On Moral Dilemmas: Winch, Kant and Billy Budd 1

Lilian Alweiss a1
a1 Trinity College, Dublin


This article queries Winch's view that moral issues are particular, subjective, context-dependent and not open to generalizations. Drawing on examples from film and literature, Winch believes he can prove first, that the universalisability principle is idle and second, that morality is wrongly conceived as a guide to moral conduct. Yet, neither example proves his point. Quite the contrary, they show that we face moral dilemmas only when moral theory fails to provide an answer to moral problems. Therfore, it is not the case, as Winch suggests, that moral issues have a force independent of moral theory.

The article questions a general trend in contemporary moral theory that argues that abstract principles are inconsistent with the actual way we live our lives.


1 In memory of Irving Velody 1936–2000