtue ethics. In the third chapter I will discuss the remarkable phenomenon of the emergence, starting with the Sixties or the early Seventies, of ‘applied’ ethics. I examine the reasons, both theoretical and political, for the revival, the point to which applied ethics may look as a grand return of a casuistic and natural law way of thinking, or in Alan Donagan’s words a case of “reverse subversion” of the modern secular world by traditional Scholastic ways of thinking, and the difficult coexistence between general normative ethics and procedures for settling issues in a ‘reasonable’ way while dissent on issues of principle is as alive as ever. Then I try to draw a provisional moral. My suggestions are that (i) casuistry is more alive than ever; (ii) natural law thinking is more alive than ever; (iii) moral dilemmas never arise; (iv) moral dissent is treatable, with the right strategy; (v) practical philosophy does not need the same degree of exactness as the theoretical sciences but this is no obstacle to its working in practice. (shrink)
I discuss the second of the three theses advanced by Anscombe in ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’. The focus is the nature of entities to which – if Anscombe’s diagnosis is correct – ought and cognate modals are assumed by modern moral philosophers to refer. I reconstruct the alternative account offered by Anscombe of viable and justified ‘Aristotelian’ modals – as contrasted with mysterious and unjustified ‘Kantian’ modals; I discuss the nature and status of ‘Aristotelian necessity’ to which such legitimate modals refer (...) to. I conclude with the claims that Anscombe’s account of modern moral philosophy is viciously parochial, reducing it to Oxford philosophy from the Thirties and Forties and its immediate antecedents; that her historical reconstruction is vitiated by lack of awareness of the existence of law-views of morality preceding Christian theology, artful anticipation of secularization in order to fit her picture of modern moral philosophy as the ‘day after’ of Christianity; that Aquinas’s and her own view of natural morality as made of rational moral judgments laws is incompatible with both her predilection for ‘divine law’ instead of plain down-to-earth ‘natural law’; that her strained reconstruction of a Christian-Jewish-Stoic view of morality as law promulgated by God has little to share with any reconstruction of the Biblical moral traditions meeting academic standard and in more detail there is no possible translation of Torah as Law; and that her criticism hits just targets from the old little British world she was familiar with, while leaving Kantian ethics unaffected. -/- . (shrink)
I try to reconstruct the hidden agenda of nineteenth-century British controversy between Utilitarianism and Intuitionism, going beyond the image, successfully created by the two Mills, of a battle between Prejudice and Reason. When examined in depth, competing philosophical outlooks turn out to be more research programs than self-contained doctrinal bodies, and such programs appear to be implemented, and indeed radically transformed while in progress thanks to their enemies no less than to their supporters. Controversies, the propelling devices of research programs, (...) are real-words affairs, and philosophers do not engage in them just for the sake of the argument, but in order to win, and alignments are defined on the basis of strategic and tactical requirements that cross the boundaries of disciplines. I suggest that good objections and counter-objections, and most of all amendments of doctrines, were incidentally produced in the course of the fight, and they were no less valuable because of their being more side-effects than sought-for discoveries. (shrink)
This is the first Italian translation of Bentham’s “Deontology”. The translation goes with a rather extended apparatus meant to provide the reader with some information on Bentham’s ethical theory's own context. Some room is made for so-called forerunners of Utilitarianism, from the consequentialist-voluntarist theology of Leibniz, Malebranche, John Gay, Thomas Brown and William Paley to Locke and Hartley's incompatible associationist theories. After the theoretical context, also the real-world context is documented, from Bentham’s campaigns against the oppression of women and cruelty (...) to animals to his projects of political reform. Another section illustrates the ideas of Bentham's followers as well as the objections raised by nineteenth- and twentieth-century critics of utilitarianism. -/- Table