A Quick Immersion

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Library of Congress Control Number: 2023949580

This introduction treats the field of ethics in a new way. The main topic is normative ethics and in particular the ethics of moral right and wrong, and the emphasis is on the recently highlighted division or conflict between ethical rationalism and moral sentimentalism. Rationalism treats moral judgment and motivation as a matter of rational judgment, and its main practitioners have been Immanuel Kant and, more recently, the intuitionists H. A. Prichard and W. D. Ross. Philosophical weaknesses in intuitionism have led recent rationalists to follow Kant’s transcendental form of deontology, and this leads us to an examination of the Kant-influenced work of John Rawls and of his followers T. M. Scanlon and Stephen Darwall. After a critical examination of ethical rationalism, the book proceeds to consider the sentimentalist tradition, which goes all the way back to the Chinese philosopher Mencius and is more recently instanced in the writings of the eighteenth-century sentimentalist David Hume and in the work of feminist thinker Carol Gilligan. The sentimentalist tradition has potential strengths that have not been fully appreciated, and the book dwells on these. But it then goes on to show how Chinese thought in general offers a large philosophical context in which to make better sense of moral sentimentalism and of recent debates in normative ethics.

Michael Slote is UST Professor of Ethics at the University of Miami. A former Tanner lecturer, he is a member of the Royal Irish Academy. His main contribution to ethics and metaethics can be found in the book Moral Sentimentalism (Oxford University Press, 2010); and he has more recently brought in Chinese thought in order to find a way to integrate such thought with Western philosophy: not only in ethics, but in epistemology and philosophy of mind as well. His book The Philosophy of Yin and Yang: A Contemporary Approach was published by the Commercial Press in Beijing in 2018—with side-by-side English language and Chinese language texts. A sequel is due to be published next year, and his most recent contribution to the project of integration is to be found in the book Philosophical Essays East and West, which has just been published by Palgrave/Macmillan.

This is the first introduction to ethics that focuses on the recently highlighted basic division between ethical rationalism and moral sentimentalism. The work of rationalists like Kant, Rawls, and T. M. Scanlon and of sentimentalists like Hume and Carol Gilligan is critically examined, and the relevance of Chinese thought to placing ethics within a wider philosophical context is also emphasized.