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Pragmatism in ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L074-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Two components of the pragmatist outlook shape its ethical philosophy. It rejects certainty as a legitimate intellectual goal; this generates a nondogmatic attitude to moral precepts and principles. It holds, secondly, that thought (even that exercised in scientific inquiry) is essentially goal-directed in a way that makes the refinement of the control we exercise over how we act (for example, in drawing conclusions) integral to achieving any cognitive goal such as that of truth. This makes it possible to treat scientific inquiry as a model of how we might respond to moral problems and the reasonableness and impartiality required of a scientific inquirer as a paradigm of what may be expected in reaching moral judgments. This view of the nature of thought also inclines pragmatists to assess proposed solutions to moral conflicts in terms of consequences. But although human desires are taken as the raw material with which moral thinking must deal, it is not assumed that people’s desires (what they take pleasure in) are fixed and can be used as a standard by which to assess consequences. Pragmatism is thus free to revert to a classical mode of thought (such as Aristotelianism) in which claims about human nature function as norms – a use which is made, for example, of the claim that humans are essentially social creatures.

Citing this article:
Tiles, J.E.. Pragmatism in ethics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L074-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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