Ethics and Experience

Ethics and Experience: Life Beyond Moral Theory

Timothy Chappell
Copyright Date: 2009
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ethics and Experience
    Book Description:

    Ethics and Experience presents a wide-ranging and thought-provoking introduction to the question, first posed by Socrates, "How is life to be lived?" It treats ethics as a single and broadly unified field of inquiry in which the abstract questions of metaethics and the real-world issues of applied ethics are immediately and directly connected. Tim Chappell explores the connections and the tensions between happiness and virtue, reason and commitment, motivation and justification, and objectivity and personal significance. And he re-examines familiar theories in normative ethics such as utilitarianism, virtue ethics, Kantianism, and intuitionism from a fresh and revealing perspective. The book is an excellent primer for students taking courses on moral philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9481-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 The turn to reason: how human beings got ethical
    (pp. 1-4)

    Long ago, human beings discovered that they could resolve specific technical questions – “How can I catch food?”: “How can I keep warm in my cave at night?”: “How can I avoid becoming food?” – by applyingreason. They found they could answer these questions by thinking them through carefully, by generating and criticizing possible solutions, by trying out those solutions in practice and then refining them, and by remaining on the lookout for better solutions even when a given problem already had a passable solution.

    We may call this discovery theturn to reason. It was a revolutionary move...

  5. 2 Demarcation: what does “ethical” mean?
    (pp. 5-10)

    Chapter 1 defined ethics as the use of reason to answer the question “How should life be lived?”: That definition reminds us immediately of some things that ethics isnot. For one thing, the definition shows that ethics is not just about what wedo. The question “How should life be lived?” is certainly about our actions, our behaviour, our choices. But it is about many other things too: not just what we should choose, but also how we should choose it; not just how we should act, but also how we should think and feel and respond, what kind...

  6. 3 Motivation: why be moral?
    (pp. 11-19)

    In Chapter 1, I defined ethics as the use of reason to answer the question “How should life be lived?”: Presumably the most basic answer is “Life should be livedwell”: But this is not the interesting bit. The interesting – and difficult – bit is saying whatcountsas living well. When we try to do this, we soon run into the difficulty noted at the end of Chapter 2. Surely there are some ethical demands that, if we face up to them honestly, are so stringent that they will stop us living well – and possibly stop us...

  7. 4 Deliberation: the question of reason
    (pp. 20-36)

    In Chapter 1 I defined ethics as the use of reason to try to give an answer to the question “How should life be lived?”. I said that this definition usefully steers us towards at least four important questions about ethics. The third of these questions is the main topic of this chapter: whether it isrightto try to use reason to determine how life should be lived. After all, as we saw in Chapter 1, the turn to reason was originally devised for dealing with problems such as “How can I warm my cave?”, or “How can we...

  8. 5 Introducing subjectivism and objectivism
    (pp. 37-48)

    Chapter 1 pointed us towards four key initial questions about ethics, and Chapters 2–4 discussed the first three of these. In Chapter 5 we come to the fourth and last of these initial questions: the question of objectivity. That question will remain our focus until the end of Chapter 7.

    Socrates poses the question “How should life be lived?”, and urges his hearers to try to answer it. But many today will feel subjectivist qualms about even trying to give an answer. Their response to Socrates’ question is something like this: “No one has the right to impose their...

  9. 6 Five arguments for ethical subjectivism
    (pp. 49-72)

    In §5.2 we saw this definition of the position that I have been calling ethical subjectivism:

    Ethical subjectivism. No ethical judgements are objectively true.

    I contrasted this with the position that is the strict negation of ethical subjectivism – ethical objectivism:

    Ethical objectivism. Some ethical judgements are objectively true.

    As I noted, this objectivist position is not the most interesting one, since it is much too weak.Thissort of ethical objectivism is true if there is only one completely inconsequential objective truth in ethics – say, that smiling at strangers is nice – and everything else is subjective. What...

  10. 7 The content of ethics: expressivism, error theory, objectivism again
    (pp. 73-96)

    When we talk about ethics, what are we talking about? This simple question might seem especially pressing for the ethical subjectivist, whose view is that there is – basically – no moral reality, no ethical truth or falsehood. If so, then the subjectivist needs to help us to understand what is going on in ordinary life, where we often seem to talk fairly confidently as if thereweresuch a thing as moral reality.

    The same question is an important one for the ethical objectivist too. If ethical objectivism is true, then there is such a thing as moral reality,...

  11. 8 Virtue ethics
    (pp. 97-124)

    The central question of ethics, with which I began this book, is “How should life be lived?”: That question raises further questions about truth and falsity, subjectivity and objectivity, the meaning of ethical claims, and what the world has to be like for them to be capable of being true. These questions form the agenda of meta-ethics, which I have been pursuing in the previous three chapters especially.

    The last of these meta-ethical questions was “What are we talking about when we make moral assertions?”. Among the possible ways of answering this, as we saw, are the views that the...

  12. 9 Utilitarianism
    (pp. 125-152)

    What place in a good person’s deliberations can a moral theory have? Towards the end of Chapter 8, we explored this question as it arises for the moral theory called virtue ethics. We noted that the virtue ethical account of rightness says this:

    Virtue ethics:An action is right iff it is the action that a virtuous agent would characteristically do in the circumstances.

    (Or something like that. We developed some complications about what the exact formula should be in §8.6, but we need not revisit these now.)

    We also noted in Chapter 8 that any plausible moral theory is...

  13. 10 Kantianism and contractarianism
    (pp. 153-183)

    In the two chapters I have devoted so far to normative ethics, I have said little or nothing about rules. This might seem surprising. When philosophy students first begin thinking about normative ethics, they usually assume that it is mainly about rules, or at least basically about rules. But this certainly is not true of either virtue ethics or utilitarianism. (This is not true, at least, if it is specific rules you have in mind. You could see these theories’ accounts of rightness as rules in themselves, so that virtue ethics becomes identical with some rule such as “Always do...

  14. 11 Theory and insight in ethics
    (pp. 184-214)

    At the beginning of this book I defined ethics as the use of reason to determine an answer to Socrates’ question how life should be lived. That definition immediately raised the question: whatsortof use of reason? If reason applies to the question “How should life be lived?”,howdoes reason apply to it?

    Part of what is involved in applying reason to Socrates’ question is a matter of working out what kind of justification, and what kind of truth or falsehood, any answer to that question could have. This was my concern in Chapters 5–7, where we...

  15. Further reading
    (pp. 215-218)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-226)
  17. Index
    (pp. 227-230)