Rationality and the Good: Critical Essays on the Ethics and Epistemology of Robert Audi

By Mark Timmons; John Greco et al. | Go to book overview

5
Two Conceptions of Morality

BERNARD GERT


Abstract

There are two conceptions of morality, one championed by Aristotle (Ross) and Kant, the other championed by Hobbes and Mill. Audi presents a powerful version of the first tradition by using Kant as a foundation for Ross. At the end of his book, he presents ten midlevel axioms that are intended as modifications of Ross’s prima facie duties. All of these self-evident middle axioms are supported by various versions of Kant’s categorical imperative. I compare these ten midlevel axioms with the ten moral rules that I claim are the universally known rules of common morality. The point of this comparison is to show the great difference between the two conceptions of morality mentioned above. Not surprisingly, I strongly favor the Hobbes-Mill conception.


Introduction

It is quite surprising how similar the moral theories that Robert Audi and I put forward seem. We both start with what he calls midlevel principles or middle axioms, and what I label as moral rules and moral ideals. We both hold that the principles or rules that we start with should be accepted by every rational person without argument, but we also both hold that arguments can be put forward to support these middle axioms or rules. We also both hold that these middle axioms or rules need to be interpreted and that sometimes it is appropriate not to follow them. Indeed, looked at from a distance, or at a certain high level of abstraction, it may seem that we simply hold variations of the same theory. And in a certain sense, that is correct. But, the devil is in the details, and it is my view that Audi does not have enough of the devil in his theory. It is not that he does not deal with details; indeed, he discusses the views of Ross and Kant, as well as those of many other philosophers in great detail. What I mean by saying that he does not have enough of the devil in his

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