Based on an unfinished manuscript by the late philosopher Dallas Willard, this book makes the case that the 20th century saw a massive shift in Western beliefs and attitudes concerning the possibility of moral knowledge, such that knowledge of the moral life and of its conduct is no longer routinely available from the social institutions long thought to be responsible for it. In this sense, moral knowledge—as a publicly available resource for living—has disappeared. Via a detailed survey of main developments in ethical theory from the late 19th through the late 20th centuries, Willard explains philosophy’s role in this shift. In pointing out the shortcomings of these developments, he shows that the shift was not the result of rational argument or discovery, but largely of arational social forces—in other words, there was no good reason for moral knowledge to have disappeared.
The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge is a unique contribution to the literature on the history of ethics and social morality. Its review of historical work on moral knowledge covers a wide range of thinkers including T.H Green, G.E Moore, Charles L. Stevenson, John Rawls, and Alasdair MacIntyre. But, most importantly, it concludes with a novel proposal for how we might reclaim moral knowledge that is inspired by the phenomenological approach of Knud Logstrup and Emmanuel Levinas. Edited and eventually completed by three of Willard’s former graduate students, this book marks the culmination of Willard’s project to find a secure basis in knowledge for the moral life.
"Willard's book is a profound and timely contribution to the history of ethical theory and to the future of moral epistemology. It is essential reading for all who wish to understand the broad cultural drift away from moral knowledge in the twentieth century and for all who wish to contribute to the recovery of moral knowledge in the twenty-first century." – Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge by the late Professor Willard is a major contribution to the history of twentieth century analytic ethics as well as an incisive analysis of the possibility of moral knowledge. Porter et al. have done magnificent editorial work and have facilitated an invaluable contribution to the literature. This book surely will stand out as one of the most important contributions to the epistemology of ethics." – John H. Dreher, University of Southern California, USA
Foreword, by Scott Soames
1. Moral Knowledge Disappears
2. A "Science of Ethics"?
3. G. E. Moore: From Science of Ethics to Nihilism
4. Emotivism: The Erasure of Moral Knowledge
5. A Rational Form of Noncognitivism? "Rational Necessity" Relocated
6. A Consensus of Rational People: Social Constructionism in Rawls
7. Practices, Traditions and Narratives: Social Constructionism in MacIntyre
8. Prospects for a Return of Moral Knowledge