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Foot, Philippa, , . Natural Goodness
2001, Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Anne-Marie McCallion, Contributed by:

Publisher’s Note: Philippa Foot has for many years been one of the most distinctive and influential thinkers in moral philosophy. Long dissatisfied with the moral theories of her contemporaries, she has gradually evolved a theory of her own that is radically opposed not only to emotivism and prescriptivism but also to the whole subjectivist, anti-naturalist movement deriving from David Hume. Dissatisfied with both Kantian and utilitarian ethics, she claims to have isolated a special form of evaluation that predicates goodness and defect only to living things considered as such; she finds this form of evaluation in moral judgements. Her vivid discussion covers topics such as practical rationality, erring conscience, and the relation between virtue and happiness, ending with a critique of Nietzsche’s immoralism. This long-awaited book exposes a highly original approach to moral philosophy and represents a fundamental break from the assumptions of recent debates. Foot challenges many prominent philosophical arguments and attitudes; but hers is a work full of life and feeling, written for anyone intrigued by the deepest questions about goodness and human.

Comment: This is an intermediate text which outlines and argues for the primary methodological differences between Foot’s account of the relationship between reason and morality, and the standard (broadly Humean) approach against which she is arguing. Some understanding of this standard approach is required to get the most out of this text. The text is clear throughout and would make a good compliment to courses which deal with the Humean account of Action or 20th century discussions concerning meta-ethics.

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Hursthourse, Rosalind, , . On Virtue Ethics
2000, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Back Matter: Virtue ethics is perhaps the most important development within late twentieth-century moral philosophy. Rosalind Hursthouse, who has made notable contributions to this development, now presents a full exposition and defence of her neo-Aristotelian version of virtue ethics. She shows how virtue ethics can provide guidance for action, illuminate moral dilemmas, and bring out the moral significance of the emotions. Deliberately avoiding a combative stance, she finds less disagreement between Kantian and neo-Aristotelian approaches than is usual, and she offers the first account from a virtue ethics perspective of acting ‘from a sense of duty’. She considers the question which character traits are virtues, and explores how answers to this question can be justified by appeal to facts about human nature. Written in a clear, engaging style which makes it accessible to non-specialists, On Virtue Ethics will appeal to anyone with an interest in moral philosophy.

Comment: The Introduction provides an excellent overview of virtue ethics and its relations with other moral theories. It makes for a perfect main reading for units on virtue ethics in general ethics modules. Chapter 4 offers a valuable discussion of deontology, and other chapters are best used as further reading, or as main readings in modules devoted fully to virtue ethics.

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Street, Sharon, , . A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value
2006, Philosophical Studies 127 (1):109-166.
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Added by: Graham Bex-Priestley, Contributed by:

Abstract: Contemporary realist theories of value claim to be compatible with natural science. In this paper, I call this claim into question by arguing that Darwinian considerations pose a dilemma for these theories. The main thrust of my argument is this. Evolutionary forces have played a tremendous role in shaping the content of human evaluative attitudes. The challenge for realist theories of value is to explain the relation between these evolutionary influences on our evaluative attitudes, on the one hand, and the independent evaluative truths that realism posits, on the other. Realism, I argue, can give no satisfactory account of this relation. On the one hand, the realist may claim that there is no relation between evolutionary influences on our evaluative attitudes and independent evaluative truths. But this claim leads to the implausible skeptical result that most of our evaluative judgments are off track due to the distorting pressure of Darwinian forces. The realist’s other option is to claim that there is a relation between evolutionary influences and independent evaluative truths, namely that natural selection favored ancestors who were able to grasp those truths. But this account, I argue, is unacceptable on scientific grounds. Either way, then, realist theories of value prove unable to accommodate the fact that Darwinian forces have deeply influenced the content of human values. After responding to three objections, the third of which leads me to argue against a realist understanding of the disvalue of pain, I conclude by sketching how antirealism is able to sidestep the dilemma I have presented. Antirealist theories of value are able to offer an alternative account of the relation between evolutionary forces and evaluative facts—an account that allows us to reconcile our understanding of evaluative truth with our understanding of the many nonrational causes that have played a role in shaping our evaluative judgments.

Comment: This is an influential paper that could serve either as required reading or further reading in a metaethics module. Includes a very clear explanation of realism.

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