of contents I. BEFORE THE TEXT 1. Bentham’s legacy 2. Bentham the Reformer 3. Bentham and the enlightenment project of a reformed morality 4. The principle of utility 5. Deontology or private morality 6. Utilitarianism as «eudemonologism» -/- II. TEXT Deontology I. Deontology: theoretical II. Deontology: practical III. -/- III. CO-TEXT 1. Biography 2. The reform of legislation 3. The Philosophic Radicals between the French revolution and the Industrial revolution -/- IV. CONTEXT 1. Forerunners of Utilitarianism 2. Psychological associationism 3. The oppression of women 4. Cruelty against animals 5. Parsimony and industry in Hogarth’s prints 6. Followers 6.1. John Stuart Mill 6.2. Henry Sidgwick 7. Critics 7.1. Romantic, conservative, and Christian critics 7.2. Socialist critics 8. Consequences: neo-utilitarianism 9. Consequences: critics of utilitarianism 9.1. Deontological critics 9.2. Perfectionists critics 9.3. Sceptical critics 10. Bentham’s legacy for contemporary ethics, by Bikhu Parekh Bibliography Lexicon Index of names and concepts -/- READER'S GUIDE . (shrink)
I argue the existence of two tensions in Smith's system of ideas: the first is that between the postulate of an invisible noumenal order of the universe and the imaginary principles by means of which we connect the phenomena; the second is a tension between the noumenal order of the world where 'is' and 'ought' converge, and the various partial orders that may be reconstructed in social phenomena that leave room for irrationality and injustice. My first claim is that these (...) tensions are dialectical tensions in a unitary, albeit rhapsodically presented in writing. My second claim is that, the system’s unanswered question in the moral domain is a ‘metaphysical’ and ‘theological’ question, namely the problem of evil; by implication, I contend also that Smith was no secularist, but instead a post-skeptical fideist or agnostic, who took Bayle's question: "why are men wicked and unhappy?" quite seriously. His private ethics of prudence, justice, benevolence and his public ethics of liberty, justice, equality were modest proposals for coping with the problem of social evil in our imperfect world. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that differences between the ‘new moral science’ of the seventeenth century and scholastic natural law theory originated primarily from the skeptical challenge the former had to face. Pufendorf’s project of a scientia practica universalis is the paramount expression of an anti-skeptical moral science, a ‘science’ that is both explanatory and normative, but also anti-dogmatic insofar as it tries to base its laws on those basic phenomena of human life which, supposedly, are immune to skeptical doubt. (...) The main scholastic legacy to the new moral science is the dichotomy between an ‘intellectualist’ and a ‘voluntarist’ view of natural law (or between lex immanens and lex imposita). Voluntarism lies at the basis of both theological views, such as Calvinism, and political views, such as those of Hobbes and Locke. The need to counterbalance the undesirable implications of extreme voluntarism may account for much of the developments in ethics and politics during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.Scottish natural jurisprudence, which tried to find a middle way between skepticism and extreme voluntarism, is less secular and more empirical than received wisdom admits. There emerged, as one of its ‘accidental’ outcomes, a systematic, self-contained and empirical economic theory from the search for an empirically based normative theory of social life. The basic assumption of such a theory, namely, the notion of societal laws as embedded in trans-individual mechanisms, derives from the voluntarist view of natural law as ‘imposed’ law.Later discussions of social issues in terms of ‘economic’ and ‘ethical’ reasons originated partly from a misreading ofthe Scottish natural jurisprudential framework of economic theory. Starting with this reconstruction, I try to shed some light on recent discussions about the role of ethics in economics. (shrink)
The chapter reconstructs the developments of a basic idea, namely the physical-moral analogy, in the works of the Scottish Enlighteners. The opposition of a 'Newtonian' to a 'Cartesian' approach yields the program of an 'experimental' moral science. This program, in turn, was never implemented but yielded nonetheless an unintended result the shaping of political economy as an empirical science, distinguished to a point from moral philosophy and theology.
