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January Seminars - 2011 - The Foundations of Morality

China Values and Virtues


We have the capacity to make judgments of a distinctive sort: moral judgments. One of the questions at the very foundations of ethics is what moral judgments are—what distinguishes them from other sorts of judgments that we make and whether they are susceptible to evaluation in terms of truth and falsity. (According to one famous position, moral judgments are expressions of desires rather than beliefs, and so are not capable of being true or false in the first place.)

kellyIf we hold the view that moral judgments are susceptible to evaluation in terms of truth and falsity, we are still left with the question of what explains their truth or falsity. Is it the case that all positive moral judgments are false, as some philosophers (‘error theorists’) have claimed? Is it the case that while some such moral judgments are true, there is no informative explanation that can be given as to what makes true moral judgments true, as some philosophers ('non-natural moral realists') have claimed? Or is it, after all, possible to provide an account of what makes for the correctness of moral judgments, say in terms of human desires, human nature, or God's commands?

We will first consider together some of the recent literature on the character of moral judgment. We will then turn to this question of explanation, asking about the various views delphia2— views grounded in human desire, human nature, sui generis moral facts, and divine command—that have been forwarded in the recent philosophical literature as explanations of what makes correct moral judgments correct.

Seminar Directors

Mark C. MurphyMark C. Murphy

Fr. Joseph T. Durkin,
SJ Professor of Philosophy,
Georgetown University

Professor Murphy works in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of law, and philosophy of religion. He is the author of Natural Law and Practical Rationality (Cambridge, 2001), An Essay on Divine Authority (Cornell, 2002),Natural Law in Jurisprudence and Politics(Cambridge, 2006), and Philosophy of Law: The Fundamentals(Blackwell, 2006). He is editor of Alasdair MacIntyre (Cambridge, 2003), and is the book review editor for the journal Ethics. During the 2009-2010 academic year he is the Plantinga Fellow at Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion, where he is completing a book manuscript Theistic Explanation of Moral Law.


Christian MillerChristian Miller

Zachary T. Smith Faculty Fellow and
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Wake Forest University

Professor Miller's main areas of research are meta-ethics, moral psychology, action theory, and philosophy of religion, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as NoûsPhilosophy and Phenomenological ResearchPhilosophical Studies,Philosophical PsychologyEthical Theory and Moral PracticeThe Journal of Ethics, Social Theory and Practice, The Journal of Philosophical Research, The European Journal of Philosophy, andOxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion. He is the editor of Essays in the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford University Press) and the book review editor of the Journal of Moral Philosophy, and is currently editing The Continuum Companion to Ethics (Continuum Press). He has also begun work on a monograph entitled A New Theory of Character, which articulates a new framework for thinking about character that is both conceptually coherent and empirically supported by research in social psychology.


Kelly James ClarkKelly James Clark

Professor of Philosphy
Calvin College

Professor Clark is an accomplished philosopher with a focused interest on ethics, epistemology and Chinese philosophy, he is the author, editor, or co-author of more than fifteen books and author of over fifty articles; his books include The Story of Ethics, Return to Reason (Peking University Press) and Faith, Knowledge and Naturalism (Peking University Press).


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Date & Location

January 15-29, 2011
Athens, Greece

Read Professor Christian Miller's reflections on the seminar in Athens


This seminar is generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation.