Ethics and human nature : a reconsideration of ethical naturalism in contemporary thomist writings

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

It is argued in this thesis that much modem and contemporary moral philosophy has been subjectivist, and that this is largely due to the theory of knowledge that has accompanied the increasing dominance of modem science in the determination of our thought-patterns. The expansion of standards of rational enquiry beyond the confines of empiricism, in the way that B.Lonergan has done, is a necessary part of any adequate contemporary restatement of ethical naturalism. Two different approaches to the Aristotelian tradition in ethics are discussed: in the one judgments of value are based on a particular human psychology; in the other they are related to the standards of excellence associated with social roles. Two contemporary writers - P. Simpson and A. Macintyre respectively - are taken as representative of these approaches. Neither account, it is argued, is fully successful: the metaphysical psychology of Simpson fails to take into account variations in social and cultural contexts; while the communitarianism of Macintyre remains to some extent unjustified. The basis for a more adequate defence of ethical naturalism is given in Lonergan's account of the normative structure of human self-determination. Two further writers are used to develop this argument. H.Meynell argues that morality is largely a matter of promoting the happiness not just of oneself and one's group, but of people in general, and that this can be objectively specified. R. Johann contends that there is a further necessary condition for moral goodness, viz. the commitment to the realisation of personal community. This is justified, I argue by way of conclusion, because human persons are radically dependent on a certain kind of influence of other persons for the development of their capacity for self- determination.

Bibliography: p. 175-179.