Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy


Robert Cavalier

Philosophy Department
Carnegie Mellon

Part I History of Ethics

Preface: The Life of Socrates
Section 1: Greek Moral Philosophy
Section 2: Hellenistic and Roman Ethics
Section 3: Early Christian Ethics
Section 4: Modern Moral Philosophy
Section 5: 20th Century Analytic Moral Philosophy

Part II Concepts and Problems

Preface: Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics and Applied Ethics
Section 1: Ethical Relativism
Section 2: Ethical Egoism
Section 3: Utilitarian Theories
Section 4: Deontological Theories
Section 5: Virtue Ethics
Section 6: Liberal Rights and Communitarian Theories
Section 7: Ethics of Care
Section 8: Case-based Moral Reasoning
Section 9: Moral Pluralism

Part III Applied Ethics

Preface: The Field of Applied Ethics
Section 1: The Topic of Euthanasia
Multimedia Module: A Right to Die? The Dax Cowart Case
Section 2: The Topic of Abortion
Multimedia Module: The Issue of Abortion in America
Postscript: Conflict Resolution

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History of an Error

This selection from the Twilight of the Idols contains 6 stages outlining the "History of an Error." The first four are a de-valuation of an Ideal; the last two are Nietzsche's re-valuation of an Ideal. It is Nietzsche's historical deconstruction of the God-Idea. The original text is followed by a brief analysis.

1. The true world -- unattainable but for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it.

(The oldest form of the idea, relatively sensible, simple and persuasive. A circumlocution for the sentence, "I, Plato, am the truth.")

2. The true world -- unattainable for now, but promised for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man ("for the sinner who repents").

(Progress of the idea: it becomes more subtle, insidious, incomprehensible -- it becomes female, it becomes Christian.)

3. The true world -- unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable; but the very thought of it -- a consolidation, an obligation, an imperative.

(At bottom, the old sun, but seen through mist and skepticism. The idea has become elusive, pale, Nordic, Konigsbergian)

4. The true world -- unattainable? At any rate, unattained, and being unattained, also unknown. Consequently, not consoling, redeeming, or obligating: how could something unknown obligate us?

(Gray morning, The first yawn of reason. The cockcrow of positivism)

5. The "true" world -- an idea which is no longer good for anything, not even obligating -- an idea which has become useless and superfluous -- consequently a refuted idea: let us abolish it!

(Bright day; breakfast: return of bon sens and cheer-fulness; Plato's embarrassed blush; pandemonium of all free spirits.)

6. The true world -- we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we also have abolished the apparent one.

(Noon: moment of the briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.')

Outline of an Analysis

1. Platonism

    Dualism of Being ("true world") and Becoming ("this world"). The "highest level" is attainable through wisdom.

2. Christianity

    Dualism of Heaven (true world/the other-after-better-life) and Earth (this world/life). The "highest level" is attainable at death.

3. Kant

    The Critiques establish the nature of the "true world" as beyond human knowledge (reason), though it might serve as an ideal, a goal (it would be 'useful' in the moral sense).

4. Positivism

    Knowledge of this world suffices. The "real" is the empirical -- Comte's emphasis on the 'positive' (natural) sciences.

5. Nietzsche's negative critique

    The "true world" is a USELESS idea -- this is N.'s 'nein-sagen,' his critique of God (cf. The Madman).

6. Nietzsche's positive assertion

    Nietzsche's 'ja-sagan,' a RE-VALUATION OF ALL VALUES: a new determination, a new comportmant toward existence -- embodied in the image of Zarathustra (cf. The Greatest Stress).



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Copyright 2002 (first published 1/96)

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