Human Acts: An Essay in Their Moral Evaluation

Human Acts: An Essay in Their Moral Evaluation

Human Acts: An Essay in Their Moral Evaluation

Human Acts: An Essay in Their Moral Evaluation

Excerpt

For many years philosophers have studied two aspects of the problem of Moral Evaluation: first, the meaning, function, and mutual relationship of the predicates of moral evaluation-- e.g. good and bad, right and wrong; and second, the logical classification of the propositions in which they are expressed. This book is concerned with a third aspect of the problem: the subject of these propositions--the human act or performance itself. Very little work has been done on this since Bentham. A great deal has indeed been written on the topic of Acts, but this has been mainly from the point of view of philosophical psychology and the logical grammar of act- terms and act-propositions. My own purpose, however, is to examine the human act from the standpoint of ethics: to ask, What is the relevance of the several elements of an act to its characterization in moral discourse, and to its moral evaluation?

Hume contended in the Treatise, and again in the Enquiry, that an action can never be the object of moral approval or disapproval; only the agent's motive, or his character, can be the object of moral appraisal; an act is relevant to such appraisal only in so far as it is a symptom of a certain quality of mind. Reid took Hume to task for this in his fifth Essay on the Active Powers, though only briefly. It was left to Bentham to make a thorough examination of those aspects of an act which must be considered in passing judgement upon it, in his Principles of Morals and Legislation. He studied them carefully through seven chapters, which occupy one hundred and seven pages in the Clarendon Press edition. I propose to pursue some of the points which he raised there.

At the beginning of his inquiry, after showing why he . . .

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