Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures (1970), volume 4, pp.1-13.
By Peter Winch.
The concept of human nature usually enters discussions of the nature
and implications of the social sciences in connection with one or
another form of ‘relativism’. Confronted with the enormous and
apparently conflicting variety of phenomena of human life at different
places and times, we are inclined to ask whether there is not something
which holds these phenomena together and unifies them. Stated thus
baldly this question is no doubt so vague as to approach
meaninglessness; it will have to be posed in different forms — and
probably answered differently – according to the particular phenomena
of human life which we happen to have in mind. In this lecture I shall
concentrate my attention on some questions about the relevance of
sociological investigations to our understanding of ethics and about
the treatment of ethics in such investigations. I shall be particularly
interested in the way in which the concept of human nature enters into
such discussions; and I shall devote a good deal of attention to
Professor Alasdair Maclntyre's recent Short History of Ethics.
It is a large merit of this book that it explicitly and invigoratingly
relates the manner of its historical exposition to a distinctive
philosophico-sociological standpoint concerning the nature of morality.
I call this a ‘merit’ and want to stand by that characterisation even
though I think that there are important confusions enshrined in
Maclntyre's approach. A large part of the task which I want to set
myself in this lecture is to make clear the nature and importance of
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(Something interesting I found)Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2010