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The Will and the Good

Frey, Jennifer (2013) The Will and the Good. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Neo-Aristotelian ethical naturalism is a program in normative ethics that attempts to explain moral goodness by showing it to be an instance of natural goodness. The ethical naturalist argues as follows. An activity is naturally good for a living thing if it is characteristic of the species. If virtuous activity is characteristic of the human species, then it is naturally good and normative for human beings. Virtuous activity is so characteristic, and therefore is morally good.
Ethical naturalism has seemed implausible to most moral theorists, because it does not seem to take adequate account of the fact that we humans, as rational creatures, must make up our own minds about how to live. Our conception of human goodness, and the good human life, is a rational one, and so the norms that govern its construction are formal and universally binding for all rational beings. Indeed, it is because we are rational that the norms pertaining to us as members of a determinate animal species cannot be morally relevant. I call this the irrelevancy objection against ethical naturalism.
My dissertation argues that the irrelevancy objection is predicated upon a false dichotomy between reason and nature. On the positive account of practical reason and will put forward here, practical reason cannot operate in absence of some general knowledge of the end for the sake of which it came to be: human form. In practical reasoning, this knowledge of human form is practical—it is the cause of that very life whose understanding it operates under. My claim is that reflection on the nature of action, which is a material reality constituted by an order of reason, shows that there is a formally distinctive practical mode of reasoning that cannot be explained without an appeal to a power of will that naturally tends to certain ends because of the knowledge that they are good. This picture of the will and practical reason shows us how we can block the argument from irrelevancy, and in turn, how we can be ethical naturalists.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Frey, Jenniferjaf135@pitt.eduJAF135
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairThompson,
Committee MemberMcDowell, Johnjmcdowel@pitt.eduJMCDOWEL
Committee MemberStephen, Engstromengstrom@pitt.eduENGSTROM
Committee MemberSetiya, Kierankis23@pitt.eduKIS23
Committee MemberMueller,
Date: 26 February 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 27 August 2012
Approval Date: 26 February 2013
Submission Date: 5 December 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 154
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: will, practical reason, good, virtue, Aquinas, Anscombe
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2013 17:30
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:08


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