- Notes on Contributors
- Essences and Kinds
- From Causes to Laws
- Space and Time
- The Mechanical Philosophy
- Machines, Souls, and Vital Principles
- The Soul
- Qualities and Sensory Perception
- The Passions
- Language and Semiotics
- Form, Reason, and Method
- Instruments of Knowledge
- Picturability and Mathematical Ideals of Knowledge
- Virtue and Vice
- Egoism and Morality
- Realism and Relativism in Ethics
- The Free Will Problem
- The Equality of Men and Women
- Natural Law as Political Philosophy
- Sovereignty and Obedience
- Conceptions of God
- The Epistemology of Religious Belief
- Religious Toleration
Abstract and Keywords
This article examines the shift in the concept of realism and relativism in ethics in early modern Europe. It suggests that the problem of the nature and foundations of moral rightness and moral obligation became visible to philosophers of the early modern period as they began to reconsider the problems of error, superstition, and illusion to question traditional authorities and to devote attention to scientific methodology and the logic of discovery. It contends that the doctrine that qualities are perceiver-relative, combined with an increased awareness of other ages and cultures, made moral relativism an attractive position, even while its less attractive implications were grasped at the same time.
Catherine Wilson is currently Anniversary Professor of Philosophy at York University; earlier she was the Regius Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen and has taught in the US and in Canada. She works on early modern metaphysics, history of the life sciences, and moral and political philosophy and is the author, most recently, of Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity, now in paperback (Oxford University Press, 2011).
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