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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 18, 2002

Truth and Objectivity in Social Ethics

William C. Pamerleau
Pages 31-43

Ethical Uncertainty, Nietzschean Freedom, and the Continuing Need for an Existential Perspective

Both existentialists and ethicists have made much of the concept of freedom. While these two camps make very different use of the concept, the relationship between the two is important: the nature and limits of freedom have an important bearing on moral responsibility, while the moral obligations to promote the development of freedom require that we understand just how free thinking is possible. In this paper, I will make some general observations about the prevailing trends in moral thought, both theoretically and culturally. I argue that now as much as in the past, existentialist descriptions of how freedom is experienced are a crucial complement to theoretical work on morality. Specifically, I argue that the uncertainty of our moral horizons and suspicions of the degree to which we are really free makes Nietzsche’s view of freedom a good fit for the ethical work that faces us in the twenty-first century.

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