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The Scope of Morality

The Scope of Morality

Peter A. French
Copyright Date: 1979
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Scope of Morality
    Book Description:

    The scope of morality, Peter A. French contends, is much narrower than many traditional and contemporary works in ethical theory suggest. We trivialize morality if we think it has something to say about everything we do; it touches us all, but not at all times. This essay in philosophical ethics focuses upon the origin, purpose, and function of the various concepts to be found in a more or less mature morality. The author draws a distinction between moral concepts that arise from an individual’s wish to live a worthwhile life and those directed towards the development of virtue in the moral community. Moral concepts, in his view, are subjective creations of human beings rather than laws with an objective basis in nature. The ethics of sociobiology, of the lifeboat and spaceship models, and of game theory all come under his critical eye in this useful and progressive work. The Scope of Morality, says Hector-Neri Castaneda, “represents a serious effort at discussing the nature of morality, taking into account the most important contributions of recent writers.”

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6248-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xxii)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  5. 1 Persons as Agents: Membership in the Moral Community
    (pp. 3-33)

    The proper subject of moral discourse is a person. The census of the moral world is the census of persons. But what is it, for the purposes of a morality, to be a person? This is an important and difficult question, perhaps one more properly at home in a treatise on general metaphysics or on the philosophy of mind. Recognizing that much will necessarily be left unsaid in the present context, I shall in this chapter sketch out what I believe to be a defensible account of the idea of personhood interwoven in the fabric of a morality. Much of...

  6. 2 MORALITY: Morals and Euergetics:
    (pp. 34-53)

    The moral conceptual “terrain” is not like a geological one, but not because it is rather more elusive to the dedicated cartographer. Rather, it is because it is not “out there” at all, not a landscape cluttered with objects whose positions can be mapped. Our moral concepts, despite the philosophical metaphor in vogue, are not objects in “conceptual space” that can be plotted, in keeping with some principle of projection, for some purpose. Our moral concepts differ in large measure from our scientific ones in that they create the very world we use them to describe, that is, the world...

  7. 3 An Extension of the Montesquieu Conjecture
    (pp. 54-57)

    In the previous chapter, I utilized Montesquieu’s idea that the entry of persons into the civil state is the beginning rather than the end of the state of war among them. Contrary to Hobbes’ view, man in the state of nature is regarded as weak and possessed of an overwhelming inferiority complex. Civil association, to which he is driven by fear and his natural affection for the members of his species (as well, we might imagine, as by natural familial ties), transforms his sense of impotency into one of power. He realizes that his strength is founded on the fruits...

  8. 4 The Role of Model Building: Lifeboats, the Spaceship, and the System
    (pp. 58-72)

    Our moral concepts are mixed modes; they are arbitrary inventions, transparent with respect to nature. That does not mean that they are created in a vacuum, or that no objective requirements can be brought to bear on the framing of our moral concepts. Quite the opposite is the case. Because the point of having moral concepts is to discourage or encourage certain choices, in order to maintain or better the human condition, the understanding we have of our environment is essential to the framing of such concepts. The moral concepts we do have, as their longevity testifies, have in large...

  9. 5 Moral Concepts and Their Function in Discourse: Contemplating Murder
    (pp. 73-91)

    In the next two chapters I shall concentrate on the moral aspect of a MORALITY. In Chapter 7, I shall examine certain features of the euergetical aspect. My focus in the present chapter may appear to be of limited scope, but I hope to suggest why it should be taken as representative of moral concepts and their associated names in moral discourse generally. Suppose we consider the following two questions: (1) Is euthanasia murder? and (2) Even if it is not murder, is it wrong (that is, morally wrong)? The term “euthanasia” should be viewed only as a place-keeper. I...

  10. 6 Institutional and Moral Obligations, or Merels and Morals
    (pp. 92-114)

    In this chapter my primary concern will be with fixing the role of institutions with regard to questions about morality and obligation. Much that has been written on the significance of institutions in understanding obligations and moral issues has shown misunderstanding of the role of institutionsvis-à-vismoral-“ought” judgments. I hope to exhibit and remedy certain aspects of that misunderstanding, first, by clarifying the concept of institutional obligation, and then by showing that moral-“ought” judgments, though in one sense sometimes parasitic, are yet in important ways independent of institutional obligation-creating rules.

    I use the word “institution” generally in the same...

  11. 7 “He wos wery good to me, he wos!”: Euergetical Concepts
    (pp. 115-131)

    Those familiar with Charles Dickens’ masterpiece,Bleak House,will recognize my title as a poignant utterance of little, pathetic Jo, the street sweeper. I shall not be offering a critical analysis ofBleak Houseor of the character of poor Jo (not that that would not be an edifying endeavor for a moral philosopher). I borrow Jo’s words because they epitomize a certain kind of evaluation of human behavior. I want to talk about goodness, about what it is to be a good person. In this chapter I hope to expose basic intuitions about interpersonal behavior and about human excellence...

  12. 8 Faint Hearts and Fair Ladies
    (pp. 132-160)

    In Chapter 3 the question “Why should I be MORAL?” was discussed in relation to Hobbes’ and Montesquieu’s accounts of the object of law and morality. The suggestion was that MORALITY provides a way of reformulating the concept of prudence so that individuals in civil association might be described as having prudential reasons for being MORAL. It was, however, also suggested in that chapter that such a way of answering the question was inadequate, that MORALITY incorporates more assumptions about human nature than that persons are motived primarily by self-interest. In Chapter 7 I have characterized that aspect of MORALITY...

  13. Appendix: SENSES OF “BLAME”
    (pp. 163-178)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 181-198)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 201-206)
  16. Index
    (pp. 209-212)