Imagine a human society, perhaps in pre-history, in which people were generally of a psychological kind with us, had the use of natural language to communicate with one another, but did not have any properly moral concepts in which to exhort one another to meet certain standards and to lodge related claims and complaints. According to The Birth of Ethics, the members of that society would have faced a set of pressures, and made a series of adjustments in response, sufficient to put them within reach of ethical concepts. Without any planning, they would have more or less inevitably evolved a way of using such concepts to articulate desirable patterns of behavior and to hold themselves and one another responsible to those standards. Sooner or later, they would have entered ethical space.
While this central claim is developed as a thesis in conjectural history or genealogy, the aim of the exercise is philosophical. Assuming that it explains the emergence of concepts and practices that are more or less equivalent to ours, the story offers us an account of the nature and role of morality. It directs us to the function that ethics plays in human life and alerts us to the character in virtue of which it can serve that function. The emerging view of morality has implications for the standard range of questions in meta-ethics and moral psychology, and enables us to understand why there are divisions in normative ethics like that between consequentialist and Kantian approaches.
About the Author
Philip Pettit is Laurence Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values at Princeton University. He is also Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University.
Kinch Hoekstra is Chancellor's Professor of Political Science and Law at University of California, Berkeley.
Table of Contents
Editor's Introduction: The View from Erewhon Kinch Hoekstra
Introduction: The Guiding Ideas
Chapter 1. Reconstructing Morality
Chapter 2. Ground Zero
Chapter 3. Committing to Others
Chapter 4. Committing with Others
Chapter 5. Discovering Desirability
Chapter 6. Discovering Responsibility
Chapter 7. Morality Reconstructed
Conclusion: The Claims in Summary
Michael Tomasello and Philip Pettit: An Exchange Michael Tomasello & Philip Pettit
Commentary on Philip Pettit's The Birth of Ethics Michael Tomasello
Reply to Michael Tomasello's Commentary Philip Pettit