Ethics beyond moral theory

Chappell, Timothy (2009). Ethics beyond moral theory. Philosophical Investigations, 32(3) pp. 206–243.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9205.2009.01374.x

Abstract

I develop an anti-theory view of ethics. Moral theory (Kantian, utilitarian, virtue ethical, etc.) is the dominant approach to ethics among academic philosophers. But moral theory's hunt for a single Master Factor (utility, universalisability, virtue ...) is implausibly systematising and reductionist. Perhaps scientism drives the approach? But good science always insists on respect for the data, even messy data: I criticise Singer's remarks on infanticide as a clear instance of moral theory failing to respect the data of moral perceptions and moral intuitions. Moral theory also fails to provide a coherent basis for real-world motivation, justification, explanation, and prediction of good and bad, right and wrong. Consider for instance the marginal place of love in moral theory, compared with its central place in people's actual ethical outlooks and decision making. Hence, moral theory typically fails to ground any adequate ethical outlook. I propose that it is the notion of an ethical outlook that philosophical ethicists should pursue, not the unfruitful and distorting notion of a moral theory.

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