Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays toward a Morality of Consequence

Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays toward a Morality of Consequence

Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays toward a Morality of Consequence

Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays toward a Morality of Consequence


In our everyday lives we struggle with the notions of why we do what we do and the need to assign values to our actions. Somehow, it seems possible through experience and life to gain knowledge and understanding of such matters. Yet once we start delving deeper into the concepts that underwrite these domains of thought and actions, we face a philosophical disappointment. In contrast to the world of facts, values and morality seem insecure, uncomfortably situated, easily influenced by illusion or ideology. How can we apply this same objectivity and accuracy to the spheres of value and morality? In the essays included in this collection, Peter Railton shows how a fairly sober, naturalistically informed view of the world might nonetheless incorporate objective values and moral knowledge. This book will be of interest to professionals and students working in philosophy and ethics.


“Oh…. Philosophy. Well, what sort of philosophy do you do?”

“Mostly ethics.”

“Ethics? Do you think there really is any such thing?”

A fair question. Indeed, a host of fair questions. For there are many ways to be puzzled about ethics, and few easy answers. Some examples:

Moral claims are often made as if they possessed a kind of objectivity – as something more than personal or partisan preferences. But where in the world can we find anything like objective values or principles to back this up? Even when we disagree morally, we typically act as if there were something at stake, something to be right or wrong about. and those who argue that moral principles are “cultural” or “relative” typically are on their way to making a case for tolerance, understanding, cooperation, fairness – but this itself looks like a moral view. What is the meaning of moral terms, and what sort of objectivity, if any, does it commit us to? And, if there is such a commitment, can we identify properties of moral practice, or values in the world, that would vindicate it? This is one family of questions.

The objectivity of ethics, it seems, would have to be different from the objectivity of science. Morality gives practical guidance – it purports to say not how things are, but how they ought to be, or how it would be good for them to be. This guidance, moreover, claims to be rational – moral concerns present themselves as good reasons for action, reasons serious enough to outweigh or even cancel certain other pressing concerns or interests. But what is this idea of “practical guidance”? and if morality has “rational . . .

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