IN 1959 and 1960 I gave the Gifford Lectures in the University of St. Andrews. The lectures were called ‘Norms and Values an Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Morals and Legislation’. The present work is substantially the same as the content of the second series of lectures then advertised under the not very adequate title ‘Values’. It is my plan to publish a revised version of the content of the first series of lectures called ‘Norms’ as a separate book. The two works will be independent of one another.
I take this opportunity to express my thanks to the University of St. Andrews for honouring me with the invitation to give the Gifford Lectures and to the members of staff and students at St. Andrews with whom I was able to discuss the content of the lectures when they were in progress. Giving the lectures afforded me with an urge and opportunity to do concentrated research for which I am deeply grateful.
In the course of revising the contents of my lectures and preparing them for publication I have had the privilege of regular discussions over a long period with Professor Norman Malcolm. I am indebted to him for a number of observations and improvements and above all for his forceful challenge to many of my arguments and views.
There is very little explicit reference to current discussion and literature in this book. I hope no one will interpret this as a sign that the author wishes to ignore or belittle the work which is being done by others. It is true however that the works of the classics have provided a much stronger stimulus to my thoughts than the writings of my contemporaries. In particular have I learnt from three: Aristotle Kant and Moore. I have been successively under the spell of the Kantian idea of duty and the Moorean idea of intrinsic value. In fighting my way against Kant I was led to reject the position sometimes called ‘deontologist’ and in resisting Moore I became convinced of the untenability of value-objectivism and -intuitionism. In this largely negative way I arrived at a teleological position in which the notions of the beneficial and the harmful and the good of man set the conceptual frame for a moral ‘point of view’. Perhaps one could distinguish between two main variants of this position in ethics. The one makes the notion of the good of man relative to a notion of the nature of man. The other makes it relative to the needs and wants of individual men. We could call the two variants the ‘objectivist’ and the ‘subjectivist’ variant respectively. I think it is right to say that Aristotle favoured the first. Here my position differs from his and is I think more akin to that of some writers of the utilitarian tradition.
From what has just been said someone may get the impression that this is a treatise on ethics. It is not. (See Ch. I sect. 1.) But I think that it contains the germ of an ethics that a moral philosophy may become extracted from it. This philosophy will hardly strike one as novel in its main features. What may be to some extent new is the approach to ethics through a study of the varieties of goodness. I think that this approach is worth being pursued with much more thoroughness than I have been capable of. I hope others would find it inviting to work out in greater detail things which are here presented in the form of a first sketch.
GEORG HENRIK VON WRIGHT