How Skeptics Do Ethics: A Brief History of the Late Modern Linguistic Turn

How Skeptics Do Ethics: A Brief History of the Late Modern Linguistic Turn

How Skeptics Do Ethics: A Brief History of the Late Modern Linguistic Turn

How Skeptics Do Ethics: A Brief History of the Late Modern Linguistic Turn


Enlightenment philosophers are often credited with formulating challenging theories about humankind and society, and in our postmodern age, we still live with some of the very same compelling, contentious, and often unresolved questions they posed. Author Aubrey Neal suggests that one such issue that still lingers today is skepticism, and in How Skeptics Do Ethics, he unravels the thread of this philosophy from its origins in enlightenment thinking down to our present age. Neal contends that in our increasingly complicated world we face unique moral challenges, and that modern ethics has not kept pace with modern life. The traditional language of moral introspection does not translate adequately into such contexts as politics, public service, and the global economy. Referencing such luminary thinkers as Hume, Kant, Hegel, and Wittgenstein, Neal seeks to re-ignite age-old questions and challenge the meaning of traditional philosophical debates and their value for our society today.


I am a very conservative person…. the constancy
of God in my life is called by other names

— jacques derrida

about twenty years ago , a prominent Canadian social theorist told e the 1960s had been “a wonderful time” for him. “I announced to myself God was dead and so all things were possible,” he explained. He declared his loss of traditional faith with the unalloyed confidence of Europe’s historical Enlightenment. He was the skeptical attitude incarnate. Those famous words, “God is dead” are the gauntlet of a fully fledged, out of the closet, skeptical scion of the modern age. the declaration did not surprise me. I had reached a similar conclusion at about the same time in my own life. It was the word “wonderful” that caught me by surprise. That was one of the last words I would have used to describe the loss of traditional religious faith. the social theorist was a successful public intellectual. His work was grace under pressure; he was a player, a doer, and a leader in his field. I appreciated his position. Our differences were not professional. They were more a matter of personal emphasis. I was surprised to find I was not as “modern” as he. I was, colloquially, not as “with it.” I still liked the old tunes. in spite of my doubts, I still enjoyed the old creeds. I missed the traditional meaning of the old words and I still enjoyed trying to truth-say in the old unequivocal ways.

Reflection and study indicated a complex history lay behind our differences. If the theorist knew the history, it did not seem to bother him. I decided it bothered me. Martin Luther had been the first to propound the “death of God” in his theological quarrel with the Nestorians. G.W.F. Hegel had been the first modern philosopher to use the phrase with unequivocal skeptical intent. He had shed crocodile tears of “infinite grief that God . . .

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