Human Similarities and Ethics


As I explained, I share Aristotle’s view that the proper way to ground moral theory is to acknowledge that there are some crucial general abilities, goals and virtues across the human race, but that given varying circumstances, different people will likely reach them by different actions.

The question is what to focus on. I’m already on board with Plato’s and Aristotle’s view that human intellect is at the core of who we are and of our ethics, but the fact of the matter is that its very easy to get confused as to what this amounts to. For example, in the past people have thought that the importance of the intellect means we should seriously separate mind and body, and others have argued that we must separate thinking from emotions.
In my philosophical studies I’ve come to find that some of the worst philosophy is done in defense of such distinctions. Unfortunately, its also the case that people defending these distinctions have been quite loud and influential. So I had a strong inclination to see if drilling down into how thinking about the “human intellect” has effected how ethical theory has evolved over time. To me, the obvious choice was to focus on the emotions, to understand how ethical theorists had understood them, and to see what our best current research could tell us about their nature.
I figured that since the emotions seem to be such a major part of our moral lives, it is reasonable to expect a good moral theory to have a solid, justifiable theory about what part the emotions play in how we think and act in moral situations. So I decided it would be quite valuable if could get a good handle on how and why major ethical theories understand the emotions the way they do, and judge them on their own terms as well as in light of contemporary scientific research on the nature of the emotions.
With this research in hand, it would be possible to improve the Aristotelian approach in particular, and ‘cognitive’ approaches to morality in general. And it might turn out that we can completely dismiss theories that are fundamentally flawed regarding the nature of the emotions. So that’s what I did.
Let me explain as we go forward
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