Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong
by Johnathan Edwards

He discusses almost every conceivable theory of moral epistemology in a clear and not unnecessarily technical style. He relies on linguistic analysis. What do we mean by right and wrong? Can it be this? Can it be that? His refutations of various forms of subjectivism are thorough. He treats the moral sense position and allows that evolution may explain why we believe in right and wrong. He maintains that right and wrong are absolute, universal concepts- not man-made. He proposes that right means to be done. From this point he begins to lose me. He jumps to the conclusion that to be done means to be done for the good of society and so he advocates utilitarianism, despite his earlier criticism of it.

The last part of the book is not as good as the first. It has many short discussions of moral-valued words to see in what sense they are moral-valued. He is so pleased with his definitions of right and wrong and ought that he feels he can dismiss other words if they can be reduced to one of these. He repeatedly undercuts morality by saying there might be a rule that says it is right to obey the law even when the law is bad. He reduces justice to administration.

He dismisses the punishment problem on the grounds that sentences such as, "The punishment should fit the crime." are just as meaningful as, "She is as clever as she is beautiful." He sets up a useful way of analyzing what we could mean by "rights," but it is not well suited to his utilitarian system, so he derives little benefit from it.

Year Read: 1983

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