Ethics (Fundamentals of Philosophy)

Ethics (Fundamentals of Philosophy)

Piers Benn

Language: English

Pages: 224

ISBN: 0773517014

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Benn stimulates a concern for moral discourse through an initial discussion of moral objectivity and relativism, a central problem for ethical theory as well as one of the most immediate and practical concerns in our contemporary world. He suggests that most of the arguments offered in support of relativism are really arguments for tolerance and elucidates the crucial distinction and its implications. His emphasis on showing the reader how to think critically about the issues is brought to bear on key moral concepts throughout the book. Free will and determinism, pleasure and happiness, reasons and causes, authority, and rationality are examined with insight and clarity. Benn's elegant and perceptive treatment makes Ethics an ideal text for undergraduate courses. The guides to further reading provided in each chapter help the reader pursue interesting topics and facilitate using the book in conjunction with primary sources.

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arid about a purely negative appraisal. Some relativists may be on the side of the angels, even if – as if often true of such people – their arguments are confused. It would be good to concentrate on the idea of tolerance, to start with, as this is often thought to be inextricably bound up with moral relativism. Many people rightly regard tolerance as a virtue. A tolerant person is usually not abrasive in the delivery of his judgements, is prepared to give 19 AUTHORITY AND RELATIVISM others

challenge of relativism. We rejected certain unconvincing arguments for this doctrine and some excessively simple versions of the doctrine itself. It is not correct to say, in the moral sphere, that anyone’s view is as good as anyone else’s – assuming that there is some point in making moral judgements at all. But it is lame to leave the matter there. In popular discussions, such as in newspaper columns on ethical matters, it is sometimes assumed that a triumphal dismissal of relativism is

of these difficulties. Indeed, he devotes considerable space to trying to show that one common observation, namely that pleasures appear to differ in quality as well as in quantity, can be reconciled with utilitarianism. Contemporary critics of Mill said there was something “mean and grovelling” about a moral doctrine that gave pleasure such an important place. Was there not far more to a good life than pleasure? Mill took the point, but thought it was better expressed by saying that some

example, he rejects a great deal of natural theology (the attempt to produce rational arguments for God’s existence, that do not depend on alleged revelation). He also fiercely denies that divine commands can be the source of the obligation to be moral. (An argument in support of Kant’s view on this is expounded in our earlier discussion of the Euthyphro dilemma in Chapter 2). Moreover, he believes in the pervasiveness of cause and effect in the natural world, and counts human passions and

that it enables vision, and it seems appropriate to talk of eyes that do not enable vision as being defective or damaged. Seeing is what eyes do best, at least relative to human interests. So there might likewise be something that humans do best, such that they flourish when they do it well. What this thing is could be linked, moreover, to our interests as rational beings and not only to our interests as biological beings. Aristotle gets his ideas about function from his metaphysical biology, but

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