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Perfectionism and Hedonism

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I have admired and learned from Robin Attfield and his work since my days as a graduate student in the 1980s. Philosophical insight, quickness of thought, open-mindedness, and generosity are paradigmatic virtues of a professional philosopher, and Attfield possesses these, and others, in abundance. He was kind enough to examine my doctoral thesis on ideal utilitarianism in Oxford in 1988, along with Sir Geoffrey Warnock. I shall never forget the look of wonder on Sir Geoffrey's face as Attfield and I, in discussing one of Derek Parfit's thought experiments about future generations, earnestly debated whether chimpanzees could appreciate muzak. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be asked to contribute to this volume in his honour.

Attfield has developed a world view in which his ethics is situated, and I am sympathetic to several components of both, including his broadly consequentialist outlook and his cognitivism. I am more inclined towards non-naturalism than he is, since naturalism—understood as the view that the world should be understood to serve as the subject only of those properties essentially predicated of it in natural scientific explanations—seems to me to strip the world of the kind of normativity underlying the kind of cognitivism and consequentialism Attfield finds plausible. But I suspect that our differences here may be only apparent, and that Attfield may be working with a broader account of naturalism that would allow for the kinds of evaluative and normative property I prefer to characterize as non-natural. But there is one issue on which we do clearly disagree, and on which my views have over the years moved further from Attfield's: the good, and in particular the “good for”, understood as equivalent to “flourishing” or “well-being” and as what underlies the moral standing or considerability of any being in possession of it.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

More about this publication?
  • Creation, Environment and Ethics
    Creation, Environment and Ethics aims to contribute to a critical understanding of ethics, evolution and creation, and to provide a pluralistic response to some of the most pressing issues facing the global environment today. Following the example of Professor Robin Attfield, this volume aims to reflect the diverse responses with which theological, ethical and evolutionary discourses have contributed to the broad scope of environmental philosophy and also to ongoing debates about creation and evolution. Critiques of the work of Attfield are provided by prominent philosophers, and Attfield provides a clear and thorough response to each of these critiques in turn. Some of the contributions also offer more pragmatic approaches to environmental issues such as climate change, development and sustainability.
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