Philosophy

Research Article

Human Nature, Personhood, and Ethical Naturalism1

John Hacker-Wrighta1

a1 University of Guelph

Abstract

John McDowell has argued that for human needs to matter in practical deliberation, we must have already acquired the full range of character traits that are imparted by an ethical upbringing. Since our upbringings can diverge considerably, his argument makes trouble for any Aristotelian ethical naturalism that wants to support a single set of moral virtues. I argue here that there is a story to be told about the normal course of human life according to which it is no coincidence that there is agreement on the virtues. Because we are creatures who arrive at personhood only by learning from others in a relation of dependency, we cannot help but see ourselves as creatures for whom non-instrumental rationality is the norm. Those who train others in personhood must view the trainee's interests as having a value independent of their interests and must imbue the trainee with a sense of that value. Extending and preserving the sense of self-worth that we must acquire if we are to acquire personhood requires we see ourselves as creatures who need something like the virtues.

Footnotes

1 I would like to thank Cherilyn Keall for her editorial assistance with this paper, and Alice Crary, Erin Flynn, and John Russon for stimulating discussion of these issues.