Foundations of Ethics
FOUNDATIONS OF ETHICS THE GIFFORD LECTURES delivered in the University of Aberdeen, 1935-6 by SIR W. DAVID ROSS Provost of Oriel College, Oxford President of the British Academy OXFORD AT THE CLARENDON PRESS Oxford University Press, Amen House, London B. C. 4 GLASGOW NEW YORK TORONTO MELBOURNE WELLINGTON BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS CAPE TOWN Geoffrey Cumberlege, Publisher to the University FIRST EDITION 1 939 Reprinted lithographically in Great Britain at the UNIVERSITY PRESS, OXFORD, 1 949, 1951 from sheets of the first edition PREFACE THIS book represents the result of further reflections on moral theory, since I published in 1930 a book called The Right and the Good. I have tried, in the present book, to take account of such books and articles later than 1930 as have come my way and as seem to have a close relation, whether in the way of agreement or in the way of criticism, to the views expressed in the earlier book. The result of further reflection has been to confirm me in most of the views I earlier expressed, but by no means in all. Some of the topics considered have already been much discussed by other writers the issues have been much clarified in the course of the discussion, and in such cases I feel comparatively confident that the views I have argued for are true, or near the truth. Other topics especially some discussed in Chapter XI have not been much discussed before there have been few sign-posts saying This way to the truth, Proceed at your own risk, or No road this way and in these cases I put forward my conclu sions very tentatively, in the hope that discussion of them may tend to clear up the issues. I must express my deep gratitude to the University of Aberdeen for thehonour of being invited to deliver the Gifford Lectures, and the hope that the interval between delivery and publication will not be thought too long. W. D. R. CONTENTS L INTRODUCTORY Our method will be the critical study of the moral consciousness and of the main moral theories . . . . .2 Two main ways of regarding the moral life as obedience to laws, or as a striving after goods. Our main task is therefore the study of the nature of, and the relations between, tightness and goodness . 3 The main attempts at definitions of ethical terms may be classified as definitions by reference to a mental attitude reaction theories, or by reference to results causal theories .... 5 They may also be classified as naturalistic or non-naturalistic . 6 It is not always clear, at first sight, to what type a well-known theory e. g. Hedonism belongs ...... 8 II. NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF RIGHT 1 Evolutionary theories have no plausibility as definitions of right . 12 nor as accounts of the ground of rightness . . . .13 It is sometimes thought that they have successfully explained rightness away, a The inquiry into the origin of moral ideas may be thought to have undermined their validity but this cannot be made out . 15 K The discovery of differences between moral codes may be thought to have undermined them all but such differences usually imply differences not on fundamental moral questions but on matters of fact which form the minor premisses of our ethical thinking . 17 and in any case difference of opinion cannot prove that no opinion is true ........ 19 2 Reaction theories classification of them . . . .21 a Private reactions theory objections to it . . . .22 K Public reaction theory objections . .. 24 c The view that defines rightness by reference to the reaction of the agent objections . . . . . . 25 3 Causal theories. Hedonism is unplausible as an account of the mean ing of right . . . ., . .26 The various attempts at defining right would be more plausible if recast as attempts a to state the ground of rightness as such they will be examined in chs. 4, 5 . . . ...
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