At its best philosophy is a liberating activity, challenging myths which support the status quo and describing conceivable alterna- tives to existing practices. Questioning assumptions, testing ar- guments, describing novel possibilities, philosophy is also inher- ently controversial. Because disagreements are central to the subject, philosophical inquiry does not converge on an ever more accurate picture of the way things really are, in contrast to the ideal of scientific theory. The absence of such a fixed stan- dard will be welcomed rather than regretted unless we suppose that scientific knowledge is more valuable than other kinds - an assumption itself open to challenge as failing to recognize the importance of philosophy in understanding ourselves. Moral philosophy is crucial to self-understanding and natu- rally mirrors these disagreements. It may also help to moderate them by convincing us that the search for fixed ethical standards is a mistake. In so doing, however, moral philosophy challenges one of its modern expressions. The objective of modern moral theory has been to define principles governing all rational per- sons, determining the correct action in situations which require choice, and thus settling disagreements. But moral theory has never approached its ideal, and the universal principles it searches for are problematical. Many have been proposed, but philosophers have not agreed on which to support even when they have agreed in their actual moral judgments and practices. The connection between principle and practice is thus unclear, and the methods of moral philosophy associated with Kant, Ben- tham, and their...
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