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Hume, Justice and Sympathy: A Reversal of the Natural Order?

Hume’s view that the object of moral feeling is a natural passion, motivating action, causes problems for justice. There is apparently no appropriate natural motive, whilst, if there were, its “partiality” would unfit it to ground the requisite impartial approval. We offer a critique of such solutions as that the missing non-moral motive is enlightened self-interest (Baier), or that it is feigned (Haakonssen), or that it consists in a just disposition (Gauthier). We reject Cohon’s postulation of a moral motive for just acts, and also Harris’s attempt to dispense with motive as the source of their merit, by invoking extensive sympathy, and citing their beneficial societal consequences. These solutions assume that, if Hume remains a virtue ethicist, the natural virtues supply the paradigm. Taylor claims that a revolution in motivational psychology follows the inauguration of the artificial convention of justice, remoulding the natural virtues. This solution founders, we argue, upon unresolved contradictions besetting even these virtues.

An Error about the Doctrine of Double Effect

This paper claims as erroneous the current widespread view representation by, amongst others, Foot, Nagel, Mackie and Quinn, of the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) as primarily condemning, as intrinsically bad, actions involving intentional harm. The DDE's Four Conditions are in fact used solely for justifying certain intrinsically good actions with both intended good and unintended bad effects. Though some of these writers assign a minor justificatory role to the DDE this is incompatible with their attribution to it of a primary prohibitive role. Not only is the conduct cited by these writers as justifiable under the DDE so morally innocuous as to require no justification, but any attempt to justify it by appeal to the DDE leads to incoherence. We finally suggest reasons for this misinterpretation in current concerns with the structure of deontological moral theories.

Freedom, Causality, Fatalism and Early Stoic Philosophy

It is argued that the Early Stoics were not soft determinists at least as traditionally understood, since their refusal to analyse freedom in terms of the power to do otherwise meant that they did not recognize even the possibility of a conflict between freedom and determinism. A form of soft determinism is next considered in which freedom may be ascribed even in the absence of alternative possibilities of action, and which might be helpful in interpreting the early Stoics’ analogy between a dog ties to a wagon and men in relation to fate. It is finally proposed that the Stoics, in identifying freedom with the distinctive causal structure of action rather than with the absence of external constraint or coercion be regarded as propounding a type of agent causalism, divested however of any anti-determinist libertarian connotations.

Acceptance and Morality

Using literary examples, an attempt is made to reinstate the acceptance of ill fortune as philosophically intelligible and morally credible. The acceptance of legal punishment by Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov and Stendhal’s Julien Sorel is shown to challenge Utilitarian values. However the intelligibility of accepting natural disasters as punishments is questioned. Finally the acceptance of death by Tolstoy’s Ivan Illich is shown by contrast with the so called ‘Muselmanner’ in Dachau to have intrinsic moral worth.

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This page last updated: 30th July 2015.