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A Preface to Morality by John Wilson (auth.)

By John Wilson (auth.)

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More philosophical ink has perhaps been expended on this question (which I put in a deliberately vague form with the phrase 'bother about') than on any other question in morality. ' - will characteristically be construed in a certain light. ' Attention will then be focused upon particular cases in which, at particular times, some person faces a choice between his own interests and those of other people: especially upon the legitimacy or illegitimacy of his using certain concepts or words (notoriously, 'ought') and upon whether or in what sense we can say that he has good reason for his choice to do something.

How we see things determines what we do. Certainly we can decide to see things better or more clearly; we can address this task and try more or less hard at it: there is, in other words, something we can do about that too. But at any one point in time, our practical action on the external world will be largely a function of our conceptual furniture, and we go wrong largely because we furnish wrongly, not because we have the right furniture but lack the strength (will-power) to shift it around. (5) There is a real difficulty in distinguishing virtues from capacities.

It is wrong to suppose Why Bother about Other People? 51 that we need not offer reasons for altruism or certain ways of life: the notion of something being 'good in itself' does not excuse us from justifying it. But it is right, in this case, to suppose that there must be something intrinsic about altruism or (better) the altruist which makes altruism worth while. If there is such a thing, it will operate in all possible worlds, not just in a world which happens to make altruism pay. Discussions of reasons and justice, then, present us with a dilemma, roughly represented by the question 'Are we to take (a) the public form of thought, institutions and set of reasons that incorporate justice or interpersonal morality as basic, or (b) the private interest of each individual?

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