📰 Intro To: “Modern Moral Philosophy”
Full Title: Intro To: “Modern Moral Philosophy”
The prevailing moral theory of our time takes right action to be that which produces the most favorable state of affairs. Call these moral theories “consequentialist.” A consequentialist ethics fails to produce moral absolutes. Insofar as we care about these absolutes, we should abandon consequentialist moral theories.
Deontology needs a God figure to ground the morally obligatory sense of the word ought. If we want to talk about moral absolutes without a God figure, then one should look to Aristotle. In Aristotle’s virtue ethics, illicit action is that which contradicts the set of virtues, where Aristotle saw no need to talk about a God.
But, before we can do this, one needs a requisite philosophy of psychology to describe human nature, action, what a virtue is, and human flourishing. Once these are in place, one could formulate a virtue ethics around the ordinary sense of ought, generate absolutes, and not have to deal with a God figure.
When right action concerns consequences, so too does praise and blame. I.e. bad consequences are worthy of blame, good ones are worthy of blame. So, am I worthy of blame when my action produces ill consequences? It seems that consequentialists are willing to admit one isn’t worthy of blame if one did not foresee these consequences.
Deontological theories have a linguistic similarity to divine law conceptions of ethics, the difference being the objective grounding in divine law is a God figure who promulgates the law.
Deontological ethics without a God figure has no leg to stand on.
There is still a line for us to take in the search for a secular, prohibition-based system of ethics. There is hope in replacing the objective grounding of God with some form of existing norms.
Just as man has a certain number of teeth, he has a certain set of virtues. So, while this man might not have that many teeth, man considered as a logical object, not a biological one, sets a standard of normativity. By having knowledge of man in this way, we have the requisite grounding for a new system of ethics.
In order to get to the place where we can say a man ought to be virtuous, or, an unjust man is a bad man, we need to take a step back from ethics and look to the philosophy of psychology.
Until we have some requisite concepts in place, our Virtue Ethics can’t get off the ground. Among these concepts are a description of human nature, human action, what a virtue is, and human flourishing.
Anscombe begins this project in Intention, what she considers a book containing no ethics, and you can see similar attempts at filling this philosophical gap in Philippa Foot’s Natural Goodness or Michael Thompson’s Life and Action.