‘A Promise Made is a Debt Unpaid’: Nietzsche on the Morality of Commitment and the Commitments of Morality
This article discusses what we can learn about promising and about Nietzsche’s critique of morality from his discussion of sovereign promising in the opening sections of the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morals. It argues that the philosophical focus of GM II: 1–2 is not the nature of promising in the narrow sense of making a pledge to do something for someone else, but the nature of pledging or committing oneself in general. It identifies the root difference between a moral obligation and a Nietzschean account of promissory fidelity. It argues that, in its focus on the difficult questions of what it means and how it is possible to bind oneself to a course of action, the Nietzschean account is philosophically deeper than the moral obligation account. Finally, the article considers misconceptions of revisionist readings of GM II: 1–2.
James R. Otteson
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) is Adam Smith's major contribution to ethical thought. Although it underwent six revisions during his lifetime, its primary arguments did not change, and this chapter focuses on those aspects that remain constant, beginning with an overview of Smith's theory followed by a discussion of the main elements of the theory. Smith presents morality as systems of overlapping spontaneous order that arise unintentionally based on continuous interactions, reactions, and responses to feedback. Although the philosopher can discover the relative utility of specific aspects of a community's moral standards, and thus make recommendations or encouragements to increase utility, Smith agrees with Hume that moral distinctions are not derived from reason.
The philosophy of language and philosophy of science were dominant from the middle 1930s for the next twenty-five years. During this period, many leading philosophers felt reluctant to venture into normative ethics. It was often said that philosophers have no special expertise in, or insight into, matters of right and wrong. Philosophers could defend views about the nature of moral language and judgement. But if there are no literally true propositions that x is morally required or y is morally wrong, the only moral insight or expertise one could legitimately claim to have is that one has moral attitudes that are based on fuller empirical information or are more consistent.
Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick
Beyond Good and Evil is considered Nietzsche’s most important and comprehensive philosophical work. This article explores two problems involving the book’s form and content, faced by those who acknowledge the book’s importance. The solution to these problems is recognizing the distinction between an exoteric and an esoteric reading of Nietzsche’s words. An exoteric reading articulates a crude naturalism, but an esoteric reading shows his normative aspirations that leave behind the methods of science.
Drawing on unpublished and published sources from 1926 to 1932, this chapter builds on John Dewey’s naturalistic pragmatic pluralism in ethical theory. A primary focus is “Three Independent Factors in Morals,” which analyzes good, duty, and virtue as distinct categories that in many cases express different experiential origins. The chapter suggests that a vital role for contemporary theorizing is to lay bare and analyze the sorts of conflicts that constantly underlie moral and political action. Instead of reinforcing moral fundamentalism via an outdated quest for the central and basic source of normative justification, we should foster theories with a range of idioms and emphases which, while accommodating monistic insights, better inform decision-making by opening communication across diverse elements of moral and political life, placing these elements in a wider context in which norms gain practical traction in nonideal conditions, and expanding prospects for social inquiry and convergence on policy and action.
A new moral philosophy emerged on the British philosophical scene in the late 1870s, one referred to as the idealist ethic of social self-realization, which rapidly became the dominant mode of moral thought for over twenty years. This chapter discusses the views of the pioneers of idealist ethics, F. H. Bradley and T. H. Green.
This chapter analyses Butler's ethical theories, which are found primarily in Fifteen Sermons (1726 and 1729) and A Dissertation of the Nature of Virtue (1736). It covers his notions of superiority and authority, the supremacy of conscience, virtue, benevolence, and self-love.
Aquinas played a significant role in clarifying the concept of conscience and the theoretical problems connected with it. Aquinas assigned to synderesis principally a cognitive role. He argued that human beings have a fundamental grasp of right and wrong, which is infallible. Aquinas connected synderesis to natural law, identifying the first practical principles, of which synderesis is the habit, with the general principles of natural law. He occasionally replaced the word synderesis by the term understanding (intellectus), the intellectual virtue of grasping the first principles of reason in his Summa theologiae. Aquinas understood the directives of synderesis as formal principles, not as concrete moral norms. Aquinas conceived of synderesis as habitual knowledge. According to Aquinas, conscience is the consideration of a specific case in light of one's moral knowledge. Moral knowledge comprises the first principles of synderesis, as well as more particular moral directives. For Aquinas, the distinction of generally good, evil, and indifferent acts does not have any bearing on when erring conscience binds and when it does not. Aquinas argued that the binding character of conscience, whether erring or not, means that acting against conscience is always evil.
