Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement


The Future of Ideals

John Skorupski

The early part of the twentieth century was as revolutionary in the domain of ethical ideas as in other realms. An ethical culture inherited from the preceding century was to all appearance destroyed. This culture, the high-bourgeois culture of the nineteenth century, had emerged gradually from years of revolution and counter-revolution, and seemed then to be developing steadily and expanding its reach towards the end of the century and up to the first world war. Yet what followed it, and in fact overlapped with it, being already presaged well before the war, was quite other: the mainly 20th century phase we call ‘Modernism’, acutely fragmented not only in aesthetic but also in ethical terms, marked in politics by nationalist, collectivist and populist clashes. However, Modernism too, and in particular, many of the ideas in ethics which were characteristic of it, now belongs to history. That much has for some time been clear; the change is complicated, confused, hard to outline; discernibly though, we're in a new period and have been for perhaps a third of a century—quite how long depends on which aspect of change one considers, and on how one interprets its character.

Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of St Andrews.