Morality and Purpose
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to J. L. Stocks’s writings on moral philosophy when I was an undergraduate. Ever since I have been puzzled by the lack of attention given to his work by contemporary moral philosophers. Stocks was interested in the difference moral considerations make to human action. How do moral questions enter into our assessment of actions? Stocks could say at the time he wrote these papers, and the same could be said today, that ‘From the time of Aristotle to the present day it has been more or less common form among philosophers to regard purposive action as the summit of human achievement on the practical side. Man was the rational animal, and in the field of conduct he proved his rationality so far as he made his action a well-conceived step towards a clearly-defined end’.1 Stocks argued, however, that the importance of moral considerations, or of artistic and religious considerations for that matter, cannot be understood or accounted for in terms of purposive action. The distinction between means and ends is central in purposive action. The means are the ‘well-conceived step towards a clearly-defined end’. In themselves the means are relatively unimportant. They are important only insofar as they lead to the proposed end. A purposive view of action, then, involves taking an abstract view of action: one element in the situation is abstracted from it, namely, the end in view, and all else is made subordinate to it.
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- 1.J. L. Stocks, Morality and Purpose, ed. with an Introduction by D. Z. Phillips (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972). All references are to this work.Google Scholar
- 2.See P. R. Foot’s ‘Moral Beliefs’, Proc. Arist. Soc. LIX (1958–9)Google Scholar
- and G. E. M. Anscombe’s ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, Philosophy XXXIII (1958).Google Scholar
- 5.See Rush Rhees, ‘Some Developments in Wittgenstein’s View of Ethics’, Philosophical Review, January 1965, pp. 22–3.Google Scholar