Real Ethics: Reconsidering the Foundations of Morality

Real Ethics: Reconsidering the Foundations of Morality

Real Ethics: Reconsidering the Foundations of Morality

Real Ethics: Reconsidering the Foundations of Morality

Synopsis

John Rist surveys the history of ethics from Plato to the present and offers a vigorous defence of an ethical theory based on a revised version of Platonic realism. In a wide-ranging discussion he examines well-known alternatives to Platonism, in particular--Epicurus, Hobbes, Hume and Kant, as well as contemporary "practical reasoners". His accessible study is enhanced by a strong sense of philosophical history, and will be of interest to students and scholars of ethics.

Excerpt

If we are divided, less than complete wholes, it follows that we stand in need of completion, and it is further possible that we are incomplete 'externally' as well as 'internally'. By 'external incompleteness' I refer to a need for some external 'addition' or external 'factor' by which we may complete ourselves, with presumably an accompanying internal reintegration. By internal incompleteness I refer to my being a compound of less than integrated parts and therefore a less than functioning whole. the two forms of incompleteness are thus complementary, at least insofar as external completion promotes internal integration. That is what both philosophers and non-philosophers have often supposed, and many (at least since Empedocles) have thought that 'love' (in some acceptation of the word) could be the remedy by generating the desired unity.

At the end of the fifth century bc the poet Euripides indicates a typical concern of the 'Socratic' age with a striking representation of acratic division in the Hippolytus where his character Phaedra struggles with her passion for her step-son, and eventually yields to it. She is portrayed as, in the later classic phrase, knowing the better and doing the worse, and it is she, Phaedra, and no-one else, who knows the better and does the worse. But poets, we have noticed, have an advantage over philosophers for just so long as they do not succumb to the temptation to philosophize: they are able to present human experiences and dilemmas without having to subject them either to the test of experience or to explanation and so can show a divided self — as in our present instance — without having to ask how or why the self is divided, let alone whether such a division could occur in such a case or, if so, how it might have been overcome.

In Plato's Symposium the comic playwright Aristophanes is made to tell a tale of man's present miseries and their origin. Once upon a time we were 'rounded' doubles: some of us double men, some double women . . .

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