Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 1–3 | Cite as


  • Albert W. MusschengaEmail author
  • Robert Heeger
Open Access

Time goes fast. This year, we celebrate ETMP’s 15th anniversary. As editors, we are, of course, glad that the journal has developed into one of the leading journals in moral philosophy. The success of a new project depends on a lot of contingent factors which are beyond the control of those who start it. We are therefore grateful to our authors, reviewers, associate editors, members of our editorial board, and our publisher for their good work and their support. As to the reviewers, in this issue we include a list of colleagues who reviewed one or more papers in the previous year. We cannot offer them more than recognition of their valuable work.

We also owe gratitude to Michael Quante and Andreas Vieth, the German members of our editorial team, They had to leave the editorial team because of other challenges and duties. Michael was Associate Editor since 2005. Because of his expertise and network in both Continental and Anglo-Saxon analytic moral philosophy, he was extremely qualified for his job. He was the initiator of number of interesting special issues some of which still have to appear. It was a pleasure to work with Michael. He is a very fast worker with a broad overview of both theoretical and practical ethics, and sound judgements on the quality of papers. Michael is succeeded by Thomas Schramme of Hamburg University. Many thanks also to Andreas Vieth. He was Book Review Editor for the German speaking world since 2009. He provided us with valuable reviews of books, written in English or German, by authors from that part of the world. His successor is Tim Henning of Giessen University.

While we thought it desirable to have some new blood in the Editorial Board, we asked a number of members to make place for younger colleagues. Thanks to former board members Sven Andersen, Monique Canto-Sperber, Dagfinn Føllesdal, Carl-Henric Grenholm, Alex Mauron, Dietmar Mieth, Nenad Miscevic, Edgar Morscher, Denis Müller, Herta Nagl-Docekal, Roger Shiner, Holmer Steinfath, and Arne Johan Vetlesen for what they did for the journal.

Part of this issue is dedicated to Amartya Sen’s The idea of justice (2009). Many political philosophers think that a crucial goal of political philosophy is to identify a perfectly just society. Amartya Sen disagrees. In The Idea of Justice, he argues that the proper goal of an inquiry about justice is to undertake comparative assessments of feasible social scenarios in order to identify reforms that involve justice-enhancement, or injustice reduction. Identifying ‘perfect’ justice and comparing imperfect social states are ‘analytically disjoined’. In his contribution, Martijn Boot refutes Sen’s thesis by demonstrating that to be able to make adequate comparisons we need to identify and integrate criteria of comparison. This is, according to Boot, precisely the aim of a theory of justice (such as John Rawls’s theory): identifying, integrating and ordering relevant principles of justice. Boot argues that the same integrated criteria that determine ‘perfect’ justice enable us to compare imperfect social states. Conceding that Sen’s arguments for his comparative approach may not be as convincing as he thought, Jan Drydyk contends in his contribution to the special issue, that there are additional arguments for it, and one is that it provides a unique and valuable platform on which an account of justice as a virtue of social and political actors (including institutions and social movements) can be built. Hence new dimensions of comparison are opened up: some actors are better disposed and more successful than others at leading social change in the direction of greater justice. Drydyk’s main objective is to use the capability approach to construct such an account. Six dimensions of acting justly are identified: (1) reducing capability shortfalls; (2) expanding capabilities for all; (3) saving the worst-off as a first step towards their full participation in economy and society, (4) which is also to be promoted by a system of entitlements protecting all from social exclusion; while (5) supporting the empowerment of those whose capabilities are to expand; and (6) respecting ethical values and legitimate procedures. In his contribution, guest editor Pablo Gilabert pursues two tasks, one critical and the other constructive. First, he argues that Sen’s account of the contrast between the transcendental and the comparative approaches is not convincing, and second, he suggests what he takes to be a broader and more plausible account of comparative assessments of justice. The core claim is that political philosophers should not shy away from the pursuit of ambitious theories of justice (including, for example, ideal theories of perfect justice), although they should engage in careful consideration of issues of political feasibility bearing on their practical implementation.