Dewey’s conception of moral cognition as a natural problem-solving process of imaginative deliberation is . naturalistic insofar as it treats moral agents as embodied social animals operating in the natural world, without possessing anything like an eternal soul, transcendent ego, pure reason, or other disembodied mental faculty. Dewey’s view is social-psychological because it sees morality as arising from social embeddedness and interactions with others within communities of interdependent persons. It is reconstructive in that it regards moral appraisal and deliberation as part of an ongoing process of attempting to transform developing experience for the better. It is fallibilist in recognizing that there is no all-encompassing or transcendent standpoint from which to make moral judgments. Finally, Dewey sees moral deliberation neither as rule following nor as mere emotional response but rather as imaginative exploration of how people might reduce conflict and deepen and enrich meaning within situations rife with conflict and tension.
This article examines changes in the conception of morality and egoism in early modern Europe. It explains that the postulate that human beings were fractious, covetous, and endowed with a strong drive towards self-aggrandizement was associated with Thomas Hobbes, and his writings produced a strong counterflow in the form of assertions and demonstrations of altruism and benevolence as natural endowments of human beings. It suggests that the modern ethical thought has defined itself by its concern with a specific ethical conception whose distinctness from eudaimonist prudential concerns is part of its very idea.
Aquinas's theory of the emotions (passiones animae) is cognitivist, somatic, and taxonomical. Aquinas identified eleven essentially distinct types of emotions, which include six concupiscible emotions of love and hate, desire and aversion, delight and distress, and five irascible emotions of hope and despair, confidence and fear, and anger. The concupiscible emotions are directed at objects insofar as they appear to be good or evil, whereas the irascible emotions are directed at objects insofar as they present something good or evil that might be hard to achieve or to avoid. Aquinas argued that emotions are sensitive rather than intellective because they essentially involve physiological changes, unlike the operations of the intellective faculties of intellect and will. Aquinas mentioned that there are four distinct types of psychological activity that include sensitive cognition also known as perception, the domain of the external and internal senses, sensitive appetite, the domain of the emotions, intellective cognition, the domain of thought and reasoning, and intellective appetite, the domain of free will. Aquinas held that the sensitive appetite ‘inherits’ its intentional character from cognition, which must therefore figure in the account of emotion. Aquinas is a cognitivist about emotion, since cognitive acts are not only causal preconditions of emotion, but contribute their formal causes as well
This chapter begins with a discussion of the emergence of the analytic movement in British philosophy. It highlights G. E. Moore's two most influential works, ‘The Refutation of Idealism’ and Principia Ethica, both of which were seminal contributions to the analytic movement that he and Bertrand Russell initiated. Both feature the realist doctrine and the method of decompositional analysis that are the hallmarks of Moore's early philosophy. The discussions then turn to Moore's views about moral philosophy and Henry Sidgwick; John Cook Wilson, the most influential realist at Oxford; meta-ethics; and postwar ethics.
This chapter analyses the Franciscans's views in ethics and moral psychology, beginning with an overview of the general characteristics of Franciscan moral thought in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. It then examines the views of John Duns Scotus (1265/66–1308) and William Ockham (c. 1288–1347) on three central matters of debate: the nature of the virtues, the relationship between intellect and will, and the relationship between moral requirements and the divine will.
This article presents a definite and positive view of Aquinas about happiness. Aquinas distinguished between what he calls actus hominis (an act of a human being) and actus humanus (a human action). Actions are often bodily processes through which people go, but some of them occur without thinking about them at all while others involve reflection. Aquinas believed that human action is deliberative and goal-directed. It typically results from a process of practical reasoning. Aquinas argued that human action is essentially directed to what people take to be good, attractive, satisfying, and fulfilling. He thought of it as always happiness-oriented. Aquinas's theory of human action focuses on the desire for happiness. Aquinas held that thinking, knowing, and understanding are categorically different from sensations that are private property. Aquinas has a general or defining notion of happiness. He takes happiness to be the perfection of the totality of a well-lived human life. The English word ‘happiness’ can be used to translate at least two different Latin terms that include felicitas and beatitudo. Aquinas makes the use of both of these words to describe happiness. He speaks of felicitas when he means happiness enjoyed by people before death. He takes beatitudo as the ultimate good for people that include the union with God after death.
