The Principles of Moral Judgement

The Principles of Moral Judgement

The Principles of Moral Judgement

The Principles of Moral Judgement

Excerpt

The central aim of this book is to examine the common moral consciousness with a view to discovering the principles or standards in accordance with which moral judgements are made.

The fruitfulness of any such inquiry must depend upon the method of investigation followed, and upon a very clear grasp of the main question at issue. As to this main question: it is to be noted that I am inquiring not about standards which 'ought' to be used in our judgements of right and wrong but about those standards which 'are in fact' used by us in our moral judgements. That the former question is unanswerable because irrational, and that the latter represents the proper approach in ethical inquiry, I try to show in my first chapter. It would be out of place to discuss the point here; but I emphasize the distinction between the two questions because the method of inquiry which I regard as appropriate to ethics depends upon what I take to be the nature of the problem which moralists can reasonably put to themselves. When we are concerned to discover principles which do in fact operate in a given realm of experience, our procedure must be scientific; and since the central problem of ethics is to discover the principles which actually operate in moral judgement, ethics must be pursued as a scientific study.

The idea of a science of ethics will, no doubt, be dismissed as chimerical by many who are familiar with the history of ethics and aware of past efforts to construct 'scientific systems'. But the indifferent success of earlier attempts does not invalidate the general idea which inspired them; for it is surely the case that, if we are to understand the nature of our operative moral standards, we must begin with the empirical investigation of actual moral judgements and proceed to inquire what they imply in the way of standards and principles. That is to say, we must start with these judgements as the facts or data to be explained; and the only procedure for correlating facts through the discovery of explanatory principles is scientific procedure.

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