In the past few decades, scientists of human nature--including experimental and cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, evolutionary theorists, and behavioral economists--have explored the way we arrive at moral judgments. They have called into question commonplaces about character and offered troubling explanations for various moral intuitions. Research like this may help explain what, in fact, we do and feel. But can it tell us what we ought to do or feel? In Experiments in Ethics, the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah explores how the new empirical moral psychology relates to the age-old project of philosophical ethics. Some moral theorists hold that the realm of morality must be autonomous of the sciences others maintain that science undermines the authority of moral reasons. Appiah elaborates a vision of naturalism that resists both temptations. He traces an intellectual genealogy of the burgeoning discipline of 'experimental philosophy,' provides a balanced, lucid account of the work being done in this controversial and increasingly influential field, and offers a fresh way of thinking about ethics in the classical tradition. Appiah urges that the relation between empirical research and morality, now so often antagonistic, should be seen in terms of dialogue, not contest. And he shows how experimental philosophy, far from being something new, is actually as old as philosophy itself. Beyond illuminating debates about the connection between psychology and ethics, intuition and theory, his book helps us to rethink the very nature of the philosophical enterprise.
Appiah (philosophy, Princeton) argues that experimental philosophy-i.e., using the sciences to investigate philosophical issues-does not undermine moral philosophy. Some studies appear to show that few people display constant character traits, and while philosophers like John Doris and Gilbert Harman think these studies greatly weaken virtue ethics, Appiah does not agree. He believes that virtues are best taken as ideals rather than as formulas to generate decisions in particular situations. In like fashion, he does not think that scientific studies empty moral intuitions of all their force. He surveys the research showing some of these intuitions to be irrational, but he errs in thinking we can use these results to revise our views; we cannot dispense with moral intuitions entirely. Appiah favors a pluralistic position that takes full account of science but rejects reductionism. Ethics, he suggests, should not be confined to analyzing quandaries. Instead, the pursuit of eudaemonia, or human flourishing, is the central issue. As readers of his previous book, The Ethics of Identity, might anticipate, this book is illuminating and erudite; highly recommended for philosophy collections.-David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Harvard University Press
January 14, 2008
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