Actual Ethics by James R. Otteson

By James R. Otteson

A protection of the 'classical liberal' political culture, utilized to ultra-modern ethical and political concerns.

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TMS, pp. 78–9) Smith distinguishes here between two scenarios: (1) not doing a good deed for someone, as, for example, not doing a favor for someone who has done you a favor in the past, and (2) deliberately doing something bad to someone, which entails taking an action designed to damage a person. Both are blameworthy. But the former, the failure of “positive virtue,” is only blameworthy; the latter, which Smith interchangeably calls “positive evil” and “positive hurt,” is, according to Smith, both blameworthy and punishable.

Now the explanation for the existence of this human altruism is contested and has seen considerable discussion in recent years. Evolutionary biologists, for example, often try to account for it by recourse to something they call “kin selection,” whereby the presence of a genuine concern for the well-being of one’s kin might have increased the chances of the survival of the genotype shared among the kin, and thus would have been selected for. The idea is that what gets selected for is copies of genes, regardless of the individual housing the copies.

Perhaps Max Stirner or some neoclassical economists are examples. For these authors’ works, see the bibliography; for a general discussion of the issues involved, see James Rachels’s Elements of Moral Philosophy, chaps. org/wiki/Homo economicus. Leviathan, part I, chap. xii, p. 76. Ibid. ” One can understand why Hobbes would think that mankind’s natural state was so nasty and brutish: he wrote Leviathan, after all, in 1651, just after the English civil war and the execution of its sitting monarch, Charles I, and the deep religious and political divisions among the people of England— not to mention the unhygienic squalor in which most people lived at the time15 —cannot have given a very good impression of mankind’s “natural” state.

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