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Does Humanity Share a Common Moral Faculty?

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The history of ethics contains many moral faculty theories, which usually are sorted by their metaphysics. The usual suspects include moral rationalism (Richard Price, Kant), moral sentiment theory (Hutcheson, Hume, Smith) and the varieties of ethical naturalism. Moral faculty theories differ importantly upon yet another dimension, on how widely it is distributed. Some, the Platonic elitists (Plato, J.S. Mill, R.M. Hare), suppose that moral truth can be discerned only by philosophical argument. Hence, they ascribe a revisionary task to normative theory, that of correcting nonphilosophers' moral errors. Others, the communalists (Aquinas, Hume, W.D. Ross), hold that the moral faculty is universally distributed. Hence, they hold that normative theory's task is not to revise, but rather to discern and explain the shared moral conception that we all apply in our ordinary moral lives. I here offer arguments to support commonalism.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, Smith College Northampton, MA 01063, USA;, Email:


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