Roma RM, Italia: Carocci (2005)
TWENTIETH-CENTURY ETHICS. AFTER NIETZSCHE
This book tells the story of twentieth-century ethics or, in more detail, it reconstructs the history of a discussion on the foundations of ethics which had a start with Nietzsche and Sidgwick, the leading proponents of late-nineteenth-century moral scepticism. During the first half of the century, the prevailing trends tended to exclude the possibility of normative ethics. On the Continent, the trend was to transform ethics into a philosophy of existence whose self-appointed task was that of describing the human condition as consisting of choices, as unavoidable as arbitrary, without any attempt at providing criteria for making such choices. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, the heir of ethics was a philosophy of morality, that is, an analysis of the language of morality that intended to clarify valuations without trying to justify them.
1958 was the year of the normative turn that led to the Rehabilitation of practical philosophy, a turn followed by decades of controversies between distinct kinds of normative ethics: utilitarian, Kantian, virtue ethics. While the controversy was raging, a quiet revolution took place, that of applied ethics which surprisingly dissolved the controversy's very subject matter by providing methods for making convergence possible on intermediate principles even when no agreement was available about first principles.
The normative turn and the revolution of applied ethics have led us, at the turn of the century, to a goal that was quite far from the starting point. Instead of scepticism and relativism that was the fashion at the beginning of the century, at the beginning of the third millennium impartial and universal moral arguments seem to hold the spot being supported, if not by a final rational foundation, at least by reasonableness, the most precious legacy of the Enlightenment.
● TABLE OF CONTENTS
● I Anglo-Saxon philosophy: naturalism
1. Dewey beyond evolutionism and utilitarianism
2. Dewey and anti-essentialist moral epistemology
3. Dewey and naturalist moral ontology
4. Dewey and normative ethics of conduct and function
5. Perry and semantic naturalism
● II Anglo-Saxon philosophy: ideal utilitarianism and neo-intuitionism
1. Moore's critique of utilitarian empiricism
2. Moore on the naturalistic fallacy
3. Moore on the nature of intrinsic value
4. Moore on ideal utilitarianism
5. Prichard on the priority of the right over the good
6. Ross's coherentist moral epistemology
7. Ross's moral ontology: realism, pluralism, and non-naturalism
8. Ross's normative ethics of prima facie duties
The chapter 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. It stresses the role of religious concerns, as well as that of the Idealist legacy. It argues that PE is more a patchwork of somewhat diverging contributions than a unitary work, not to say the paradigm of a new school in Ethics.
●III Anglo-Saxon philosophy: non-cognitivism
1. The Scandinavian School, the Vienna circle and proto-emotivism
2. Wittgenstein and the ineffability of ethics
3. Russell's and Ayer's radical emotivism
4. Stevenson and moderate emotivism
5. Stevenson and the pragmatics of moral language
6. Stevenson and the methods for solving ethical disagreement
7. Hare and prescriptivism
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 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. A section reconstructs the discussion from the Forties about Hume's law, mentioning Karl Popper's argument and Richard Hare's early non-cognitivist but non-emotivist doctrine named prescriptivism.
●IV Anglo-Saxon philosophy: critics of non-cognitivism
1. Neo-naturalism and its objections to the naturalistic fallacy argument
2. Objections to Hume's law
3. Clarence Lewis and the pragmatic contradiction
4. Toulmin and the good reasons approach
5. Baier and moral reasons
5. Baier, social moralities and the absolute morality
6. Baier and the moral point of view
7. Baier and the contents of absolute ethics
● V Continental philosophy: the philosophy of values
1. Max Weber and the polytheism of values
2. Phenomenology against psychologism and rationalism
3. Reinach and the theory of social acts
4. Scheler and the material ethics of values
5. Hartmann and the ontology of values
6. Plessner, Gehlen and the Philosophische Anthropologie
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 apriori 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 conducted 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 sketches the ideas 'discovered' later by Clarence I. Lewis, John Searle, Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas.
A final section discusses 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 be Husserl's legitimate heirs.
● VI Continental philosophy: the critics of the philosophy of values
1. Freud, the Superego and Civilization
2. Heidegger on original ethos against ethics
3. Sartre and de Beauvoir on authenticity and ambiguity
4. Adorno and Horkheimer on emancipation and immoralism
●VII Post-liberal theologians and religious thinkers
1. Barth on the autonomy of faith from ethics
2. Developments of Reformed moral theology after Barth
3. Bonhoeffer on the concrete divine command and ethics of penultimate realities
4. Developments of Reformed and Catholic moral theology after world war II
5. Baeck and the transformation of liberal Judaism
6. Rosenzweig against liberal Judaism
7. Buber and religion as the vital lymph of morality
8. Heschel and Judaism as a science of actions
The chapter examines the main protagonists of Christian theology and Jewish religious thinking in the twentieth century. It stresses how the main dilemmas of contemporary philosophical ethics lie at the root of the various path of inquiry taken by these thinkers.
● VIII Normative ethics: neo-Utilitarianism
1. The discussion on act and rule utilitarianism
2. Hare on two-tiered preference utilitarianism
3. Harsanyi, Gauthier and rational choice ethics
4. Parfit, utilitarianism and the idea of a person
5. Brandt and indirect conscience 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 refuted.
Two examples give the reader a glimpse at this uproarious process. 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 transformation 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 the eventual rational justification of moral judgments and rule-utilitarianism that of an action-guiding practical device.
● IX Normative ethics: neo-Aristotelianism and virtue ethics
1. Hannah Arendt, action and judgement
2. Hans-Georg Gadamer and phronesis
3. Alasdair MacIntyre on practices, virtues, and traditions
5. Stuart Hampshire on deliberation
6. Bernard Williams and moral complexity
7. Feminist ethics
Sect 1 reconstructs 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. Heidegger's most brilliant disciples were the promoters of this Rehabilitation. Hans-Georg Gadamer is 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 significant role of the notion of phronesis.
Sect 3 discusses the three theses defended by Anscombe in 'Modern Moral Philosophy'. It argues 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.
The chapter gives a short look at further developments in the neo-naturalist current 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 inevitable failure of the Enlightenment project of an autonomous ethic.
● X Normative ethics: Kantian and rights-based ethics
1. Dialogical constructivism
2. Apel, Habermas and discourse ethics
3. Gewirth and rights-based ethics
4. Nagel on agent-relative reasons
5. Donagan and persons as ends in themselves
Parallel to the neo-Aristotelian trend, there was in the Rehabilitation of practical philosophy a Kantian current. This current started 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. The chapter offers an examination of his argument in some detail, followed by a more cursory reconstruction of Jürgen Habermas's elaboration on Apel's theory.
● XI The applied ethics renaissance
1. Elisabeth Anscombe on the atom bomb
2. From medical ethics to bioethics
3. Rawls and public ethics
3. Nozick, Dworkin and further developments of public ethics
5. Sen and the revival of economic 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.
The chapter argues that Rawls's distinction between a "political" and a "metaphysical" approach to the theory of justice, one central part of ethical theory, is a formulation of the same basic idea at the root of both the principles approach and the new casuistry, both discussed in the following chapter. The idea is 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 essential criteria for judgment.
● XII Fin-de-siècle metaethics
1. Deontic logics
3. External realism
4. Internal realism
5. Kantian constructivism
The chapter illustrates the fresh start of meta-ethical discussion in the Eighties and Nineties and the resulting new alignments: metaphysical naturalism, internal realism, anti-realism, and constructivism.