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Ethical Concepts ‘in Search of a Meaning’: G.H. von Wright’s Broad Framework for (Contextual) Ethics

Lassi Jakola
From the journal SATS

Abstract

This article revisits G.H. von Wright’s 1963 proposal of a ‘broad approach to ethics’ and his idea that moral goodness is a non-autonomous form of goodness ‘in search of a meaning’. In von Wright’s view, moral notions are to be examined in a broad framework consisting of various groups of ethically relevant concepts. This framework is described and some connections to Elizabeth Anscombe’s work in the late 1950s are identified. It is argued that von Wright’s broadly construed ethics provides tools for understanding contextual and temporal variation of ‘moral points of view’ and puts traditional ideas concerning the nature of moral philosophy in a new light. However, von Wright failed to draw all the consequences of his own suggestions: accordingly, it is suggested that we have to abandon his view of a philosopher as a ‘moulder’ of concepts for a more context-oriented and elucidative conception of moral philosophy.


Corresponding author: Lassi Jakola, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, E-mail:

Acknowledgments

This article is based on a presentation given in the Contextual Ethics Workshop organized at the University of Southern Denmark in November 2019. I want to thank all the participants of this memorable gathering and especially the organizers Cecilie Eriksen and Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen for their help and effective work in editing this special issue. I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for comments and for Charles Ess, Hans Fink, Peter Hacker, Lars Hertzberg and Oskari Kuusela for discussions and correspondence. Thanks are also due to Anita von Wright-Grönberg and Benedict von Wright for allowing me to quote from G.H. von Wright’s unpublished manuscripts, and to Robert Whiting for brushing up my English.

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Online erschienen: 2020-11-30
Erschienen im Druck: 2020-11-25

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