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 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
I describe both the German Aristotelian revival and the Anglo-Saxon virtue-ethics approach and argue that there are some reasons why Grotus's dismissal of Aristotelian practical rationality had finally to be overcome. I suggest that such reasons in turn depend on deeper changes in the structure of the building of modern philosophy, first among them those carried by the critique of Cartesian foundationalism staged by such odd bed-fellows as Peirce, Wittgenstein, Husserl, and Heidegger, adding quasi-Thomist such as Anscombe and Geach. This (...) may account for the apparently unexpected normative turn which took place in the same years (shortly after or before 1958) in two different and comparatively insulated contexts such as Germany and the Anglo-Saxon world. (shrink)
I reconstruct a plot in the twentieth-century Anglo-Saxon ethical discussion. I discuss first the reasons why in the first half of the twentieth century the claim of a neutral character of metaethics vis-a-vis normative ethics was generally accepted; then I discuss the reasons for a U-turn that took place in 1958, which brought back to the forefront two traditional schools of normative ethics, Kantian and Utilitarian, and the reasons for criticism from the new school of virtue ethics. I conclude by (...) the claim that intuitionism and Kantian ethics will still be on the agenda for some time. (shrink)
A brief reconstruction of the birth, rise and ironical destiny of an almost universal expansion to other disciplines going with a dissolution within the original birthplace of the conception of an economic man, a male-only abstraction forgetful of its own abstract character.
A short reconstruction of the notion of phronesis in ancient Greek philosophy, the demise of the notion of prudence in modern philosophy and its rehabilitation by twwntieth-century neo-Aristotelianism.
I suggest that Kantian ethics, that is, the ethics of the mature Kant, that of Thomas Nagel, Karl-Otto Apel and Onora O'Neill, is not the caricature of an "engineering" approach in normative ethics that Lecaldano wants to fight in his war on deontological ethics. The ethics of Kant and the Neokantians can be for a consequentialist ethic a more fearsome and interesting adversary than such targets as "common-sense morality", non-existent "dogmatic intuitionism" invented by Sidgwick, non-existent "Catholic morality" that Lecaldano tends (...) to choose as privileged adversaries as if there were no more serious opponents to criticize for those who had good arguments to criticize them. (shrink)
The paper aims at finding a way out of deadlocks in Malthus scholarship concerning his relationship to utilitarianism. The main claim is that Malthus viewed his own population theory and political economy as Hifsdisziplinen to moral and political philosophy, that is, empirical enquiries required in order to be able to pronounce justified value judgments on such matters as the Poor Laws. On the other hand, Malthus’s population theory and political economy were no value-free science and his policy advice – far (...) from being “utilitarian” – resulted from his overall system of ideas and was explicitly based on a set of traditional moral assumptions. These in turn were justified by a peculiar meta-ethical theory, which has been named in a somewhat improper way “theological utilitarianism” and which I propose to name instead “consequentialist voluntarism”. The issue of poverty and its remedies is the one where Malthus’s peculiar approach, once applied to a real-world issue, displays it potentialities, yielding a kind of policy-advice that is softer and more flexible than the one that may be drawn from Benthamite utilitarianism. The reconstruction shows how, through subsequent approximations and under pressure of critics, Malthus yields finally a kind of Institutional approach to policies concerning poverty, making room for generalized basic education, free markets for labour and for corn, colonies, and private beneficence. Such a mix of policies should bring about for the lower classes of society “the means of being respectable, virtuous and happy”. -/- . (shrink)
A discussion of Ricardo's sustained relationship with James Mill as well as of hypotheses by such commentators as Halévy and Hutchison on a decisive philosophical influenco by Mill (eithr Scottish or Benthamite) on Ricardo's eocnomic methodology.