Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Metaethics and Teleology

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Metaethics and Teleology

Article excerpt

THERE IS AN IMPORTANT RESPECT in which virtue-centered ethical realism needs to be more Aristotelian than it is typically willing to admit. This concerns the way in which teleological considerations need to be more explicitly acknowledged. Reflection on moral phenomenology, discourse, and practice supports realism and also reveals that teleological considerations cannot be entirely disowned by it. The teleology is not a grand teleology, however; it is not the view that there is a unique perfection of human nature, and it is not the view that ethics is read off of a teleological metaphysics. On the other hand, this is not just the teleology of this and that particular subjective project, concern, or purposive action.

Much of the current debate in metaethics can be diagnosed as a dispute between a basically Aristotelian position and a basically Humean one, not in respect of first-order ethical doctrine, but in respect of the overall moral anthropology shaping the positions. On both sides, the influence of Wittgenstein is evident. We will examine what divides Aristotelian realism from Humean projectivism, and in the course of doing so we will be able to motivate a suggestion about why virtue-centered realism needs to include teleological considerations in an unembarrassed way.

I

First, how does Wittgenstein figure in all of this? The short answer is that he is widely seen as having made normativity respectable again. One of the main lessons taken from his later work, by philosophers of many different kinds, is that the use of concepts in general is a normative matter. The rule-governed behavior of making judgments and communicating is ineliminably normative. This normativity is not a question of there being values as some sorts of entities, perhaps apt for a Platonist ontological interpretation. Neither is the rule-governed activity of thought and discourse explicable in terms of a psychological mechanism or some particular fact of the matter in the mind or brain. This is a way between both ontological inflation and naturalistic reduction. Moreover, if the use of concepts generally is normative, then if there is a special way in which the normativity of moral judgments is worse off than normativity in general, perhaps it has to be shown and cannot be taken as a datum. There is unproblematic (which is not the same thing as "perfectly transparent, and fully explicable") normativity involved in judging that, "The cows broke out of their enclosure"--so why should, "It is wrong to harm someone just out of jealousy," be problematic? I do not mean that this point about ethical discourse was made explicitly by Wittgenstein. (1) It is, though, a point taken from his thinking by both realists and antirealists. (Not by all of them of course, but by many.) For each of the statements above there is a thick, familiar, inescapable context of judgments, perceptions, and shared responses which is their setting in the overall activity of making claims and giving reasons. It is in those contexts that we find the criteria for the correctness or mistakenness of them. If we wish to call this a kind of naturalism, that is all right, as long as we make clear that this is not a reductive naturalism.

The Wittgensteinian insights are congenial to realists, for it better enables us to go in for cognitivism with regard to value and the truth-evaluability of moral judgments without special objects and special faculties to perceive them. They are also congenial to an ethic that gives a central place to virtues, understood as centrally involving recognitional abilities and as enabling certain sorts of judgments. Recent realism, such as McDowell's, takes the virtues seriously in respect of their roles in practical cognition, rather than as constitutive means to the realization of human form. The work the virtues do in Aristotle's perfectionist teleology has been largely replaced by their role in ethical comprehension, the focus having shifted from the metaphysics of actualization to the epistemology of cognitive ability. …

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