Monday, November 7, 2011 4:00 PM
"Besting the Rationalism-Empiricism Platitude:
A Second Look at 18th Century Moral Theory"
by Professor Remy Debes, University of Memphis
It is now widely recognized that ethics was as important to the identity of modern western philosophy as epistemology and metaphysics. Not so well appreciated is that the old dichotomous classification of British Empiricism and Continental Rationalism is almost useless (if ever it was very useful) when trying to digest modern moral theory, especially Eighteenth century moral theory. A more suitable split in moral philosophy would be between rationalism and sentimentalism, but even then some views wouldn’t be well characterized, like German sensationalism. Still, we would indeed fail to understand the eighteenth century if we didn’t address its rationalist commitments. We thus need some rubric that fits the special case of moral theory but is also thin enough to serve our particular historical interest. I will attempt to articulate and illustrate the value of one such alternative rubric.
Professor Debes completed his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Michigan in 2006, where he won awards for both his teaching and his dissertation work, including a Charlotte Newcombe Fellowship in 2005-06. His research is in the areas of Ethics, Moral Psychology, the Philosophy of Emotion, and the History of Ethics. He is the current Secretary and Treasurer for the International Adam Smith Society.
Prof. Debes' work includes articles on the moral philosophy of David Hume (two in British Journal for the History of Philosophy), Adam Smith (forthcoming in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy), the nature of emotion (Philosophical Studies), human dignity (Philosophical Perspectives, supplement to Nous on Ethics), and empathy (Synthese).
Other recent work includes "Moral Realism and Moral Rationalism" (forthcoming in the Routledge Guide to 18th Century Philosophy), "Moral Sentiments" (forthcoming entry in the International Encyclopedia of Ethics), and "Recasting Scottish Sentimentalism: The Peculiarity of Moral Approval" (forthcoming in the Journal of Scottish Philosophy). He is also Editor of "Empathy and Ethics," 2011 Spindel Supplement to The Southern Journal of Philosophy, featuring contributions by Stephan Darwall, Peter Goldie, John Deigh, Julia Driver, Jesse Prinz, Michael Slote, and many more.