BECOMING WHAT WE ARE – VIRTUE AND PRACTICAL WISDOM AS NATURAL ENDS

To peruse my dissertation, you may want to download the PDF. You can also read each chapter online, but the footnotes are still being converted to HTML and so do not work. Feel free to send me your comments. Please do not cite or distribute this draft until Jan 1, 2018. Thanks!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Preface
  2. Chapter 1: Many Sorts of Naturalism
  3. Chapter 2: Organic Naturalism
  4. Chapter 3: Practical Primates
  5. Chapter 4: What We Are
  6. Chapter 5: Practical Reasoning
  7. Chapter 6: Natural Reasoning
  8. Chapter 7: Conclusion

ABSTRACT

This dissertation is about ethical naturalism. Philippa Foot and John McDowell both defend contemporary neo-Aristotelian ethics but each represents a rival expression of the same. They are united in the affirmation that virtue is ‘natural goodness’ for human beings. Nevertheless, they are divided in their rival conceptions of ‘nature.’ McDowell distinguishes second nature or the “space of reasons” from first nature or the “realm of law.” Foot rejects this division.

On Foot’s naturalism, natural goodness is just as much a feature of first nature as health is, even though human practical reasoning is unique in the biological world. I defend Foot’s view by appealing to “generic propositions,” a little-utilized feature of linguistic theory. Life forms and functions described in generic statements are intrinsically normative and yet just as scientifically respectable as other naturalistic concepts. Hence, the generic proposition that “humans are practical, rational primates” has both descriptive and normative content. It follows that the ethical and rational norms defining a good human life are a subset of natural norms which can be known as such from an “external” scientific point of view as well as from an “internal” ethical point of view.

Going beyond Foot’s views, I present a new interlocking neo-Aristotelian account of virtue and practical reason. Virtues are excellences of practical reasoning and rational practice. Virtues enable and partly constitute a good life for human beings. Practical reasoning is the ability to pursue perceived goods and avoid perceived evils in every action. Practical wisdom, which is excellence in practical reasoning, is the master virtue that enables one to succeed in becoming truly human, despite varying abilities and life circumstances. In short, all of us ought to pursue virtue and practical wisdom because of who and what we are; virtue and practical wisdom are natural ends.

I aim to secure the naturalistic credentials of my view by examining three influential conceptions of ‘nature,’ criticizing McDowell’s conception and showing how my view is consistent with the remaining two. The resulting view is called ‘recursive naturalism’ because nature recurs within nature when natural beings reason about nature, about themselves, and about their own reasoning.