Good & Evil, Right & Wrong
Edmund Burke on Lost Chivalry said...
Reflections on the Revolution in France (J. Dodsley: 1790) pp. 112-8.
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, — glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendor, and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream that, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. — But the age of chivalry is gone. — That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprize is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.
"The Definition of Morality" in Empiricism and Ethics (Cambridge University Press: 1967), pp. 143-4.
One suspects that some modern philosophers have used the device of defining morality as a means of softening the rigours of subjectivism. They are unable to accept an objectivist ethic, and feel forced to conclude that moral utterances merely express attitudes that men happen to have acquired. They are, however, reluctant to accept the consequence that they have no reason for condemning the moral attitudes of (say) Hitler except that they do not happen to share them. They try to avoid this conclusion by saying that it applies only to certain kinds of attitude. Others may be excluded simply because, by definition, they are not moral. ¶ It is clear, however, that to say ... that moral desires are, by definition, those impersonal desires which we want others to share does not excuse us from saying why we think that personal desires should yield to impersonal ones, when they conflict; nor does it justify us in condemning another man if he prefers to give precedence to personal desires. Again, to say ... that moral principles are, by definition, 'universalizable' does not automatically justify a preference for universalizable principles over ones that cannot be universalized. The hard questions for subjectivism still remain, however morality is defined.
Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn, eds. (Oxford University Press: April 2010), 4th edition, 1008 pages.
Now in its fourth edition, Louis P. Pojman and Lewis Vaughn's acclaimed The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature brings together an extensive and varied collection of eighty-five classical and contemporary readings on ethical theory and practice. Integrating literature with philosophy in an innovative way, the book uses literary works to enliven and make concrete the ethical theory or applied issues addressed. Literary works by Angelou, Camus, Hawthorne, Huxley, Ibsen, Le Guin, Melville, Orwell, Styron, Tolstoy, and many others lead students into such philosophical concepts and issues as relativism; utilitarianism; virtue ethics; the meaning of life; freedom and autonomy; sex, love, and marriage; animal rights; and terrorism. These topics are developed further through readings by philosophers including Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Singer, Sartre, Nagel, and Thomson. This unique anthology emphasizes the personal dimension of ethics, which is often ignored or minimized in ethics texts. It also incorporates chapter introductions, study questions, suggestions for further reading, and biographical sketches of the writers.
"Are There Secular Reasons" at The New York Times (February 22, 2010).
Whether the argument appears in its softer or harder versions, behind it is a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction: matters that pertain to the spirit and to salvation are the province of religion and are to be settled by religious reasons; matters that pertain to the good order and prosperity of civil society are the province of democratically elected representatives and are to be settled by secular reasons. As John Locke put it in 1689 (“A Letter Concerning Toleration”), the “care of men’s souls” is the responsibility of the church while to the civil magistrate belongs the care of “outward things such as money, land, houses, furniture and the like”; it is his responsibility to secure for everyone, of whatever denomination or belief, “the just possession of these things belonging to this life.” ¶ A neat division, to be sure, which has the effect (not, I think, intended by Locke) of honoring religion by kicking it upstairs and out of sight. If the business of everyday life — commerce, science, medicine, law, agriculture, education, foreign policy, etc. — can be assigned to secular institutions employing secular reasons to justify actions, what is left to religious institutions and religious reasons is a private area of contemplation and worship, an area that can be safely and properly ignored when there are “real” decisions to be made. Let those who remain captives of ancient superstitions and fairy tales have their churches, chapels, synagogues, mosques, rituals and liturgical mumbo-jumbo; just don’t confuse the (pseudo) knowledge they traffic in with the knowledge needed to solve the world’s problems.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), Appendix.
The following illustrations of the Natural Law are collected from such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional historian. The list makes no pretence of completeness. It will be noticed that writers such as Locke and Hooker, who wrote within the Christian tradition, are quoted side by side with the New Testament. This would, of course, be absurd if I were trying to collect independent testimonies to the Tao. But (1) I am not trying to prove its validity by the argument from common consent. Its validity cannot be deduced. For those who do not perceive its rationality, even universal consent could not prove it. (2) The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that 'civilizations' have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history. It is at least arguable that every civilization we find has been derived from another civilization and, in the last resort, from a single centre — 'carried' like an infectious disease or like the Apostolical succession.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), chp 1.