The issue continues with an article by Cristian Constantinescu on value incomparability. Two competing accounts of value incomparability have been put forward in the recent literature. According to the standard account, developed most famously by Joseph Raz, ‘incomparability’ means determinate failure of the three classic value relations (better than, worse than, and equally good): two value-bearers are incomparable with respect to a value V if and only if (i) it is false that x is better than y with respect to V, (ii) it is false that x is worse than y with respect to V and (iii) it is false that x and y are equally good with respect to V. Most philosophers have followed Raz in adopting this account of incomparability. Recently, however, John Broome has advocated an alternative view, on which value incomparability is explained in terms of vagueness or indeterminacy. Constantinescu aims to further Broome’s view in two ways. Firstly, he wants to supply independent reasons for thinking that the phenomenon of value incomparability is indeed a matter of the indeterminacy inherent in our comparative predicates. Secondly, he attempts to defend Broome’s account by warding off several objections that worry him, due mainly to Erik Carlson and Ruth Chang.

The issue of comparability returns in the next article, by Barbro Fröding and Martin Peterson. Their aim is to contribute to the discussion on the nature of choice in virtue theory. If several different actions are available to the virtuous agent, they are also likely to vary in their degree of virtue, at least in some situations. Yet, it is widely agreed that once an action is recognised as virtuous there is no higher level of virtue. Fröding and Peterson discuss how the virtue theorist could accommodate both these seemingly conflicting ideas from a modern Aristotelian perspective, as opposed to a purely exegetic one. They propose a way of resolving what seems to be a major clash between two central features of virtue ethics. Their proposal is based on the notion of parity, a concept which recently has received considerable attention in the literature on axiology. Briefly put, two alternatives are on a par (or are ‘roughly equal’) if they are comparable, although it is not the case that one is better than the other, nor that they are equally good.

In the next contribution, Andrew Jordan & Stephanie Partridge comment on Justin D’Arms & Daniel Jacobson’s argument that all extant neo-sentimentalists are guilty of a conflation error that they call the moralistic fallacy. One commits the moralistic fallacy when one infers from the fact that it would be morally wrong to experience an affective attitude—e.g., it would be wrong to be amused—that the attitude does not fit its object—e.g., that it is not funny. The authors agree with D’Arms & Jacobson that a strong moralizing of humour is wrongheaded and that jokes can be quite funny even in cases where we have a compelling moral reason to not be amused. However, the authors argue that moral considerations can be relevant for property ascription. On their view, in order for a joke to be funny, a properly sensitive agent must take herself to have a contributory reason to be amused, and in some cases that she lacks such a reason is best explained by appeal to moral considerations. The authors use this constraint as the basis of what they call a modest proposal for a modest sentimentalism.

Hanno Sauer’s contribution aims, first, to assess the evidence in favour of the claim that emotions are both necessary and sufficient for moral judgement, and, second, to show how a moderate rationalist position about moral judgement can be defended nonetheless. After presenting the experimental evidence for both the necessity- and the sufficiency-thesis, he argues that a rationalist about moral judgement can be happy to accept the necessity-thesis. His argument draws on the idea that emotions play the same role for moral judgement that perceptions play for ordinary judgements about the external world. Sauer develops a rationalist interpretation of the sufficiency-thesis and shows that it can successfully account for the available empirical evidence. The general idea is that the rationalist can accept the claim that emotional reactions are sufficient for moral judgement just in case a subject’s emotional reaction towards an action in question causes the judgment in a way that can be reflectively endorsed under conditions of full information and rationality.

In the last contribution, Shay Welch goes into feminist critique on traditional, liberal theories of consent and obligation. Though none have proposed abandoning obligation outright, there has been a general shift among feminists towards a responsibility paradigm. Responsibility models acknowledge given relationships and interdependence, and so posit responsibilities as given, regardless of whether they are voluntary. Welch argues that in theories that take freedom as a principal value, a move from a socially un-embedded voluntarism to socially embedded responsibility leaves something missing. Constructive accounts of and prescriptions for freedom must consider the reality of social life; yet acknowledging that relations are given need not require subordinating the role of voluntarism and consent in most relationships. Welch’s alternative is a commitment framework that seeks to supplant obligation while also reconciling relational given-ness and voluntarism.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyVU UniversityAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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