New Directions in Ethics: Naturalisms, Reasons and Virtue

Reader, Soran
December 2000
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Dec2000, Vol. 3 Issue 4, p341
Academic Journal
This paper discusses three topics in contemporary British ethical philosophy: naturalisms, moral reasons, and virtue. Most contemporary philosophers agree that 'ethics is natural' -- in Section 1 I examine the different senses that can be given to this idea, from reductive naturalism to supernaturalism, seeking to show the problems some face and the problems others solve. Drawing on the work of John McDowell in particular, I conclude that an anti-supernatural non-reductive naturalism plausibly sets the limits on what we can do in ethics. Moral reasons are widely discussed -- in Section 2 I describe some of the criteria used to distinguish moral practical reasons, and note possibilities and problems. Drawing on the work of Elizabeth Anscombe in particular, I suggest that an inclusive, minimalist account of moral reasons may be most fruitful. There has been a revival of philosophical interest in virtue ethics, which I take to be linked to the emergence of non-reductive naturalisms -- in Section 3 I describe three points where virtue ethics has an especially significant contribution to make: learning, motivational self-sufficiency, and the question of whether virtues can be reasons. The naturalism of Section 1 constrains the accounts of moral reasons considered in Section 2, and depends upon an account of virtue as learned second nature, discussed in Section 3.


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