I argue that Malthus’s Essay on Population is more a treatise in applied ethics than the first treatise in demography. I argue also that, as an ethical work, it is a highly innovative one. The substitution of procreation for sex as the focus makes for a drastic change in the agenda. what had been basically lacking in the discussion up to Malthus’s time was a consideration of human beings’ own responsibility in the decision of procreating. This makes for a remarkable (...) change also in the approach, namely, the discussion becomes an examination of a well-identified issue, taking cause-effect relationships into account in order to assess possible lines of conduct in the light of some, widely shared and comparatively minimal, value judgements. This is more or less the approach of what is now called applied ethics, at least according to one of its accounts, or perhaps to the account shared by a vast majority of its practitioners. In a sense, both the subject matter, sexuality, was substituted with a more restricted issue, namely reproduction, and the traditional approach, moral doctrine, was substituted with a more modest approach, in Malthus’s own words, the “moral and political science”. Such a drastic transformation brought about a viable framework, for a discussion of ethical issues that were still unforeseen by Malthus, namely those having to do first with the technical feasibility of eugenics programs and secondly with the scientific discovery of genetics as a field of study but also of possible intervention. Malthus’s ethics had obviously enough nothing to say on those unforeseen issues in so far as it was meant to treat just the ‘quantitative’ dimension of procreation, that is, ‘how many’. Later discussions and controversies will arise around different dimensions, that is, not just ‘how many’ but also ‘how healthy, how strong, hoe empowered’, but what Malthus’s lesson could have taught and still can teach to partners defending opposite views in these controversies is that such issues may be framed in a way that possibly avoids unending controversy on incompatible ultimate principles once the strategy is turned upside down and a principle of responsibility becomes the overriding rule in the treatment of such ethical issues. -/- . (shrink)
The paper describes how a simple idea, that of a new foundation of moral philosophy taking Galilean new natural philosophy as a mode , lead to unforeseen developments once the competition between a Cartesian and a Newtonian paradigm emerged. Those developments are reconstructed in Hume, Smith, Ferguson.
A discussion of the relationship between Ricardo and his Unitarian Minister Thomas Belsham, a New Testament scholar and the author of a philosophical treatise inspired by the Hartley-Priestley philosophy.
We reply to Philippe Depoortère’s paper “On Ricardo’s method: The Unitarian influence examined. Some comments on Cremaschi and Dascal’s article ‘Malthus and Ricardo on Economic Methodology’”. Depoortère asks two questions: (1) was Ricardo’s ‘conversion’ to Unitarianism sincere? (2) did Ricardo follow the methodologies of Priestley and Belsham? His answers are that he was a ‘religious skeptic’ and he was not an ‘empiricist’ like Priestley and Belsham. We reply that the sincerity of Ricardo’s religious beliefs is irrelevant since we start with (...) the evidence that he was exposed for a long time to the intellectual influence of Belsham, primarily in matters of philosophy, and to deny this would imply a negative answer to a different question, namely, did Ricardo attend Unitarian meetings for 15 years? Then we reply that Ricardo inherited Belsham’s version of Newtonian methodology which omitted the fourth rule, that is the most anti-Cartesian and anti-systematic rule, and this has little to do with empiricism but instead with apriorism. (shrink)
I intend to: a) clarify the origins and de facto meanings of the term relativism; b) reconstruct the reasons for the birth of the thesis named “cultural relativism”; d) reconstruct ethical implications of the above thesis; c) revisit the recent discussion between universalists and particularists in the light of the idea of cultural relativism.. -/- 1.Prescriptive Moral Relativism: “everybody is justified in acting in the way imposed by criteria accepted by the group he belongs to”. Universalism: there are at least (...) some judgments which are valid inter-culturally Absolutism: there are at least some particular prescriptions which are valid without exception everywhere and always -/- 2. The traditional proof of prescriptive moral relativism: the argument from variability: Judgments, rules, and shared values are de facto variable in time and space. The traditional counter-proof: examples of variability do not prove what skeptics contend. -/- 3. Pre-history of the doctrine -Ancient sophists: either immoralist or contractualist -Modern moral scepticism (xvii c.): variability as an historical and ethnographic fact supports a sceptical conclusion more moderate than sheer immoralism. - Voltaire, Kant, Reid counter-attack pointing at a universally shared moral sense - Romantics and idealists stage an even more moderate reformulation: instead of universally shared moral sense they point at the Spirit of a People