Phil A301

William Jamison

Notes on discussion concerning new work associated with Character Ethics

What was I thinking?

Some of the texts I referred to are newer than others but all are recent.

In order I discussed:

Concerning the biological ground of behavior and the implications of biology for ethics and building character:


The Decline of Males by Lionel Tiger

Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly

The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating by David M. Buss

The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness
by Antonio R. Damasio

Brain Sex by Anne Moir, David Jessel

From Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1991
If men and women are equal, why have males been the dominant sex virtually throughout history? Here, geneticist Moir and BBC- TV writer-producer Jessel argue convincingly that the answer lies in the difference between the male and female brain. Writing with clarity and style, and documenting their data every step of the way, Moir and Jessel explain how the embryonic brain is shaped as either male or female at about six weeks, when the male fetus begins producing hormones that organize its brain's neural networks into a male pattern; in their absence, the brain will be female. Not surprisingly, there are endless variations in degree of maleness, and mishaps can lead to a male brain in a female body and vice versa. Moir and Jessel include a brain sex test that lets the reader discover just how masculine or feminine his (or her) brain is. For the nonscientist, they translate considerable research into the structural and organizational differences between male and female brains, demonstrating how these differences make men more aggressive and competitive and better at skills that require spatial ability and mathematical reasoning, and women more sensitive to nuances of expression and gesture, more adept at judging character. Women, it seems, are more people-oriented than men, who are more interested in things. Moir and Jessel assert that it is necessary to ``accept who we are before arguing about what we should be,'' and that denying gender differences means ignoring their value. A literate, entertaining, and, for some, surely wrath- provoking presentation of scientific data about the differences between the sexes.


From these texts I hope to suggest:

Understanding why we naturally behave the way we do in light of modern science is important for us to have a sense of autonomy as Kant describes it. We are only free to make our own choices if we know what factors influence us as best we can. While this may certainly only mean there are other factors we are not aware of, the idea that someone in our culture knows something about us and is using it to manipulate us destroys our sense of autonomy. It is important to know as much as those who seek to manipulate us about those factors so we can maintain a sense that we have free choice and are responsible for our own actions. It is also important for us to know what defines being human and separates us from other beings so we can have a sense of what makes a life excellent and happy. Aristotle’s view is that our rationality is what defines us and being excellent in all that we aim to achieve, especially in intellectual things is the means of reaching eudaimonia.


I next compared two texts discussing the issue of social class and biology to consider contemporary views that character is related to culture (and culture is not necessarily linked to social concepts of race, but intelligence and habits.) Again, on this issue it would seem that contemporary views, though in disagreement on nature and nurture issues, do agree in general with Aristotelian views of character ethics.

The Bell Curve : Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book) by Richard J. Herrnstein, Charles Murray (Contributor)


The End of Racism : Principles for a Multiracial Society by Dinesh D'Souza. Paperback (September 1996)



Going up still one more level: within the social classes what views do we see of those that espouse cultural ethics:

Slouching Towards Gomorrah : Modern Liberalism and American Decline by Robert H. Bork (Paperback - June 1997)

And for moral guidance from the conservative camp:

Moral Compass : Stories for a Life's Journey by William J. Bennett(Editor) (Hardcover - October 1995)

And Body Count : Moral Poverty... and How to Win America's War Against Crime and Drugs
by William J. Bennett, et al.


From the liberal side I selected Richard Rorty but only mentioned him.


I also mentioned Alasdair MacIntyre with respect to his move towards communitarian ethics from his earlier position of virtue (character) ethics.





Lastly, I mentioned John Rawls’ new book:  The Law of Peoples. In this the concern is for a world civil society.

What was I thinking? Too many books to survey all at once?

This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated August 14, 2012. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.