Lewis takes as his subject the thesis presented by two unnamed schoolmasters in what he calls "The Green Book": that our value judgments refer only to our own sentiments and never to any intrinsic worth in the objects we judge. He is concerned as to what this will mean for the education of English children, and this essay constitutes one part of Lewis' Abolition of Man, subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools". In the authors' seemingly innocent and casual subjectification of value there is a subversive outcome: "I do not mean, of course, that [the schoolboy] will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all." The Green Book's authors analyze a piece of banal and deceptive advertising. But, Lewis notes, the authors have effectively precluded any normative judgment of the ad, for a similiar judgment upon Johnson, Wordsworth, or Virgil could be no less an accurate description of a reader's sentiments, and there is no other quality to which to appeal. Lewis ends with this oft-cited poetic prose: "And all the time — such is the tragi-comedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." His argument continues in "The Way". ~ Afterall
Normative Ethics (Westview Press: 1998), pp. 26-7.
It is important to understand that in saying that the moral status of an act is determined (at least in part) by its results, this is meant to include all af its results. It is not only the immediate, or short term, results that matter: long term results, side effects, indirect consequences — all these matter as well, and they count just as much as short term or immediate consequences. If, for example, I must choose between an act with a small immediate positive effect — but no other later effects — and an alternative act act that will have no immediate effect, but will eventually produce a lot of good, it is the second act I should perform. Similarly, if an act will have both good results and bad results, then these must all be taken into account. The question is: how good or bad will the results be overall, on balance, taking into account all of the results; and how does this compare to the overall results of the other acts available to the agent?
Shelly Kagan on Morality vs. Law said...
Normative Ethics (Westview Press: 1998), pp. 9-10.
But there is something else normative ethics should not be confused with: the law. Determining what people morally should do is not the same thing as determining what the law says they should do. For the law may permit someparticular act, even though that act is immoral; and the law may forbid an act, even though that act is morally permissible, or even morally required.
Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford University Press: Jan 15, 2009), 264 pages.
The distinguished philosopher Robert M. Adams presents a major work on virtue, which is once again a central topic in ethical thought. A Theory of Virtue is a systematic, comprehensive framework for thinking about the moral evaluation of character. Many recent attempts to stake out a place in moral philosophy for this concern define virtue in terms of its benefits for the virtuous person or for human society more generally. In Part One Adams presents and defends a conception of virtue as intrinsic excellence of character, worth prizing for its own sake and not only for its benefits. In the other two parts he addresses two challenges to the ancient idea of excellence of character. One challenge arises from the importance of altruism in modern ethical thought, and the question of what altruism has to do with intrinsic excellence. Part Two argues that altruistic benevolence does indeed have a crucial place in excellence of character, but that moral virtue should also be expected to involve excellence in being for other goods besides the well-being (and the rights) of other persons. It explores relations among cultural goods, personal relationships, one's own good, and the good of others, as objects of excellent motives. The other challenge, the subject of Part Three of the book, is typified by doubts about the reality of moral virtue, arising from experiments and conclusions in social psychology. Adams explores in detail the prospects for an empirically realistic conception of excellence of character as an object of moral aspiration, endeavor, and education. He argues that such a conception will involve renunciation of the ancient thesis of the unity or mutual implication of all virtues, and acknowledgment of sufficient 'moral luck' in the development of any individual's character to make virtue very largely a gift, rather than an individual achievement, though nonetheless excellent and admirable for that. ~ Product Description
Louis P. Pojman and James Fieser, eds. (Wadsworth Publishing: February 2008), 236 pages.
Study ethics from one of the classic texts, written by one of contemporary philosophy?s most skilled teachers, Louis P. Pojman, and now revised by best-selling author and editor of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, James Fieser. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, Sixth Edition, provides you with a concise yet comprehensive overview of the fundamental objectives and outlooks of ethical theory. Written in a conversational manner with strong learning aids and numerous classical and contemporary examples, this book teaches you how to develop your own moral theories and competently reason through ethical problems for yourself. The text even-handedly raises critical questions with its non-dogmatic style and generous presentation of various positions. This edition offers more feminist as well as multicultural ethical perspectives. Initial chapters discuss general concerns about meta-ethics before presenting major moral theories. Later chapters address special topics in personal and religious ethics as well as the most recent developments in moral theory. A helpful appendix teaches how to write ethics papers, while study questions for each chapter and useful bibliographies further assist you in review and additional exploration of topics. A companion website offers additional support with essay questions and numerous interactive learning aids. ~ Product Description
David Copp, ed. (Oxford University Press: May 2007), 680 pages.
