Ethics and Morality

Authored by: Stephen Darwall

The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138812208
eBook ISBN: 9781315213217
Adobe ISBN:


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Bernard Williams begins Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy with “Socrates’s Question”: how should one live? (Williams, 1985: 1). Ever since Socrates, Williams says, philosophers have taken this to be the fundamental question of ethics. Williams observes, however, that his contemporaries are usually concerned with “distinctive issues of morality,” such as “What is our duty?” (Williams, 1985: 4). But although the narrower ethical conception of morality “has a special significance in modern Western culture,” it is “something we should treat with a special skepticism” (Williams, 1985: 6). What is distinctive and, Williams goes on to argue, dubious about morality among ethical conceptions is its “peculiar” notion of moral obligation: the idea that all persons, just by virtue of having certain general capacities of agency, stand under universal, categorical, and inescapable moral requirements of right and wrong (Williams, 1985: 174–96; for a critique, see Darwall, 1987).

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