What Can Philosophy Contribute to Ethics?

ISBN : 9780198748090

James Griffin
168 Pages
150 x 222 mm
Pub date
Nov 2015
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Ethics appears early in the life of a culture. It is not the creation of philosophers. Many philosophers today think that their job is to take the ethics of their society in hand, analyse it into parts, purge the bad ideas, and organize the good into a systematic moral theory. The philosophers' ethics that results is likely to be very different from the culture's raw ethics and, they think, being better, should replace it. But few of us, even among philosophers, settle real-life moral questions by consulting the Categorical Imperative or the Principle of Utility, largely because, if we do, we often do not trust the outcome or cannot even reliably enough decide what it is. By contrast, James Griffin explores the question what philosophers can reasonably expect to contribute to normative ethics or to the ethics of a culture. Griffin argues that moral philosophers must tailor their work to what ordinary humans' motivational capabilities, and he offers a new account of moral deliberation.


I. The Idea of Ethics
II. 'Ought' Implies 'Can': Motivation
III. 'Ought' Implies 'Can': Knowledge
IV. Naturalizing Ethics: The Newtonizers
V. Naturalizing Ethics: The Darwinizers
VI. Systematizing Ethics
VII. Rejecting 'Morality'
VIII. Equalizing What?
IX. What Can Philosophy Contribute to Ethics?

About the author: 

James Griffin is White's Professor of Moral Philosophy, Emeritus. He is the author of On Human Rights (OUP, 2008), Well-Being (OUP, 1988), and Value Judgement (Clarendon Press, 1996).

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