Ethical judgement and ethical authority
This dissertation considers the possibility of there being such a thing as ethical authority in the modern world, and seeks to give an account of its nature. It begins by expressing a critical stance toward the idea that authority is always dependent upon having a certain kind of theoretical expertise. It raises the suggestion that there are other forms of authoritativeness, based on tradition, the display of superior skill, or impressive discriminative/perceptual powers. The bases of these forms of authority are not primarily, or even necessarily, of an intellectual kind. The idea that ethical authority depends upon something more than intellectual foundations may be traced to Aristotle, who claimed that the practical wisdom of an ethical authority (phronimos) is a matter of being good at deliberation with regard to things that conduce to living well. The model of ethical authority provided here is not that of theoretical expertise but closer to that of practical skill and/or the possession of perceptual powers of a particular kind. Ethical authority in the Aristotelian tradition depends upon intellectual powers, but of the 'practical intellect' and not necessarily (it depends on the context) any advanced theoretical expertise. It then proceeds to argue that there is an important place for practical wisdom in modern ethical life. Many of us live today in modem pluralistic societies where diverse conceptions of goodness and ethical rationality compete. We may well find the idea of reasonable allegiance to local phronimoi, who grasp and can illuminate the value of particular practices and institutions to fellow participants of a shared life, pure anathema. Modern ethical philosophy reflects this stance, and is characterized by a certain faith in rule-centred or procedural ethical theories for guiding human conduct. The argument of the second chapter seeks to show that there is little warrant for rejecting the role of ethical authorities (phronimoi) in contemporary pluralistic societies in favour of ethical proceduralism. Thereafter, in the third, fourth and fifth chapters, it turns to exploring the nature of practical wisdom, in particular, whether or not it is best construed as grounded in a theory of right conduct, or as a form of 'ethical knowledge', or as aiming at an objective truth; and to the task of characterizing a credible conception of the insightful phronimos - or what it might be like if this model of ethical authority is to claim relevance for contemporary life within pluralistic ethical communities.