which is: a)alternative to abstract and universal philosophical systems as far as it is lived ‘culture’; b) indivisible unity with an inner harmony and a source of normative standards; c) dynamic, in so far as it is a manifestation of the Spirit through the becoming of National cultures. -/- 4. The birth of Cultural Relativism and its ethical implications 4.1. The 18th c. doctrine was the noble savage (a non-historical doctrine: state of nature vs. social state) 4.2 Edward Tylor (1832-1817) and ethnocentric historicism Savage moral standards are real enough, but they are far and weaker than ours. 4.3 Boas and Malinowski and an holistic reaction to ethnocentric historicism -/- Franz Boas (1858-1942): a) Development of civilizations is not ruled by technical progress nor does it follow a one-way path; instead there are parallel developments (for ex. Agriculture does not follow stock-raising); b) racial characters have no relevance in development of civilization; c) we are not yet in a position to compare externally identical kinds of behaviour till we have not yet understood beliefs and intentions laying at their roots (for ex.: “From an ethnological point of view murder cannot be considered as a single phenomenon”; d) we should distinguish among different practices which are only superficially similar (fro ex. practices traditionally classified under the label “tabù”); e) there is as a fact just one normative ethic, constant in its contents but varying in its extension; f) the implication is not that we cannot judge behavior by members of other groups; it is only a recommendation of caution. -/- Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942): a) against Tylor’s and Frazer’s “magpie” methodology, field-work is required, a culture as a whole should be observed from inside; individual elements are incomprehensible; b) a culture is an organic whole; c) its elements are accounted for by their function (economy), avoiding non-observables (empio-criticism). -/- Ruth Benedict and Melville Herskovitz identify Boas’s approach with “cultural relativism”. Benedict: what is normal and abnormal is to be judged on a culture’s own standards, not on our own (“Anthropology and the Abnormal”). Herskovits: “Boas adumbrates what we have come to call cultural relativism” (The Mind, p. 10); “Judgements are based on experience, and experience is interpreted by each individual in terms of his own enculturation” (Man and his Works). -/- 4. How analytic philosophy understood and misunderstood the discussion 4.1. At the beginning of the 20th c., the new view in ethics was non-cognitivism (emotivist and subjectivist). Eric Westermark combines this view with an old-style ethnographic approach in support of relativity of moralities. Moralities are codes, or systems of emotive ‘disinterested’ reactions selected by evolution on their usefulness in terms of survival value for the society that is the carrier of such systems or codes. The moral relativity thesis: there are cases of disagreement that cannot be settled even after agreement about facts. 4.2 Anti-realists Brandt, Mackie, Gilbert, Harman adopt Westermark’s approach in a more sophisticated version: a) moralities are codes with an overall function and may be appraised only as wholes; b) variability is an argument for moral subjectivism; c) apparent legitimacy of deriving shift from ought is legitimized only within one institution d) morality should not be described but instead made, and existing moralities may be improved. Is it ‘real’ relativism? It is clearly subjectivism (a metaethical thesis). The normative thesis is that there better and worse codes, and survival values is the normative standard. -/- 4.3 Particularists MacIntyre, Sandel, Taylor, Wiggins, McDowell ‘Wittgensteinian’ prospectivist arguments bent to support weak-relativist claims MacIntyre: there is ‘incommensurability’ between different theoretical systems in both science and ethics. No argument is possible through different systems Different traditions may coexist for a long time without being able to bring their conflicts to a rational solution. -/- 4.4 Kantian universalists Baier, Gewirth, Rawls, Apel, Habermas Shared claim: justice concerns the right and is universal in so far as it may be based on minimal assumptions Other virtues are relative to context in so far as they are related to comprehensive views of the good - O’Neill criticism: a) it is an assumption shared by both alignments; b) after an alleged crisis brought about by alleged loss of metaphysical certainties, theories of justice have dropped demanding assumptions and kept universalism, virtue theories have kept demanding assumptions and dropped universalism; c) the opposition of virtue and justice has arisen in an unjustified way. O’Neill’s positive proposal: ‘constructive’ procedures may be adopted both (i) concerning all the range of virtues and (ii) across cultures once we abandon idealization and confine ourselves to abstraction from real-world cases. -/- 4.5 A metaethical relativist and anti-relativist normative ethicists: Bernard Williams Williams: vulgar relativism may be assumed to claim that: a) 'just' means 'just in a given society'; b) 'just in a given society' is to be understood in functionalist sense; c) it is wrong for one society’s members to condemn another society’s values. It is inconsistent since in (c) uses ‘just’ in a non-relative way that has been excluded in (a). William’s positive proposal: i) keep a number of substantive or thick ethical concepts that will be different in space and time; ii) admit that public choices are to be legitimized through recourse to more abstract procedures and relying on more thin ethical concepts. -/- 5. Critical remarks 5.1 The only real relativism available is ‘vulgar’ relativism (Westermark?) 