In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

106 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY The Revolution in Ethical Theory. By George C. Kerner. (New York: Oxford University Press, I968. Pp. viii -t- 254.) The subject matter of Professor Kerner's book is certain changes that have taken place in Anglo-American ethics during the twentieth century, which he characterizes as constituting a "revolution" in ethical theory. Although he does not state specifically what he conceives ethical theory to have been like before the current revolution began, Kerner is quite clear about what the nature of that revolution is, who its principal leaders have been, and what its resolution (at least to the present time) is. As he puts the matter in his Introduction: By ethical theory [as currently conceived] we must mean, essentially, the logical analysis of ordinary moral language--in other words, an investigation into the nature of the terms and modes of reasoning which are actually employed in discussing and settling moral issues in practice. The historical development that led to this present-day conception of moral philosophy had its beginning in G. E. Moore's Prineipia Ethica.... Besides G. E. Moore, the authors who have made major contributions to the development of moral philosophy in this direckion have been Charles L. Stevenson, Stephen Toulmin, and R. M. Hare. By examining the work of these men we can get a good picture of the novel issues and methods introduced into ethical theory in the twentieth century. (p. 2) Kerner devotes the bulk of his book to an analysis of the four writers listed above, allotting a long chapter to each. His main concern in these chapters is to explain the role performed by the writer under consideration in the developing revolution in ethical theory, whose course the book is tracing. He does this mainly by showing how the theory that the writer elaborates succeeds in overcoming certain deficiencies in the views of the writer who preceded him but in turn generates difficulties of its own, which must be faced by the writer who follows him. In the concluding chapter, Kerner, who believes that the revolution in ethical theory is not yet over, makes some suggestions about the direction that he believes ethical thought ought to take in the immediate future. The book impressed me very much. Kerner is a lucid writer who is able to present a complex analysis that is thoroughly understandable on a careful reading. He has done an excellent job of elucidating and criticizing the theories of the writers whom he has chosen to consider. Beyond that, he argues his own historical thesis skilfully and persistently, never allowing it to be submerged by the details of the subject matter immediately at hand. I would recommend the book heartily to any student of contemporary Anglo-American ethical theory. In particular I would like to congratulate Kerner on his chapter devoted to Stephen Toulrain ; in it he has, I think, succeeded remarkably well in threading his way through the labyrinthine passages of The Place o/Reason in Ethics. Although his understanding of what Toulmin was trying to say is a bit different from my own, he has rendered a real service to the perplexed by his careful, methodical unravelling of the tangled threads which make up the argument of that book. I have one small criticism to offer. Professor Kerner's aim in his book is primarily an interpretative one; he is concerned not just to analyze four ethicists of the twentieth century but, more importantly, to construe their writings as links within a developing tradition. There is a danger in interpretation of this kind--that the author will discern a nearer pattern in the materials he is studying than is actually there. I think Kerner occasionally succumbs to this temptation, particularly in his chapter on Moore. Believing that the crucial shift in contemporary ethical theory lies in an increasing recognition that, to understand moral language, we must consider not only the sense and reference (or criteria of application) of moral terms, as traditional philosophers had sought to do, but also the sort of linguistic performance or conventional speech act we are engaged in when we employ moral discourse, he endeavors to establish that this shift was...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 106-108
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.