1st Edition

Moral Thought Outside Moral Theory

By Craig Taylor Copyright 2024
    154 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book argues there can be no theory of ethics and that any attempt at such a theory ends up distorting the moral phenomena that it is supposed to explain. It presents clear examples of moral thought outside moral theorising through literature and Wittgenstein’s later philosophy.

    The book’s precise target is moral theory understood as a theory of right action. The author begins by arguing against the assumption central to moral theory that moral judgments are universalizable; that what it is right for one agent to do in a given situation is what is right for any agent in that same situation. Rather, moral judgements are essentially first personal. The author's specific contention here is that our understanding of moral thought in literature provides grounds for rejecting the assumption that moral judgements are universalizable. The author then goes on to argue that there is some determinate and objective content to ethics connected to recognising another human being as a limit to our will. He presents several literary examples that have influenced his thinking about the nature of moral value. He combines these readings with insights from Wittgenstein’s later writings to demonstrate the ways in which moral theorising fails to capture important aspects of moral thought.

    Moral Thought Outside Moral Theory will be of interest to scholars and advanced students working in ethics and moral theory, literature and philosophy, and Wittgenstein.


    1. Moral Thought and Moral Judgement

    2. Moral Particularity

    3. Moral Concepts and the Limits of Moral Theory

    4. Conceptions of Value

    5. Imagination and Truth in Moral Thought

    6. Impartial versus Public Reasons

    7. A Moral Life


    Craig Taylor is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Flinders University. He is the author of Moralism: A Study of a Vice (2012) and Sympathy: A Philosophical Analysis (2002); a co-editor of Hume and The Enlightenment (2011), A Sense for Humanity: The Ethical Thought of Raimond Gaita (2014) and Morality in a Realistic Spirit: Essays for Cora Diamond (2020).

    "This is a tremendously interesting, bold, ambitious, and original contribution to contemporary ethics."

    Sophie Grace Chappell, Open University, UK

    "This wonderful book is always in touch with the real complexities of moral life. The personal character of moral responsiveness is brought out sharply by Taylor in insightful case studies of literary works. The book is a truly important contribution to philosophical ethics: to what it can be."

    Cora Diamond, University of Virginia, USA