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A convincing, if not vivid, argument that ""morality has its sources in conflict, in the divided soul and between contrary claims""; hence, there can be no guaranteed rational method of adjustment. To the ancient question of whether moral imperatives are natural or conventional, Prof. Hampshire (Oxford) answers: both. On the one hand, human nature--""needs and capacities"" common to everyone everywhere--never completely determines any concrete way of life, nor does it establish a rigorous hierarchy of virtues; and so it fails to provide a satisfactory explanation/justification for the ethical demands undergirding the way we life. Fortunately or unfortunately, moral codes are too similar to other human systems, such as language or manners, to define the ultimate good; to harmonize all the essential virtues; or to spell out what is eternally and unequivocally the best kind of life. On the other hand, Hampshire's case for an irreducible plurality of values (and against the canonization of any single criterion, as in utilitarianism) doesn't make him a pure relativist. However incompatible they may be at times, such values are ""grounded in the nature of things and, more specifically, in human nature""; and they have been illumined by the ""classical tradition of moral speculation"" from Plate through Rawls. (Hampshire concentrates on those two great ethical rationalists, Aristotle and Spinoza.) Logical positivists may reject ""ought"" and ""good"" as cognitively empty, and existentialists may see moral choice as a leap in the dark, but Hampshire dismisses both groups with a firm scolding. The lectures and essays collected here add nothing vital to the distinguished body of work he has already published; they're careful, cogent, and unobtrusively written--if short on the sort of examples that would help educated lay readers (the intended audience).

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press