MORAL SKEPTICISM AND JOHN MACMURRAY: AN APPLICATION OF JOHN MACMURRAY'S PHILOSOPHY OF THE PERSON TO THE CONTEMPORARY PROBLEM OF MORAL SKEPTICISM

JOSEPH WILLIAM REISIG, Fordham University

Abstract

John Macmurray was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University until his retirement in 1957. In 1953 he delivered the Gifford Lectures which were entitled The Form of the Personal. In this his major work, Macmurray expresses his firm belief that the contemporary models of thought cannot adequately express the dynamic and personal reality of the individual in society. Macmurray maintains that this epistemic inadequacy is not only an outgrowth, but a major cause of what he calls the "Crisis of the Personal". Man is alienated from himself. He cannot think what he is, or ought to be, consistently, and his actions have become more impersonal than personal.^ Drawing from an epistemological analysis of modern philosophy, Macmurray attempts a resolution to the crisis through the creation of a new logical form--"the form of the personal". This new form requires a rejection of the theoretical and egocentric standpoint which has so long plagued the philosophical endeavor. In its place, Macmurray proposes that we develop a conceptual framework which is both practical and personal. He further specifies that such a framework's adequacy must be tested through its continual application to all dimensions of human experience.^ This dissertation tests the applicability and adequacy of Macmurray's dilemma of moral skepticism. It is best characterized as the rejection of all rational justification for moral values and beliefs. Such a position constitutes a crisis as to our understanding of what it means to be moral. If morality has no rational justification, i.e., no rational standard for its normative judgements, then the difference between right and wrong is truly "a matter of taste, opinion, feeling, or convention". This is precisely the dominant position of contemporary British and American philosophy.^ It is the thesis of this dissertation that Macmurray's form of the personal contains within it and is constituted by a general theory of rationality which can provide us with an adequate resolution to the metaethical challenge of moral skepticism. It is contended that the logical form of the personal is an objective expression of that which grounds our normative judgements of moral obligation and enables us to think man's moral experience consistently: i.e., the practical and concrete fact of persons in relation. In short, an objective, normative ethics is only possible when it is grounded in a theory of rationality which can justify moral, evaluative judgements as being distinct, objective, and yet intimately related to descriptive judgements of fact. Such a theory of rationality is represented by Macmurray's logical form of the personal.^ Through such a treatment of the central problem in moral philosophy, this dissertation offers both a rational alternative to moral skepticism and a practical evaluation of Macmurray's solution to the crisis of the personal: "All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action is for the sake of friendship". ^

Subject Area

Philosophy

Recommended Citation

REISIG, JOSEPH WILLIAM, "MORAL SKEPTICISM AND JOHN MACMURRAY: AN APPLICATION OF JOHN MACMURRAY'S PHILOSOPHY OF THE PERSON TO THE CONTEMPORARY PROBLEM OF MORAL SKEPTICISM" (1980). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8020081.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8020081

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