Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ETHICS, Anti-Theory


A Bibliographical Survey of Selected Introductory Philosophical
Literature on Anti-Theory
Biliographical essays are drawn from Lawrence M. Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory, 3rd Edition [Wadsworth, 2002] © 2002

The chapter, "Theories Against Theories: Recent Developments," has been omitted from the third edition of Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach. It is available free of charge on-line here.

Key Essays

One of the key essays to raise doubts about ethical theories as such was G. E. M. Anscombe's "Modern Moral Philosophy," originally published in 1958 and reprinted in her Ethics, Religion and Politics. In the next two years, Philippa Foot's "Moral Arguments" (1958) and "Moral Beliefs" (1959) continued this attack on traditional moral theory; these are reprinted in her Virtues and Vices (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). More recently, Michael Stocker's "The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 73 (1976), pp. 453-66 has set the stage for the discussion of this issue, along with Bernard Williams' essays, especially his critique of utilitarianism in Utilitarianism: For and Against (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1973); his essay on "Morality and the Emotions" in Problems of the Self (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1973); and "Persons, Character, and Morality," "Moral Luck," and "Utilitarianism and Moral Self- Indulgence" in Moral Luck (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981). Stocker's most recent position on these issues is to be found in his Plural and Conflicting Values (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); Williams' most recent work is Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985). A rather different perspective on the impossibility of moral theory appears in the eloquent opening chapter of MacIntyre's After Virtue, 2nd edition (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984) as well as his introduction to Revisions, edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Alasdair MacIntyre (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983).

Stanley Clarke and Evan Simpson have edited a good anthology of recent work on this topic in Anti-Theory in Ethics and Moral Conservatism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); it also contains a very good bibliographical essay.

Moral Contextuality
For an account of the ways in which different types of moral theories may be appropriate to different contexts, see Virginia Held, Rights and Goods: Justifying Social Action. (New York: The Free Press, 1984), esp. Chapter 4: "Moral Theory and Moral Experience." Michael Walzer makes a similar suggestion in his Spheres of Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1983). Dorothy Emmet sketches out an account of the perspectival character of moral theories in The Moral Prism (New York: St. Martin's, 1979). Stephen Toulmin's The Place of Reason in Ethics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986) argues against the universality of ethical principles and in favor of the case-by-case approach to moral problems that characterized the casuistical tradition.

Moral Theory and Moral Experience
For discussions of some general issues about the relation between moral theory and moral experience, which has come under intensive scrutiny in recent years, see, especially Edmund Pincoffs, "Quandary Ethics," Revisions, pp. 92-112, and his Quandaries and Virtues: Against Reductivism in Ethics (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1986), esp. Part I; Cora Diamond, "Anything but Argument?", Philosophical Investigations , Vol. 5 (January, 1982), 23-41; Annette Baier, "Theory and Reflective Practices," and "Doing Without Moral Theory," Postures of the Mind (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1985), pp. 207-45; J. B. Schneewind, "Moral Knowledge and Moral Principles," Revisions, edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Alasdair MacIntyre (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), pp. 113-26; Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988) esp. Chap. 14, "Three Myths of Moral Theory." For a strong defense of moral theory in light of such criticisms, see Robert B. Louden, Morality and Moral Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

The importance of moral vision is stressed by Iris Murdoch, "The Idea of Perfection," The Sovereignty of Good (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), esp. pp. 17 ff.; also see Murdoch's "Vision and Choice in Morality," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume XXX (1956), pp. 32-58. Among those deeply influenced by Murdoch, see especially the work of Lawrence Blum, including his "Iris Murdoch and the Domain of the Moral" Philosophical Studies, Vol. 50 (1986), pp. 343-67 and his "Moral Perception and Particularity." Working from a quite different background, Michael DePaul also makes a persuasive case for the role of perception in the moral life in his "Argument and Perception," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 85, No. 10 (1988), pp. 552-65. This is also an important theme in the work of John Kekes; see especially Chapter Nine of his The Examined Life (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988), and his "Moral Imagination, Freedom, and the Humanities," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (April, 1991), pp. 101- 11. One of the major issues in the discussion of the nature of moral vision is that of moral realism; for an introductory discussion of the questions surrounding this issue, see David McNaughton's Moral Vision (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988).

The Notion of a Moral Agent
For illuminating comments on the general "thinness" of modern conceptions of the moral agent, see Alasdair MacIntyre, "How Moral Agents Became Ghosts," Synthese, Vol. 53 (1982), pp. 295-312.

Impartiality and Particularity

The issue of impartiality and particularity has received a lot of attention of late. As usual, much of it begins with the work of Bernard Williams; see especially his "Persons, Character, and Morality." Most recently, the Symposium on Impartiality and Ethical Theory in Ethics, Vol. 101, No 4 (July, 1991) includes excellent essays by Lawrence Blum on "Moral Perception and Particularity," by Adrian Piper on impartiality and compassion, by Marcia Baron on "Impartiality and Friendship," and by Marilynn Friedman on "The Practice of Partiality," which provides a helpful refinement of our notion of partiality itself; Barbara Herman provides a subtle and tightly-woven defense of Kantian impartiality. In addition to Herman, some of the most able defenders of impartiality include Stephen Darwall, whose Impartial Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983) is one of the best articulations of a Kantian view of moral reasoning; Derek Parfit, who argues in Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984) that ethics should be more impersonal; and, most recently, Shelly Kagan's The Limits of Morality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989) offers a penetrating discussion of this issue. Robert Adams provides an excellent discussion of the issues surrounding Parfit's claims about impersonality in his review, "Should Ethics Be More Impersonal?" Philosophical Review, Vol. 98, No. 4 (October, 1989), pp. 439-84. Also see the work of Thomas Nagel, especially his The View from Nowhere (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) and Equality and Partiality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

