"William James on Moral Philosophy and its Regulative Ideals"

William James Studies 15 (2):1-25 (2019)
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James’s “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life” sheds light not only on his views on ethics but also on his general approach to objectivity. Indeed, the paper is most interesting not for the ethical theory it defends but for its general openness to the possibility of our ethical claims lacking objective truth conditions at all. James will turn out to have a very demanding account of what it would take to construct something like objective ethical norms out of more naturalistically respectable material such as our evaluative practices, but in doing so, he also faces up to the possibility that this objectivity is something we may fail to achieve. This comparatively pessimistic prospect in turn explains his surprising pivot toward the divine at the end of the “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life” (MPML) James’s appeal to the divine is characteristically idiosyncratic, however, and this paper will attempt to explain how it fits in with the more generally naturalistic framework that dominates the rest of the paper.

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Henry Jackman
York University


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