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Reviewed by:
  • Inside Ethics: On the Demands of Moral Thought by Alice Crary
  • Daniel A. Dombrowski (bio)
Inside Ethics: On the Demands of Moral Thought. By Alice Crary. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. 283 pp. Hardback. $49.95. ISBN: 978-0-674-96781-6.)

This book challenges the exclusion of moral characteristics from the set of observable features of human beings and nonhuman animals (hereafter animals). That is, empirical reality is not morally neutral in that human beings and animals have empirically discoverable moral characteristics. This is the sense in which human beings and animals are "inside ethics," as the title to this book indicates. The thesis of the book is that "human beings and animals have moral qualities that are, in a straightforward empirical sense, open to view" (p. 10).

This thesis is at odds with the intellectual tenor or our time, which holds that the empirical world is bereft of moral value, hence human beings and animals are really "outside ethics" in the sense that they have no observable moral characteristics. Both utilitarians like Peter Singer and Kantians like Christine Korsgaard see human beings and animals as outside ethics, in Crary's sense, in that these thinkers deny objective moral values. On this standard view, moral values are not part of how things are in that empirical understanding of the world has been entirely outsourced to the sciences. A "hard metaphysics" underlies this view of human beings and animals as being outside ethics.

Readers of the present journal can profit from Crary's treatment of the early Singer, who rejected objectivism in ethics in the sense that he thought that ethical truths were not built into the fabric of the universe and who took for granted a metaphysics that was hard. At this stage in his career, he was a prescriptivist (influenced by R. M. Hare) who thought that human and animal interests were in themselves morally neutral and that it was us who attached moral significance to them. Now Singer defends a different intuitionist view in which very general moral principles are intuitable objects of reason. But the later Singer still holds a hard metaphysics and he still sees human beings and animals as outside ethics, in Crary's nomenclature.

Crary offers an analogous analysis of Korsgaard's influential Kantian approach to ethics, which is equally opposed to moral realism and is supportive of a hard metaphysics. Granted, Korsgaard's view claims universal authority in ways that Singer's views do not, but this universality is peculiarly Kantian in the sense that it involves attitudes encoded in the way in which a rational will cannot help but function. That is, our reasons have a public and quasiuniversal character. Korsgaard does not tell us what the world is like, but rather she gives us reflections about attitudes that are inseparable from the exercise of rational agency.

To get human beings and animals inside ethics, we need an ethical naturalism wherein moral qualities lend themselves to empirical discovery. What is also needed, Crary thinks, is a rejection of a narrow view of objectivity, wherein everything subjective has to be removed, and a defense of a wider version of objectivity, wherein in order to [End Page 220] adequately describe the objective world itself we would have to mention human and animal subjective qualities.

As in many analytic philosophers, Crary is not much interested in the historical roots of her view. At one point, but only in a footnote (p. 17), she notes that there might be a connection between her own naturalistic ethics and the Aristotelian tradition. In this regard, she examines the work of Philippa Foot (Chapter 5), who is found wanting and is not seen as really anticipating Crary's own view, despite the fact that, as an ethical naturalist, Foot locates human beings, if not animals, inside ethics. To the extent that Crary is interested in the historical roots of her view, she speaks favorably of the works of the later Ludwig Wittgenstein (Chapter 2), even if her stance is at odds with most interpretations of Wittgenstein. So much more could have been expected here, as in a comparison of Crary's own "equine ethics" (pp...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-1267
Print ISSN
2156-5414
Pages
pp. 220-223
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-07
Open Access
No
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