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Morality and Moral Theory: A Reappraisal and Reaffirmation.

The book is divided into two parts. Each part is about eighty pages, followed by nearly fifty pages of notes and a comprehensive bibliography. Morality is reappraised in Part 1 and reaffirmed in Part 2. The aim of Part 1 ("Morality") is to articulate a conception of morality and moral theory that combines elements from act-based and virtue-based approaches, with the latter taking the lead. Part 2 ("Moral Theory") defends moral theory against the criticisms of "antitheorists," a diverse group that includes Annette Baier, Stanley Fish, Cheryl Noble, Bernard Williams, Martha Nussbaum, and Michael Walzer. In both parts most of the historical attention is devoted to Aristotle and Kant. Louden contends that neither Aristotle (the virtue theorist) nor Kant (the act theorist) were as exclusive in their approaches to morality as they are usually portrayed. Aristotle, it is argued, had a use for a specifically moral ought; Kant had a keen interest in the cultivation of virtue. Both are largely innocent of the crimes of which they stand accused by the antitheorists. What are those crimes? They are the errors of thinking that correct moral judgments are deducible from universal principles; that moral values are commensurable; that all moral conflicts are rationally resolvable; that the role of moral theory is to enable one to deduce the correct answer to moral questions; that moral theory is purely normative, not descriptive or explanatory; and that moral problems are solved best by moral experts. Louden agrees with the antitheorists that all of these are false, but he maintains that few moral theories entail them. Thus, he charges that the antitheorists are attacking a straw man. It is of some interest here that Louden dismisses utilitarianism--one of the main targets of the antitheorists--in a few paragraphs (no entry under "u" in the index) for committing the sin of reductionism. There is no significant discussion of more sophisticated consequentialists such as Sedgwick, Moore, and Brandt. In many ways Aristotle is an easy case for Louden to defend, and indeed some of the authors in the antitheory group, such as Nussbaum, approve of Aristotle. The case for Kant is much harder and involves stressing Kant's appreciation of the role of non-rule-governed judgments in making moral choices. Louden says little about the categorical imperative in his treatment of Kant, though he does argue that there are genuine moral dilemmas in which neither "Do A" nor "Do not do A" can be willed to be universal law.

Louden's own "stronger, richer moral conception" is a virtue-based account. Morality is best understood as being, at bottom, self-regarding rather than other-regarding. Louden espouses the Socratic view that our first and most important moral duty is self-perfection. By putting agents rather than acts at the center (being over doing) we widen the scope of moral assessment to include just about every aspect of a person's life, behavior, and character. Louden insists that this maximizing tendency is a good thing (unlike the bad maximizing principles of the utilitarians). There cannot be too much morality, he argues, stressing that this is not the same as endorsing moral fanaticism. More generally, Louden defends the construction of moral theories as being a valuable human activity that should embrace, as John Dewey advocated, historical, psychological, and cultural factors. The result of this activity, he thinks, will be pluralistic in two senses: a number of normative theories will compete with no clear winner, and each theory will recognize irreducible moral values. He says, "Theorists in all domains need to get used to the ideal of unending competition, for knowledge ceases to grow when theoretical competition stops" (p. 126). But it is unclear what sort of reflective moral knowledge we would posses if we were genuinely unable to decide between competing theoretical alternatives.
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Author:Curd, Martin
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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