5.2. Descriptive universalism (or absolutism) has a long pedigree, from Cicero on, reaching Boas himself but it is useless as an answer to normative questions 5.3. Twentieth-century philosophical discussion seems to discuss an ad hoc doctrine reconstructed by assembling obsolete philosophical ideas but ignoring the real theory of cultural relativism as formulated by anthropologists. -/- 6. A distinction between ethoi and ethical theories as a way out of confusions a)There are systems of conventions de facto existing. These may be studies from outside as phenomena or facts. b)There is moral argument and this, when studies from outside, is a fact, but this does not influence in any degree the possible validity of claims advanced. c) the difference between the above claims and Mackie’s criticism to Searle’s argument of the promising game is that promises, arguments etc. are also phenomena, but they are also communicative phenomena with a logical and pragmatic structure. -/- 7.Conclusions: a) cultural relativism, as a name for Boas’s methodology is a valuable discovery, and in this sense we are all relativists; b) ethical relativism, as an alleged implication of cultural relativism, has been argued in a philosophically quite unsophisticated way by Benedict and Herskovits; philosophers apparently discussed ethical relativism in the basis of a rather faint impression of what cultural relativism had been. c) a full-fledged ethical relativism has hardly been defended by anybody among philosophers; virtually no modern philosopher really argued a prescriptive version of the thesis; d) we may accept the grain of truth in ethical relativism by including relativist critique to ethical absolutism into a universalist normative doctrine that be careful in separating open-textured formulations of universal claims from culturally conditioned particular prescriptions. -/- . 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I reconstruct the discussion originated with publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971. I argue that criticism and counter-criticism has modified in a remarkable way the original points of view with which both alignments joined the discussion.
I argue that the idea of virtue has become central after the Fifties in both Anglo-Saxon and German moral philosophy and that this revival has come together with recognition of the legitimacy of discussion of issues in normative ethics, something that philosophers both on the Continent and in the Anglo-Saxon world used to overlook in the first half of the twentieth-century. I point at examples such as Stuart Hampshire and Elizabeth Anscombe as proof of the centrality of virtue ethics in (...) the first phase of the normative turn. I also argue that, far from being a radical alternative to ‘modern moral philosophy’ as its proponents believe, virtue ethics is precisely moral argument of the kind both Kantian ethics at its best and less dogmatic versions of utilitarianism have brought to the fore of philosophical discussion. (shrink)
I discuss the third of Anscombe’s theses from “Modern Moral Philosophy”, namely that post-Sidgwickian consequentialism makes the worst action acceptable. I scrutinize her comprehension of “consequentialism”, her reconstruction of Sidgwick’s view of intention, her defence of casuistry, her reformulation of the double-effect doctrine, and her view of morality as based on Divine commands. I argue that her characterization of consequentialism suffers from lack of understanding of the history of utilitarianism and its self-transformation through the Intuitionism-Utilitarianism controversy; that she uncritically accepted (...) an impoverished image of Kantian ethics and intuitionism, which was, ironically, an unaware bequest from her consequentialist opponents; that her action theory, yet, is a decisive contribution that may prove useful in formulating answers to questions that have been left open in both utilitarian and Kantian or intuitionist theories; that, to make the best of her actions theory, it is as well to drop her divine law view of ethics, which is incompatible with the former; and that the rather obscure traditional theological doctrine of absolute prohibitions is unnecessary to her project that could fare well with the more sober distinction between perfect and imperfect duties. (shrink)
The paper reconstructs Beauvoir's interpretation of the Marxist and the Freudian contributions to our understanding of the feminine condition. A number of epistemological assumptions derived from Sartre's philosophy are pointed out. Beauvoir's reading of Marx, Engels, and Freud is discussed claiming that her reading is biased by humanistic and historicist assumptions.
