From Thick to Thin: Two Moral Reduction Plans

Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Volume 39, Number 4, pp. 515-535.

 By Daniel Y. Elstein and Thomas Hurka.

"Many philosophers of the last century thought all moral judgments can be expressed using a few basic concepts — what are today called ‘thin’ moral concepts such as ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘right,’ and ‘wrong.’ This was the view, first, of the non-naturalists whose work dominated the early part of the century, including Henry Sidgwick, G.E. Moore, W.D. Ross, and C.D. Broad. Some of them recognized only one basic concept, usually either ‘ought’ or ‘good’; others thought there were two. But they all assumed that other moral concepts, including such ‘thick’ ones as the virtue-concepts ‘courageous’ and ‘kindly,’ can be reductively analyzed using one or more thin concepts and some more or less determinate descriptive content. This was also the view of many non-cognitivists who wrote later in the century, including C.L. Stevenson and R.M. Hare. They thought judgments using thin terms express one or two basic moral attitudes, either pro or con and with distinctive formal features such as categoricity and universality, and that any thick terms can be reduced to thin ones plus some description.
In recent decades a contrary view has emerged that claims that thick concepts are irreducible. According to its proponents, terms like ‘courageous’ and ‘kindly’ have both morally evaluative and descriptive meaning, but the two interpenetrate each other in a way that makes the separation a reductive analysis requires impossible. Thick concepts are therefore not derivative from thin ones, which do not have the primacy the above-mentioned philosophers assumed. On the contrary, on some versions of this anti-reductive view it is the thick concepts that are primary, with the thin ones mere abstractions from them. "

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(Something interesting I found)Posted: Thursday, February 11, 2010 by cait
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