The emphasis on impartiality has led to a neglect of some traditional virtues. Loyality is one of the most interesting of these. On this issue, see Philip Pettit's The Paradox of Loyalty," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2 (April, 1988), pp. 163-71, and especially George P. Fletcher, Loyalty: An Essay on the Morality of Relationships (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Ethics and Literature
On the relationship between ethics and literature, see especially the following two symposia: "Symposium on Morality and Literature" in Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 2 (January, 1988); "Literature and/as Moral Philosophy" in New Literary History, Vol. XV, No. 1 (Autumn, 1983); on the moral power of stories, also see Robert Coles, The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989); also see the wonderfully rich analyses in Martha Craven Nussbaum's The Fragility of Goodness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) and the conceptual framework elaborated by Richard Wollheim in his The Thread of Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984). Wayne C. Booth's The Company We Keep. An Ethics of Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988) offers an exceptionally insightful discussion of the rhetoric of moral theories. Richard Eldridge traces the unfolding of Kantian moral themes in Conrad, Wordworth, Coleridge, and Jane Austen in his On Moral Personhood. Philosophy, Literature, Criticism, and Self-Understanding (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

Emotions and Morality
Several philosophers have discussed the issue of the place of the emotions in the moral life. Bernard Williams's "Morality and the Emotions," Problems of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 207-29 is an excellent starting-point. I have dealt with this issue in more depth in relation to Kant in "On the Purity of Our Moral Motives," The Monist, Vol. 66, No. 2 (April, 1983), pp. 251-67, as has Nancy Sherman more recently in "The Place of Emotions in Kantian Morality" in Identity, Character, and Morality, edited by Owen Flanagan and Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (Cambridge: MIT press, 1990), pp. 149-71. Justin Oakley's Morality and the Emotions (London: Routledge, 1992) offers a strong defense of the positive role that the emotions play in the moral life. Among recent works that stress the cognitive dimension of emotions, see especially Ronald de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1987); Patricia S. Greenspan, Emotions and Reasons: An Inquiry into Emotional Justification (New York: Routledge, 1988); Jerome Neu, Emotion, Thought and Therapy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977); Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Guilt and Shame: Emotions of Self-Assessment (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985); and Martha Craven Nussbaum's forthcoming The Therapy of Desire. In Wise Choices, Apt Feelings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), Alan Gibbard articulates a theory of normative judgment in which emotions play a highly significant role.

Moral Saints
The literature on moral saints is growing quickly. In addition to Susan Wolf's "Moral Saints" The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 79, No. 8 (August, 1982), pp. 419-39 and Robert Adams' rejoinder, "Saints," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 81, No. 7 (July, 1984), pp. 392-401, see Pincoffs' "A Defense of Perfectionism" and "Ideals of Virtue and Moral Obligation: Gandhi," both of which are in his Quandaries and Virtues (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1986) and Robert Louden's "Can We Be Too Moral?" Ethics, Vol. 98 (1988), pp. 361-78. For an excellent analysis of the issue of moral perfectibility in political theory, see Virginia Lewis Muller's The Idea of Perfectibility (Latham: University Press of America, 1985). Two recent philosophical works direct themselves to issues about the relationship between moral goodness and individuality: Owen Flanagan's Varieties of Moral Personality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991) and John Kekes' Facing Evil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). Both Edith Wyschogrod's Saints and Postmodernism: Revisioning Moral Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990) and Robert Inchausti's The Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991) contain detailed discussions of specific figures. Lawrence Blum's "Moral Exemplars," Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. XIII (1988), pp. 196-221 contains excellent discussions of specific figures, including Schindler, and a penetrating consideration of the question of flawed exemplars. For an excellent biography of Oscar Schindler's life, see Thomas Keneally Schindler's List. (New York, 1983).

Metaphors of Discourse
Comparatively little work has been done on metaphors of discourse. See the excellent discussion of argument as war in George Lackoff and Mark Johnson's Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981) and the discussion by Janice Moulton of "A Paradigm for Philosophy: The Adversary Method" and her "Duelism in Philosophy;" Maryann Ayim's "Violence and Domination as Metaphors in Academic Discourse;" and Susan Peterson's "Are You Teaching Philosophy, or Playing the Dozens?" (unpublished essay)in Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science, edited by Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1983), pp. 149-64.

The importance of dialogue is emphasized by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his Truth and Method (New York: Seabury, 1975); the idea of conversation, and the conditions necessary for genuine conversations, is developed by Jurgen Habermas, especially in his Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990) and in his exchanges with Gadamer. Some helpful essays on this theme are gathered together in Michael Kelly's anthology Hermeneutics and Critical Theory in Ethics and Politics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990). For a well-argued defense of dialogue that is couched in the language of contemporary Anglo- American philosophy, see Bruce Ackerman, "Why Dialogue?" The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 86, No. 1 (January, 1989), pp. 5-22