Steve Cooke

measuring the boundaries of our nation by the sun

Moore and Quine – everything but the ethics

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Today I read Strawson’s chapter on Moore and Quine (around delivering a couple of tutorials on consequentialism for an introductory political theory unit). The chapter re-examined the question ‘what is philosophy?’ and a considered the relationship between ontology (theories of being), epistemology (theories of knowing), and logic (concerning truth and falsehood). One of the things Strawson is (was) very good at is flattering the reader without assuming too much about their level of knowledge – it makes you feel good about learning.

My interest in philosophy is firmly anchored in the category of ethics, but my reading today dealt with all of the major sorts of things philosophy is concerned with other than ethics, so it was a bit of challenge. Interesting nevertheless as questions about things, such as states of consciousness, or areas like epistemology and logic do tend to end up creeping into ethical discussions. To illustrate this, in animal ethics it is often argued that because animals can suffer, they are owed moral consideration. But this claim depends upon how suffering is defined, which is related mental states – bringing in theories of mind. Some theorists think suffering is only possible in beings that are self-conscious, some think suffering requires self-reflection, or language and so forth. And the question of why suffering should matter hinges on the nature of value – what is value, how does it arise, what makes things valuable etc.

Somehow, considering ethical questions always seems to lead me on a journey into meta-ethics (the distinction is as between ‘what would be the right thing to do’ compared with ‘what do we mean by the concept of rightness’ – the former is an ethical question, the latter a meta-ethical one), theories of mind, value theory or some other difficult area of philosophy. In fact, attempting to answer a philosophical question often feels like opening a series of Russian dolls. That’s probably why I love it so much.


Author: Steve C

I work in normative ethics, specialising in animal and ethics and political philosophy.

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