Ethical Relativity

Ethical Relativity

Ethical Relativity

Ethical Relativity

Excerpt

In an earlier book, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, it was my object to study the moral consciousness as it displays itself among mankind at large. In spite of its numerous references to customs, laws, and institutions, my inquiry was essentially concerned not with behaviour, but with opinions. I arrived at the conclusion that moral judgments are ultimately based on emotions, the moral concepts being generalizations of emotional tendencies; although I recognized at the same time the enormous influence that intellectual considerations exercise upon those judgments, in the first place through the cognitions by which the moral emotions are determined. In a short introductory chapter I indicated that the emotional origin of moral judgments consistently leads to a denial of the objective validity ascribed to them both by common sense and by normative theories of ethics. This idea will be further developed in the present treatise.

I shall examine the main arguments adduced in support of the notion of moral objectivity, and try to show that they are incompatible with facts on which ethical subjectivism establishes its claims, nay, that the normative theories themselves have an emotional foundation. In my analyses of the moral emotions, the principal moral concepts, and the subjects of moral judgments, I shall have to repeat much that I have said in my earlier book (which I may do by kind permission of its publishers, Messrs. Macmillan & Co.); but while my views on these topics have remained substantially the same, they have undergone various modifications in detail. For other reasons . . .

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