a1 Philosophy, Cornell University
Students of the history of ethics sometimes find themselves tempted by moderate or extreme versions of an approach that might roughly be called ‘historicist’. This temptation may result from the difficulties of approaching historical texts from a ‘narrowly philosophical’ point of view. We may begin, for instance, by wanting to know what Aristotle has to say about ‘the problems of ethics’, so that we can compare his views with those of (say) Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Sidgwick, and Rawls, and then decide what is true or false in each theorist's position. But this narrowly philosophical attitude soon runs into difficulties, and writers on the history of ethics often warn us against it.