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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2023
Print publication year:
Online ISBN:
Ethics, Philosophy

Book description

In this magisterial study, one of our leading moral philosophers refutes the charge (originally made by Elizabeth Anscombe) that modern ethics is incoherent because it essentially depends on theological and religious assumptions that it cannot acknowledge. Stephen Darwall's panoramic picture starts with the seventeenth-century thinker Grotius and tells the story continuously down to the time of Kant, exploring what was in fact a completely new way of doing ethics based on secular ideas of human psychology and universal accountability. He shows that thinkers from Grotius to Kant are profoundly united by this modern approach, and that it helped them to create a theory of natural human rights that remains of great political relevance today. He further shows that this new way of thinking provides conceptual resources that are far from exhausted, and that moral philosophy in this idiom still has a vibrant future.


‘Modern moral philosophy emerged from its medieval and ancient ancestors through the development of new ideas about natural law.  Stephen Darwall, in this masterly work, explains the development of these ideas and how they became central to the debates of the eighteenth century over the nature of morality and the sources of moral knowledge.  His explanation is a powerful argument for the juridical conception of morality that took form in the work of Grotius and reached its most profound exposition in the work of Kant.'

John Deigh - University of Texas, Austin

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