Morality, dignity and pragmatism : an essay on the future of morality
This thesis is an examination and reconstruction of morality. It divides into three parts. Part one argues that morality is best considered as the tradition of ethical thinking that begins with the Stoics, develops in Christian thought and reaches its apotheosis in Kant. This tradition structures ethical thinking around three basic concepts: cosmopolitanism, or universal applicability to human beings as such, the dignity of human beings and reciprocity. It is this tradition of morality that Nietzsche sets out to destroy. Part one criticises pre-Nietzschean theories of morality, such as Kant’s, that take universal and exceptionless rules to form the core of morality. It critiques both the possibility of putting forward an adequate set of such rules and the proposed relationship between morality and human life that is implicit in these theories. Part two begins with Nietzsche’s challenge: that morality is a system of values rooted in nihilistic resentment at the vitality of other, stronger modes of living. It argues that this challenge must be taken seriously, and that the best way to do this is to make it clear that morality has as its fundamental basis a responsiveness to the value of human life; hence it is Nietzsche’s ethics that should be called nihilistic. The rest of part two examines the possibility of answering Nietzsche’s challenge by demonstrating a necessary connection between human selfhood and the acknowledgement of the dignity of human beings. Here I criticise Christine Korsgaard’s arguments and consider Charles Taylor’s more promising approach to the self. Part three turns towards pragmatism, and in so doing gives up on the attempt to show that morality is somehow necessary for all human beings. Nietzsche’s challenge is answered more subtly: an empirically backed theory of human selfhood explains the point of morality in terms of our basic need for recognition. I complete the reconstruction of morality by reinterpreting the dignity of human beings in a naturalistic way and adopting a conception of moral rules that is informed by Jürgen Habermas’ discourse ethics.