Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

SOME TRENDS IN AMERICAN NATURALISTIC ETHICS

Abraham Edel*

Three fairly distinct periods can be noted in twentieth century American naturalistic ethics. The first stage is an expansive one: emphasis falls on giving a go-ahead signal to men in the pursuit of happiness, the development and expression of their interests. Then comes a sharp development of arbitrary relativism: the possibility of ultimate disagreement looms as the central fact of ethical theory, and in this outlook even where men's interests come together the contingency of the coincidence overshadows the fact of community. Now scientists and philosophers are beginning to search for a theoretical basis for an all- human ethics. These periods can be read from the very inner texture of the ethical theories that successively dominated the scene, and to read them off is the aim of this paper.

When one looks at the general setting of American life and problems, one is hardly surprised to find that naturalistic ethical theory took this particular course. For it reflected clearly the major movement of twentieth century American historical development. American life prior to the first World War, and even after it, was thoroughly expansive both in material development and general spirit. The tremendous growth of technology generated and increasingly satisfied fresh needs. A growing population found increasing opportunities for success. In the intellectual arena, a liberal capitalism that saw the League of Nations as a step to the end of war and traced economic individualism and political democracy as the outcome of human evolution might foresee steep ascents ahead, but no serious downgrade. This hope of intelligent social harmony and grow-

____________________
*
Born in 1908. Ph.D., Columbia University, 1934. Assistant Professor of Philosophy, College of the City of New York. Visiting lecturer, University of California 1947-48; Guggenheim Fellow, 1944-45. Author of Aristotle Theory of the Infinite ( 1934), The Theory and Practice of Philosophy ( 1946); contributor to The Philosophy of G. E. Moore, ed. P. A. Schlipp ( 1942), Naturalism and the Human Spirit, ed. Y. H. Krikorian ( 1944), and various articles, principally in The Journal of Philosophy.

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