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date: 06 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the different answers that British moralists gave to the question ‘what does virtue consist in?’ Rather than as a royal road to present-day views in ethics, their answers are best understood when considered against the background of early modern natural law theories and their projected metaphysics of morals. The emerging ‘science of morality’ dealt with the metaphysical problem of determining what sort of thing virtue is. Considered from this vantage point, the British moralists struggled with the problem of deciding whether moral concepts signify laws of nature, rational drives in human beings, irrational drives in human beings, volitions of a legislator, or social institutions. British moral philosophies in the eighteenth century can be divided up according to whether they defended the thesis that moral qualities are artificial, the thesis that they are part of nature, or the thesis that they are the product of historical experience.

Keywords: virtue, morality, British moralists, intellectualism, sentimentalism, history, natural law, ethics

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