Ethics and the Quest for Wisdom

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Modernity has challenged the ancient ideal of a universal quest for wisdom, and today's world of conflicting cultures and values has raised further doubts regarding the possibility of objective ethical standards. Robert Kane refocuses the debate on the philosophical quest for wisdom, and argues that ethical principles about right action and the good life can be seen to emerge from that very quest itself. His book contends that the search for wisdom involves a persistent striving to overcome narrowness of vision that comes from the inevitable limitations of finite points of view. When applied to questions of value and the good life, this striving has ethical implications about the way we should treat ourselves and others. This study argues for the merits of this central thesis against alternative theories in contemporary normative ethics, and discusses its practical applications for social ethics, political philosophy, law and moral education.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book is bold and ambitious. It is full of original ideas, which it seeks to integrate, by means of careful argument, with more familiar moral notions. It is, for many reasons, a most welcome addition to the literature."
—Richard Kraut, Northwestern University

"Modernity has left us with a world where we are uncertain about what values to hold and how our lives should be lived. Kane's work provides us with the most imaginative and compelling response to these challenges in years. This is one of those rare works where you sense you are being guided through new terrain by a learned and wise soul."
—Mark Bernstein, Purdue University

"....a valuable contribution. Those working in value or social contract theory will want to be familiar with Kane's contributions to the field.... Recommended...."
—R.C. Robinson, University of Georgia, CHOICE

"An exciting and ambitious book. Kane introduces and defends a complete ethical theory that represents a genuinely novel approach to normative ethics. His overriding theme is that moral constraints flow from the search for wisdom in an ancient philosophical sense….The book is valuable not only for the novelty and promise of its central ideas, but also for its clear exegesis of other important positions."
—Alexa Forrester, Franklin & Marshall College, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"...This wide-ranging book provides a singular way of coming to answers about morality, about values, and about the good life... This book is remarkable for the way it ties together its different parts, as it is remarkable for making sure that we see the connections. Given Kane’s meticulous and detailed approach, we are in as good a position as possible to see if his system answers the necessary question just asked."
—David Kaspar, St. John’s University, New York, Philosophy in Review

"[This] book is bold, ambitious and merits careful study. [It] contains a sustained argument for a meta-ethical and normative theory that contains a theory of right action and a theory of the good life, a unified conception of practical and theoretical reasoning, a survey of the main theories of normative ethics and an account of the application of his theory in political philosophy, applied ethics, philosophy of law, feminist ethics and moral education. Kane's ethical theory synthesizes elements of Ancient eudaimonism, Kant's moral theory and Mill's classical liberalism."
—Journal of Moral Philosophy

"This book is a rare thing: a monograph that is accessible. It brings together a number of central ethical theories, clearly presented, and discusses their advantages and short-comings in the light of the new theory of the book. The author takes care to illustrate the theories he discusses with vivid examples drawn from both the ethics literature and general culture."
—The Philosophical Quarterly

"Kane carefully addresses a large number of topics, including both the right and the good, as well as meta-ethical issues about objectivity, within the compass of a single theory…. This is a significant accomplishment from which there is much to learn, both in its overall argument and in its detailed discussions."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521199933
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2010
  • Pages: 298
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Kane is University Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy Emeritus and Professor of Law at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of seven books including Through the Moral Maze (1994), The Significance of Free Will (1996) and A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (2005), as well as over sixty articles.

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Table of Contents


1 Introduction: pluralism and uncertainty 1

2 Openness 14

3 The retreat 27

4 The moral sphere 38

5 Fact and value 60

6 Value experiments 74

7 Virtues, excellences and forms of life 86

8 The fourth dimension 95

9 Aspiration 109

10 Wisdom 119

11 Objective worth 129

12 The Bach crystals 138

13 Human flourishing 147

14 The Faust legend and the mosaic 160

15 The good and the right (I): intuitionism, Kantianism 171

16 The good and the right (II): utilitarianism, consequentialism 196

17 The good and the right (III): contractualism 225

18 Politics, public morality and law: justice, care and virtue 246

References 261

Index 279

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