How Should We Conceptualize the World for the Purposes of Moral Theory?
In this talk, I take some steps towards articulating and adjudicating a split among normative ethicists that is rarely held up for explicit debate, but that profoundly shapes the ways they pursue ethical theory. As Jonathan Bennett, following Richard Rorty, put it, the split is between those ethicists who propose to “take warm, familiar aspects of the human condition and look at them coldly, and with the eye of a stranger”, and those who wish to resist this enterprise. This is not a split within moral theory itself — e.g. between utilitarians, deontologists, and virtue ethicists — but rather a distinction that manifests, if you will, earlier in our theorizing. It is a distinction between ways of conceptually “carving up” the to-be-evaluated aspects of the world. Bennett’s own analysis of the doing vs. allowing distinction serves as a case study.
Visiting Professor (McMaster University)
Department of Philosophy
University of Toronto