Volume 75, Issue 4, Fall 2001
John M. Shea
Reason in Morals
This essay is a defense of rationally normative ethics and individualism. Communitarians remedy the shortcomings of deontology's conception of the self as disembodied, asocial, and willful by reuniting reason and desire and by regarding reason as a principle of coordination within a social or communal context. While this renders reason more efficacious than it can be on the deontological view, it still falls short of the aspiration of Western ethics for rational control over the
formation of moral judgments; reason and the individual in whom it resides are subordinated to the social. In order for there to be a truly rational norm of moral decision-making, reason must have a constitutive function. That is, reason must not only seek coordination or harmony among elements other than and beneath itself, but it must also be capable of realizing and perpetuating itself in that harmony. A certain kind of harmony is thus sought, one in which reason (self-aware, self-possessed, and self-determined agency) rules the soul. This ethical position is frankly realistic from a metaphysical point of view and is opposed to nominalistic theories of personhood. It is argued that nominalistic accounts of personhood which would exclude the unborn and others from the class of persons or rational agents are logically inconsistent.