Early eighteenth-century British moral philosophers and the possibility of virtue
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The general aim of this thesis is to further undermine the convention that British moral philosophy of the early eighteenth century is best conceived as a struggle between rationalist and sentimentalist epistemologies. I argue that the philosophers considered here (Samuel Clarke, Francis Hutcheson, Gilbert Burnet, John Balguy and John Gay) situated their moral epistemologies within the wider framework of an attempt to prove the ‘reality’ of virtue in terms of virtue being an achievable, practical endeavour. To this end, they were as much concerned with the attributes that motivated or caused God to create in the way that he did – his communicable attributes - as they were with our own natural moral abilities. I maintain that this concern led Clarke, Burnet and Balguy to look beyond a rationalist epistemology in an attempt to account for the practical possibility of moral action. I claim that it led Hutcheson to develop a moral theory that reflected a realist theistic metaphysics that went some way beyond an appeal to providential naturalism. I argue that it led Gay to try to synthesise the approaches of rival moral schemes in order to offer a unified account of agency and obligation. The thesis has three key objectives: 1) to examine the relationship of rationalism to obligation and motivation in the work of Clarke, Burnet and Balguy, and 2) to explore the relative roles of sense and judgment in the moral epistemologies of Hutcheson, Burnet, Balguy and Gay and to (re) examine the nature of Hutcheson’s moral realism, and 3) to investigate the theistic metaphysical claims made by all parties with respect to their arguments about moral realism.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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