Are humans naturally moral? Is morality a human invention or is it more like math? Or is morality simply a matter of personal taste? Or of human taste? What is the foundation of morality? These are the questions that will be at the center of this seminar, turning to the answers of British moral philosophers.
In the 17th and 18th centuries philosophers turned away from the view that morality originates in God’s commands as well as from those views which held that morality is ultimately reducible to self-interest. The alternatives proposed recognized the importance of understanding human nature, and to offer a theory that was consistent with observation and experiment. In this course we will examine how the study of human nature was central to the moral philosophy of this time. We will study those philosophers who thought that morality originates in reason, and we will study those who disagreed, and argued that morality is founded on sentiment. We will also study how important figures such as Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Butler, Hume and Reid understood moral sentiments, their relation to human nature, and to reason.
Contemporary moral philosophers have been highly influenced by the British moralists of the 17th and 18th century who have led the way in laying out some of the most promising accounts about the origins of morality. This course will be interesting and important for anyone seeking to understand the history of moral philosophy as well as central accounts of contemporary moral philosophy.