I reconstruct the background of ideas, concerns and intentions out of which Moore’s early essays, the preliminary version, and then the final version of Principia Ethica originated. I stress the role of religious concerns, as well as that of the Idealist legacy. I argue that PE is more a patchwork of rather diverging contributions than a unitary work, not to say the paradigm of a new school in Ethics. I add a comparison with Rashdall’s almost contemporary ethical work, suggesting that (...) the latter defends the same general claims in a different way, one that manages to pave decisive objections in a more plausible way. I end by suggesting that the emergence of Analytic Ethics was a more ambiguous phenomenon than the received view would make us believe, and that the wheat (or some other gluten-free grain) of this tradition, that is, what logic can do for philosophy, has to be separated from the chaff, that is, the confused and mutually incompatible legacies of Utilitarianism and Idealism. (shrink)
The well-known Kantian passage on misology in the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals starts making fuller sense when located within the framework of Kant writings on philosophy of history where he contrasts civilization with moralization as two different phases in the growth of humankind. In this context, the growth of commerce and manufactures plays a distinctive role, namely that of means of fostering civilization, while pursuing a deceptive goal, namely happiness. Deception plays a basic role in the growth of (...) mankind, in so far as it allows for a hidden twofold teleology in human action. Men, while following the dictates of self-love, are systematically mistaken about the results they actually contribute in bringing about. Commerce brings different peoples into mutual relationship and thus paves the way to a cosmopolitan society. The growth of the arts and sciences provides preconditions for the growth of learned institutions, a free press, and a public opinion that are the basis on which reason may start being used in its critical capacities. This, that is Enlightenment, is a preliminary step to moralization, that is the jump of individuals from a state of minority to a state where they are masters of themselves. The twofold teleology of human action makes room for a system of "pragmatic" ends, and of laws connected to the former, that may be studied rationally in themselves and yet are connected to the higher ends established by reason in its "practical" capacities. (shrink)
I discuss the three theses defended by Anscombe in 'Modern Moral Philosophy'. I argue that: a) her answer to the question "why should I be moral?" requires a solution of the problem of theodicy and ignores any attempts to save the moral point of view without recourse to divine retribution; b) her notion of divine law is an odd one, more neo-Augustinian than Biblical or Scholastic; c) her image of Kantian ethics and intuitionism is the impoverished image manufactured by consequentialist (...) opponents for polemical purposes, which she seems to endorse even though it is an image manufactured by the same writers she choose as a polemical target; d) the difficulty to identify the "relevant descriptions" of acts is not an argument in favor of an ethics of virtue and against consequentialism or Kantian ethics, and indeed the role of judgment in the latter is precisely a response to difficulties raised by the case of judgment concerning future action, a case for which Anscombe herself has nothing better to offer. (shrink)
I review evidence from published and unpublished sources on Ricardo’s theological ideas. The main focuses of interest are the existence of a natural morality independent of religious confessions, morality as the essence of religion, useless of theological speculation, justification of toleration for everybody, including atheists, and the miscarriage of any attempt at a philosophical theodicy. The paper explores also the connection between Ricardo’s interest for theodicy and his views on the scope and method of political economy and suggests that his (...) opinion that political economy should be a secular and value-free science close to mathematics depends precisely on theological reasons. (shrink)
A reconstruction of the origins, development and transformations in reaction to criticism of an ethical doctrine, followed by a discussion on its influence on law, political theory, economics and the social sciences.
