Volume 86, Issue 4, Fall 2012
To What Extent Must We Go Beyond Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism?
In this essay I discuss the limits of recent attempts to develop a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethic on the basis of a commitment to ‘ethical naturalism.’ By ‘ethical naturalism’ I mean the view that ethics can be founded on claims about what it is for human beings to flourish qua member of the human species, which is analogous to what it is for plants and other animals to flourish qua member of their particular species. Drawing on Charles Taylor’s account of ‘strong evaluation,’ I argue that there are important features of our ethical life that can only be properly understood from a first-personal or phenomenological standpoint as contrasted with the third-personal standpoint of ethical naturalism: viz., (1) the sense of ‘nobility’ in performing virtuous actions for their own sake as a constitutive part of the good life; (2) the nature and extent of other-regarding concern; and (3) the issue of ‘the meaning of life,’ which also raises the issue of the place of ‘transcendence’ in an account of the good life. While I emphasize the need for a deeper engagement with our first-personal evaluative experience, I also discuss the interdependence of the first-personal and third-personal perspectives in the ethical life.