Moral Absolutes and Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism

In Michiel Meijer & Herbert De Vriese (eds.), The Philosophy of Reenchantment. Routledge (2020)
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In “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Elizabeth Anscombe makes a “disenchanting” move: she suggests that secular philosophers abandon a special “moral” sense of “ought” since she thinks this no longer makes sense without a divine law framework. Instead, she recommends recovering an ordinary sense of ought that pertains to what a human being needs in order to flourish qua human being, where the virtues are thought to be central to what a human being needs. However, she is also concerned to critique consequentialist views for their rejection of absolution prohibitions. This raises the question of whether the disenchanted form of Aristotelian ethical naturalism that she recommends to secular philosophers can support such absolute prohibitions. Anscombe expresses skepticism on this point and seems ultimately to recommend a divine law ethic, at least as a supplement to a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethic. This chapter takes issue with Anscombe’s view, in part: the author agrees that the disenchanted form of Aristotelian virtue ethics cannot support absolute prohibitions, but disagrees that appeal to divine law is the best way to understand these prohibitions since it misses the intrinsic reasons for them: namely, they concern that which is sacred or reverence-worthy and thus should be regarded as inviolable and as involving a “special moral ought.” This means that a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethic that can properly recognize moral absolutes will need a reenchanting move: namely, it needs to recognize the special normative demands of the sacred. This chapter also explores the question of what “moral ontology” can best make sense of the moral phenomenology of the sacred, but the main aim is to show the significance of a common anti-consequentialist form of moral perception that involves a sense of the sacred.
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