The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory is a major new reference work in ethical theory consisting of commissioned essays by leading moral philosophers. Ethical theories have always been of central importance to philosophy, and remain so; ethical theory is one of the most active areas of philosophical research and teaching today. Courses in ethics are taught in colleges and universities at all levels, and ethical theory is the organizing principle for all of them. The Handbook is divided into two parts, mirroring the field. The first part treats meta-ethical theory, which deals with theoretical questions about morality and moral judgment, including questions about moral language, the epistemology of moral belief, the truth aptness of moral claims, and so forth. The second part addresses normative theory, which deals with general moral issues, including the plausibility of various ethical theories and abstract principles of behavior. Examples of such theories are consequentialism and virtue theory. As with other Oxford Handbooks, the twenty-five contributors cover the field in a comprehensive and highly accessible way, while achieving three goals: exposition of central ideas, criticism of other approaches, and putting forth a distinct viewpoint. ~ Product Description
J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler (NavPress: Jan. 17, 2006), 224 pages.
Starting from the American "pursuit of happiness," Moreland (a philosophy professor at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University) and Issler (a Christian education and theology professor, also at Talbot) connect with a widely felt desire. Yet they immediately take readers into deeper reflection of the very content of the happiness we pursue, arguing that our consumerist culture has replaced the more satisfying content of true happiness with a poor substitute. Moving smoothly into a discussion of discipleship, they focus on spiritual disciplines as the key to true happiness in life. Subsequent chapters explore how the spiritual disciplines can be used to improve many areas of our lives–emotions, thoughts, risk taking and the development of a more mature faith during difficult times. They end with a convincing chapter on the importance of spiritual friendships. Although exploring some deep topics, this will still be accessible to most readers and very useful for study groups, particularly with the excellent discussion questions at the end of each chapter. The practical suggestions and creative exercises throughout will be particularly helpful for those new to spiritual disciplines. ~ Publishers Weekly
Robert Audi (Princeton University Press: Jul 25, 2005), 256 pages.
This book represents the most comprehensive account to date of an important but widely contested approach to ethics - intuitionism, the view that there is a plurality of moral principles, each of which we can know directly. Robert Audi casts intuitionism in a form that provides a major alternative to the more familiar ethical perspectives (utilitarian, Kantian, and Aristotelian). He introduces intuitionism in its historical context and clarifies — and improves and defends — W. D. Ross's influential formulation. Bringing Ross out from under the shadow of G. E. Moore, he puts a reconstructed version of Rossian intuitionism on the map as a full-scale, plausible contemporary theory. The Good in the Right is a self-contained original contribution, but readers interested in ethics or its history will find numerous connections with classical and contemporary literature. Written with clarity and concreteness, and with examples for every major point, it provides an ethical theory that is both intellectually cogent and plausible in application to moral problems.
Louis P. Pojman (Cengage Learning: August 2004), 208 pages.
Louis Pojman's new How Should We Live? is a concise and engaging text that offers a provocative discussion of the central questions and theories in moral philosophy. Crafted by one of contemporary philosophy's most gifted teachers, it begins with a poignant meditation on Golding's Lord of the Flies, a starting point for an eye-opening examination of central metaethical concepts such as relativism, objectivism, egoism, and whether or not religion is a necessity for morality. From there Pojman presents with even-handed consideration and in a readily accessible style the three most seminal ethical theories: utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue-based ethics. The book's discussion culminates with a very timely exploration of the grounds for human rights in today's increasingly global society. ~ Product Description