According to Spinoza our highest good or highest happiness consists in a special kind of cognition of God. This chapter explicates this now alien conception by tracing its debt to a medieval conception of the visio dei: both Spinoza’s intuitive cognition of God and the medieval visio dei involve grasping God’s essence and seeing how things flow from that essence. Once this is noticed, we can appreciate an underlying unity in Spinoza’s Ethics. In Part I of the Ethics, Spinoza explains God’s essence and shows, at E1p16, how things flow from God’s essence; he thereby provides, in broad outline, the very sort of knowledge that our highest happiness is supposed to consist in. However, commentators have found E1p16 obscure. In the concluding section, this chapter seeks to clarify E1p16, in part, by comparing and contrasting the position Spinoza takes there with Leibniz’s thesis that God creates the best of all possible worlds.
John Barresi and Raymond Martin
This article examines the historical conception of the words self and person in philosophical theory. It discusses John Locke's definition of the self as the conscious thinking thing and the person as a thinking intelligent being. It describes the Platonist view of the self as spiritual substance and Aristotelian belief that the self is a hylomorphic substance. It also explores the relevant topics of Epicureanism atomism, Cartesian dualism, and the developmental and social origin of self-concepts.
Ryan Patrick Hanley
Scholars of eighteenth-century Scottish philosophy today tend to agree that Adam Smith, while deeply indebted to Hume, was also engaged in a comprehensive and creative transformation and extension of certain of Hume’s fundamental concepts. But what exactly did Smith take from Hume, and precisely how did he transform these concepts? This chapter traces Smith’s appropriation and transformation along five fronts: sympathy and humanity, justice and utility, judgment and impartiality, virtue and commercial society, and epistemology and religion. In so doing, it aims to provide a synthetic account of previous scholarship on the Hume–Smith relationship and to supplement these accounts with an examination of several further points of contact that have yet to receive significant attention.
This chapter shows how Hume’s “sentimentalist” moral theory can be a version of virtue ethics and elaborates the kind of virtue ethics that best describes Hume’s moral philosophy. To accomplish this task, we need a definition of virtue ethics, an account of types of virtue ethical theory, and to place Hume’s ethics within this taxonomy. Three types of virtue ethics, are outlined. Hume is located within a pluralistic virtue ethics where virtue notions are central and a variety of features make traits “naturally fitted” to be approved as virtues. Hume’s virtue ethics is understood as response-dependent, being grounded in an emotional kind of “moral sense” as suitably objective and as conforming to his basic empiricism.
In the Treatise, Hume focuses on pride as an “indirect passion,” one indicative of self-valuing and moral virtue and contributing positively to our sense of who we are and, in particular, to our moral identity. This essay examines those features of pride that make Hume’s account of the indirect passions so distinctive, beginning with an examination of his application of the experimental method to explain the origin of the indirect passions and the double relation of ideas and impressions as the efficient causes of these passions. Also examined is the relationship Hume draws between the principle of sympathy, pride, and the causes of pride; the relations among pride in virtuous character, moral confidence and, competence; and Hume’s account of pride in the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. Finally, the author considers the view of Humean moral agency as heteronomous in nature.
The chapter starts with the history of Hume’s essay on suicide, and the sources and the social context of it in 1755. It also exposes the first reactions to the essay, particularly that of Adam Smith. The central sections present a critical discussion of the interpretation of the essay as a text of the philosophy of religion. The thesis of the chapter is that “On Suicide” is a text of moral philosophy. Hume refutes the Christian position and also the distinction between rational and irrational suicide; he advances—as resolutive—the positive moral principle of the natural liberty of all human beings and “the right to dispose of their own lives.” The essay has an influence in the contemporary bioethical literature just for this conception on the choices for the end of life.