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Humanities Libertexts

Book: Metaethics from a First Person Standpoint - An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (Wilson)

  • Page ID
    25151
  • Metaethics from a First Person Standpoint addresses in a novel format the major topics and themes of contemporary metaethics, the study of the analysis of moral thought and judgement. Metathetics is less concerned with what practices are right or wrong than with what we mean by ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Looking at a wide spectrum of topics including moral language, realism and anti-realism, reasons and motives, relativism, and moral progress, this book engages students and general readers in order to enhance their understanding of morality and moral discourse as cultural practices. Catherine Wilson innovatively employs a first-person narrator to report step-by-step an individual’s reflections, beginning from a position of radical scepticism, on the possibility of objective moral knowledge. The reader is invited to follow along with this reasoning, and to challenge or agree with each major point. Incrementally, the narrator is led to certain definite conclusions about ‘oughts’ and norms in connection with self-interest, prudence, social norms, and finally morality. Scepticism is overcome, and the narrator arrives at a good understanding of how moral knowledge and moral progress are possible, though frequently long in coming.

    • Front Matter
    • Enquiry I
      The Enquirer finds that the moral opinions and practices of mankind form a confusing jumble in which, while strong convictions reign, it is hard to see why any moral claims can claim to be true or to be known by anyone. She decides to doubt everything she has assumed hitherto about moral good and moral evil and her understanding of them.
    • Enquiry II
      The Enquirer decides to doubt whether any actions, situations, events, and persons can really be good or bad, right or wrong, morally permissible or morally impermissible.
    • Enquiry III
      The Enquirer continues to ponder the notion of a value-free universe. She comes to the realisation that the world seems to be saturated experientially and linguistically with values. She entertains the possibility that a race of Destroyers of Illusion who use language differently has discovered that values are unreal and that there are only likings and dislikings. She discovers nevertheless that she does know at least one fact about what is good.
    • Enquiry IV
      The Enquirer discovers that, as far as her self-interest is concerned, there are certain things that are good and bad for her and therefore things she ought and ought not to do. The Enquirer discovers that she can also know something about what is in the self-interest of other people.
    • Enquiry V
      The Enquirer discovers that she knows some of the ‘Norms of Civility’ dictating how Person 1 ought to behave towards Person 2 in certain typical situations and wonders why these norms are observed and whether it is always good to observe them.
    • Enquiry VI
      The Enquirer determines what makes a relationship between Person 1 and Person 2 morally significant and investigates the origins of hermoral feelings and attitudes. She then discovers that prudence and self-interest sometimes have a moral dimension insofar as they concern the relations between a Present Self and a Future Self.
    • Enquiry VII
      The Enquirer discovers an analogy between the Present Self’s natural and moral concern for the Future Self and the Narrow Self’s natural and moral concern for the Extended Self of kith and kin. She goes on to ponder whether she has any natural concern for Strangers and why she ought to care about them.
    • Enquiry VIII
      The Enquirer returns to a consideration of the position of the Destroyers of Illusion to try to determine whether moral claims are nothing more than claims about the likings and dislikings of the person who asserts them, or nothing more than expressions of attitudes and the issuing of invitations and commands, without any epistemic significance. She comes to the conclusion that the Destroyers lack a coherent position, and she goes on to consider how to think about moral norms and demands.
    • Enquiry IX
      The Enquirer ponders the questions of whether there are moral truths, whether there is a method for discovering them, and what the reach and limits of moral knowledge might be. She considers in what sense there has been moral progress and an increase in moral knowledge.
    • Back Matter

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