Moral Animals: Ideals and Constraints in Moral Theory

Moral Animals: Ideals and Constraints in Moral Theory

Moral Animals: Ideals and Constraints in Moral Theory

Moral Animals: Ideals and Constraints in Moral Theory

Synopsis

Moral Animals offers a brand new approach to moral theory. Drawing on anthropology, sociology, and evolutionary theory, as well as philosophy of language and philosophy of science, Catherine Wilson shows how to understand and reconcile our moral aspirations for a just world with the constraints human nature places on us. This ambitious book will spark fresh debates within philosophy and across the social sciences.

Excerpt

The aims of this book are first, to furnish a foundation for moral theory that is independent of any particular set of moral commitments and second, to defend a particular version of egalitarianism on that foundation. Though meta-ethics and political philosophy can be and are often treated independently, there is a reason for offering a content-neutral theory of moral judgement and moral practice along with a defence of particular normative claims. the most powerful arguments against egalitarianism in contemporary moral theory gain much of their force from the ostensibly non-normative theories of the place of the self in the world and the allied accounts of the nature of moral judgement that frame them.

Moral judgements, according to the descriptive theory advanced here, form a subset of normative judgements. Unlike aesthetic and non-moral practical judgements regarding what ought to be done, they reflect the endorsement of advantage-reducing rules on the part of those who assert them. Moral rules are rules, one might say, for not getting ahead. Morality is the system laid down to compensate for the wear and tear that is the unavoidable by-product of our ordinary strivings, through the imposition of certain sacrifices and deprivations.

This might seem puzzling. Though the fiercer and darker aspects of morality were emphasized by anthropologists earlier in the century, what might be termed Freudian pessimism has lost ground to a conception of morality as a source of human flourishing. the motivation behind this equation is understandable; the prohibitory taboos of our ancestors are viewed with scepticism if not dismay, and there can be no doubt that our opportunities and well-being depend on the moral behaviour of others towards us, especially their veracity, impartiality, and benevolence. Yet, the relationship between morality and flourishing is mediate and qualified, not direct and unqualified. Observing the norms of finance, cookery, decorating, and intimate relationships helps us to live good human lives, while meritocratic institutions enable us to parlay our talents and attributes into wealth and influence. Morality, as Kant speculated, is for something other than worldly success, though it is not necessarily for the expression of our rationality or the use of our noumenal wills. Platitudes regarding human

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