G. E. Moore, original 1903 (Dover Publications: Aug 2004), 256 pages.
It took us thousands of years of struggling with science and ethics before we thought to combine the two. While scientific ethics has advanced only gradually, the science of ethics burst into existence in 1903 with the publication of G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica, which did for the study of morality what Whitehead and Russell's Principia Mathematica did for mathematics — clarify old confusions and define terms that are still with us today. Practically overnight, ethicists turned into meta-ethicists, studying their own terms to establish theoretical ground on which to stand before trying to build any prescriptive edifices. Moore begins by clearing up some of the most widely spread confusions plaguing moral philosophy, such as the naturalistic fallacy of Bentham, Spencer, and others who insisted on a precise, concrete definition of good. According to Moore, we have to settle for an intuitive assessment of goodness, and his arguments are powerfully compelling. Proceeding to define terms and territory that have lasted a century, he revolutionized philosophy and single-handedly altered the course of ethical studies for generations. While Principia Ethica isn't the easiest book to read (a dictionary of philosophy comes in handy for most of us), it is well worth careful study by anyone interested in the difference between right and wrong. ~ Rob Lightner at Amazon.com
"Ordinary People, Extraordinary Evil", Salon.com (August 2002).
One of the striking things in the study of perpetrators is how they live with themselves morally. It's not that difficult because this really isn't a moral issue for them. They've removed the victims from their universe of moral obligation. What they're doing to the victims isn't really a moral problem because the victim's not part of their moral universe in the way that for some of us a bug or an insect isn't. Killing it is just not a moral problem for us because we don't feel that moral obligation.
The Secular Web is currently hosting the Carrier-Roth Debate in which Jennifer Roth argues that an ethical case can be made against abortion without reference to God or any other supernatural entity. It is telling that neither disputant attempts to justify the intrinsic worth they assume for human persons. If each party just grants that humans are inherently more valuable than rocks and trees, the crucial issue has been missed: the question of what it is that makes anything valuable. William Lane Craig presses this very issue in a new article in Paper Trails, "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality." There is also philosophical confusion in the debate about what constitutes personal identity and other problems, but there are also many highlights in this exchange. Whether or not Roth is successful, it is refreshing to hear concerns about abortion outside of the religious community. Apart from condemnations of clinic violence, ethical considerations are conspicuously absent from virtually every pro-choice website, from Planned Parenthood to Protect Choice. Teenwire is about as close as you get with its swift dismissal: "Abortion is a touchy subject with a lot of people. Remember that this is your body and your decision... You have a right to end an unwanted pregnancy if you feel that it is the wisest decision for you." Considering this, The Secular Web's substantive discussion is especially commendable.
Arthur Koestler on War said...
Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to one's tribe, nation, dynasty, church, or political ideology, ad majorem gloriam dei. The emphasis is on unselfish. Excepting a small minority of mercenary or sadistic disposition, wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause. Homicide committed for personal reasons is a statistical rarity in all cultures, including our own. Homicide for unselfish reasons, at the risk of one's own life, is the dominant phenomenon of history.
Normative Ethics (Westview Press: 1998), pp. 15-6.
The position we have arrived at is this: in defending a moral theory, we must see how well that theory fits in with a wide variety of judgments that we are inclined to make about many different matters. We have opinions about cases, about principles, about the nature of morality, about what counts as an adequate explanation, and more. Some of these opinions are fairly specific, others are more general; some are arrived at rather "intuitively" and spontaneously, others only after considerable reflection; some are extremely difficult to give up, others are more easily abandoned. We try to find the moral theory that provides the overall fit with this eclectic set of beliefs. But if — as seems overwhelmingly likely — no theory can actually accomodate all of the relevant initial beliefs, we revise the set: we alter our beliefs, and reevaluate our theories, until we arrive as best we can at a theory that seems on balance to be more plausible than any of its rivals. Ultimately, then, defending a normative theory is a matter of arguing that it provides the best overall fit with our various considered judgments.
Normative Ethics (Westview Press: 1998), p. 1.
How should one live? There are few questions, I think, that are as gripping and as inescapable as this one. Unlike many of the other classical questions of philosophy, this question — the central question of moral philosophy — seems pressing and important. It matters what answers we come up with, for it matters what I do with my life. What I make of myself, how I live, what I do, what kind of person I become — these things are of vital concern to each of us, even if few of us normally reflect on them in a systematic or critical fashion.