Cudworth, Prior and Passmore on the Autonomy of Ethics

  • Robin Attfield
Part of the International Archives of the History Of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 196)

According to Arthur N. Prior, certain arguments of Ralph Cudworth, in A Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality, concerning the autonomy of ethics, fare no better than corresponding later arguments of G.E. Moore on this subject. Prior further maintains that the one good argument of Cudworth in this connection concerns the non-derivability of ethical conclusions from non-ethical premises. Cudworth’s related criticisms of Thomas Hobbes are said by Prior to anticipate a later parallel critique of Hobbes on the part of John Passmore.Yet Cudworth does not write of the non-derivability of ethical conclusions from non-ethical premises (anachronistic notions all), and such arguments would in any case be of questionable validity, as I proceed to explain. Indeed a greater sensitivity to Cudworth’s concerns and context is needed for his true significance to be appreciated or, for that matter, for his stance to be subjected to relevant criticisms.


Ethical Conclusion Conceptual Truth Legitimate Authority Ethical Term Natural Justice 
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© Springer 2008

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  • Robin Attfield

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