Theory vs. Anti-Theory in Ethics: A Misconceived Conflict

ISBN : 9780199373529

Nick Fotion
352 Pages
148 x 215 mm
Pub date
Jul 2014
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This book presents a broad and new theory of theory formation in ethics. There are many existing theories, and more could be generated, but most thinkers of theory formation have a narrow view of what a theory of ethics should be like. They favor certain kinds of grand theories that generate various ethical rules and principles. In fact these grand theories allegedly do so much work that they give the appearance of being super-theories (or strong theories). Many theory creators think that it is possible to create strong theories, and that they themselves have created such a theory. Anti-theorists scoff at these claims. In effect, then, the argument between the two sides is not one of theory versus anti-theory but of grand or strong theory versus anti-grand or strong theory. Nick Fotion argues that once a broader view of theory is accepted, it is easier to see that there really is no serious conflict between theorists and anti-theorists. In principle, both sides, if they overcome their addiction to thinking in terms of grand, strong theory formation, can accept a role for theories in ethics. Theories in ethics can be either grand or local in nature. Provided theory creators and users don't expect theories to performs all kinds of impossible tasks (e.g., to deal with all of our ethical problems and be so fully justified that only one theory can be accepted as being correct) it is easier to accept them. It is also easier to accept the idea that a theorist might very well appeal to more than one theory to help him or her deal with whatever ethical issues bother.


1. Getting Along (Quite Well) Without You
2. Some Conceptual Distinctions
3. Theories About Theory
4. Beginnings Theory
5. Just War Theory
6. Exceptions Theory
7. Other Local Theories
8. John Rawls and T.M. Scanlon
9. R. M. Hare
10. Michael Slote, Rosalind Hursthouse and Timothy Jackson
11. Principles, Rules and Virtue Claims
12. Criteria and Privileging
13. Completeness, Generation and Universalizability
14. Procedures, Justification and Organization
15. Weak Theory
16. Working With Weak Theory

About the author: 

Nick Fotion is Professor of Philosophy at Emory University.

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