Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Jorge Ferrer on Anglo Ethical Theory

I sat down for coffee with Dr. Jorge Ferrer, a bioethicist who studied at the Vatican, and we ended up having a nice chat about utilitarianism, Peter Singer, and related topics. Jorge made some observations about utilitarianism from a Latin point of view that I found interesting. On the one hand the criticism is that utilitarianism puts too much weight on the individual and the individual's acts. On the other hand, the criticism is that in restricting public judgements to public acts (Mill discusses this more explicitly in On Liberty), the moral stature of the individual is dropped from consideration. The idea that there is no element of classical "virtue theory" in Anglo ethics reflects, perhaps, differences in the way the relationship between the individual and society is conceived. This connects with the criticism that too much weight is put on individual actions. But in addition to these Aristotelean elements there is also a greater sense of fatalism that reflects the Catholic element in Latin thought. In any event these observations from the Latin point of view certainly help to turn one's thinking in some interesting directions about ethical theory.

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