I discuss first Adam Smith’s ethical theory and the peculiar function played by the quadrangle of sympathy, the social function of sympathy with the rich and powerful and the unavoidable corruption of moral sentiments it carries. Secondly, I examine human nature in Smith’s work, and show how diverging tendencies are carried by different social roles. Thirdly I discuss the modest normative claims advanced by his ethical theory and show how these are not from utilitarian ones, how ethical pluralism is mirrored (...) in Smith’s triad of private virtues, prudence, justice, benevolence and of public virtues, liberty, justice, equality, how these are far from being utilitarian virtues, being rather the result of overlapping between several reasonable normative ethics. Fourthly I discuss Smith’s attitude to merchants and master-manufacturers, showing how, far being the theorist of ‘bourgeois virtues’, he was a radical critic of both the aristocratic establishment and the new emerging class in the name of oppressed. My conclusion is that ‘The Wealth of Nations’ is not an argument for self-regulating markets but instead an argument for a less authoritarian society where political authority, under pressure from a newly formed public opinion made by people in the middling ranks of life, would cease favouring the most powerful pressure group and leave ‘civil society’ in a condition where an adjustment in the distribution of wealth, revenue, knowledge and power could take place through a quasi-spontaneous process. (shrink)
One of the points of interest of A Theory of Justice was that it tied so tightly together efficiency and equity; however, this link was entrusted to the "principle of difference" and the related maximin rule, the very point that is dropped in this book. Now society as a cooperative enterprise becomes part of the shared concept of the just society and it is no longer the reason for its justification; on this basis, however, Rawls lucidly asks the question about (...) the justification for solidarity with those suffering from such severe handicaps to prevent then from making a contribution to this cooperative enterprise. His answer is that for the problems to which justice such as equity does not give an answer there are several possibilities: one is that the idea of political justice cannot cover everything and that we should not expect it to; or the problem may be a problem of political justice, but justice as fairness does not would be the correct conception in this case, though it may be in other cases. (shrink)
A discussion of one of the three books by which McCloskey launched his own economic rhetoric. The main criticism is that McCloskey enlarged view of rhetoric is still not encompassing enough, being limited to rhetoric in the writing of economic literature, while leaving the function of metaphor and other tropes in the more basic processes of conceptualization, theory change, and construction of 'observed' phenomena.
This anthology makes it possible to follow the lines of a 20-year debate between liberal and communitarian theories. The extensive introductory essay provides the reader with a broad overview. The anthological section includes a significant selection of what this debate has produced. The choice includes essays by Michael Sandel, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Charles Larmore, Kenneth Baynes, Ronald Dworkin, and Philip Selznick aimed at addressing the philosophical issues of the debate: the relationship between the good and the right and the (...) relationship between liberal society and community. A second group of essays, by Bernard Williams, Michael Sandel, Michael Moore, Jeremy Waldron, addresses the more particular issue of the relationship between morality and law, drawing inspiration from controversial judgments of American courts on abortion and homosexual practices. (shrink)
A short reconstruction of the vicissitudes of the notion of ethical naturalism through American late nineteenth-century 'naturalism', Moore criticism of so-called naturalistic ethics, reaching Anscombe, Geach and Foot and their particular kind of anti-non-naturalism. The conclusion is that the notion of ethical naturalism is little more than a mere 'flatus vocis' used to indicate three heterogeneous kinds of ethical theories.
By reconstructing the eighteenth-century movement of the Italian Enlightenment, I show that Italy’s political fragmentation notwithstanding, there was a constant circulation of ideas, whether on philosophical, ethical, political, religious, social, economic or scientific questions—among different groups in various states. This exchange was made possible by the shared language of its leading illuministi— Cesare Beccaria, Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Francesco Maria Zanotti, Antonio Genovesi, Mario Pagano, Pietro Verri, Marco Antonio Vogli, and Giammaria Ortes—and resulted in four common traits. First, the absence of (...) a radical trend, such as the French materialist-atheist trend and British Deism, or religious reformation. Second, the rejection of inhumane laws and institutions, capital punishment, torture, war and slavery. Third, the idea of public happiness as the goal of good government and legislation. And fourth, the conception of the economy as a constellation where social capital, consisting of education, morality, and civility, plays a decisive role. I conclude that the Italian Enlightenment, not unlike the Scottish Enlightenment, was both cosmopolitan and local, which allowed its leading writers to develop a keen awareness of the complexity of society alongside a degree of prudence regarding the possibility and desirability of its modernization. (shrink)