Theory versus Anti-theory in Ethics

Brad Hooker

in Luck, Value, and Commitment

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199599325
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741500 | DOI:
Theory versus Anti-theory in Ethics

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Bernard Williams influentially attacked ethical theory. This chapter assesses arguments for the ‘anti-theory’ position in ethics, including mainly arguments put forward by Williams but also arguments put forward by others. The chapter begins by discussing what is supposed to be theory in ethics, what ethical intuitions are taken to be by those involved in the theory versus anti-theory debate. Then the paper responds to all of the following objections to ethical theory. Ethical theory is mistaken to prize principles, mistaken to prize rationalism, and mistaken to presume or prize foundational unity. Ethical theory is mistaken to presume morality is deeply impartial, mistaken to presume to tell agents how to deliberate, mistaken to presume or prize ethical codifiability, mistaken to presume value commensurability, and mistaken to eliminate ethical dilemmas.

Keywords: ethical theory; ethical intuition; principles; impartiality; ethical pluralism; consequentialism; deontology; decision procedure; codifiability; Bernard Williams

Chapter.  8277 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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