It is my pleasure to introduce our next Featured Philosopher, John Deigh. John is a Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Texas, Austin, and he is widely known for his insightful work in moral psychology, the history of philosophy, and for his valuable work as the editor of Ethics from 1997-2008. Please feel free to share your comments or questions!
I am grateful for the opportunity to share with the PEA Soup community some ideas about the history of meta-ethics in the twentieth century that I’ve been working out recently. These ideas are part of a larger project that began with my chapter, “Ethics in the Analytic Tradition”, in the Oxford Handbook of the History of Ethics (R. Crisp, ed.). That chapter gives the history of analytic ethics during roughly its first fifty years, from G. E. Moore to R. M. Hare and Stephen Toulmin. The history treats ethics as a field of philosophy many of whose movements and changes have come about as a result of movements and changes in other fields like metaphysics and the philosophy of language. For example, I explain the radical impact of Moore’s Principia Ethica on Anglo-American ethics as continuous with the revolution in British philosophy that Moore and Russell ignited through their attacks at the turn of the 20th century on British Idealism. These attacks and the positive constructions to which they gave rise constituted the beginnings of the analytic movement in philosophy. The first chapter of Moore’s Principia, I maintain, should therefore be read as one of the major contributions to the beginnings of this movement and not, contrary to current fashion, as a rhetorically powerful recycling of ideas from Sidgwick.