Explaining Value and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy

Explaining Value and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy

Explaining Value and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy

Explaining Value and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy


Explaining Value is a selection of the best of Gilbert Harman's shorter writings in moral philosophy. The thirteen essays are divided into four sections, which focus in turn on moral relativism, values and valuing, character traits and virtue ethics, and ways of explaining aspects of morality. Harman's distinctive approach to moral philosophy has provoked much interest; this volume offers a fascinating conspectus of his most important work in the area.


These essays have all been previously published. I have modified them to have the same format, making (what seem to me to be) corrections where needed, adding additional references, and tinkering with wording.

Throughout these essays I am concerned with explaining aspects of morality. What accounts for the existence of basic moral disagreements? Why do most people think it is worse to injure someone than to fail to save them from injury? Where does the right of self-defence come from? Why do many people think it is morally permissible to treat animals in ways we would not treat people? Why do people disagree about moral relativism to the extent that they do? What is it to value something and what is it to value something intrinsically? How are a person's values (noun) related to what the person values (verb)? How much of morality can or should be explained in terms of human flourishing or the possession of virtuous character traits? For that matter, are there character traits of the sort we normally suppose there are? How do people come to be moral? Is morality something one learns or does it arise in everyone naturally without instruction?

I have somewhat arbitrarily divided the essays into four groups, which I have labelled (1) moral relativism, (2) intrinsic value, (3) virtue, and (4) explaining values. Here are summaries of the essays.

The first five essays are concerned with moral relativism.

In Essay 1, 'Moral Relativism Defended', I argue that a version of moral relativism can be formulated as an intelligible thesis, the thesis that morality derives from an implicit agreement and moral judgements are true or false only in relation to such an agreement. I appeal to this thesis to explain otherwise puzzling aspects of some of our own moral views, in particular why we think that it is more important to avoid harm to others than to help others avoid harm. I go on to argue that traditional objections to implicit agreement theories can be met.

In Essay 2, 'What is Moral Relativism?', I discuss three views that have been considered to be versions of moral relativism—normative moral relativism, moral judgement relativism, and meta-ethical relativism. After discussing what may seem to be conclusive objections to each view, I argue

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.