Ethics under Idealism

[to be presented at the conference on "Idealism Today," Harris Manchester College, Oxford, 18-22 July 2005.]

In his 1969 Hegelian Ethics, W.H. Walsh argues the British idealists' “most distinctive doctrines [...] are derivative, and the main source from which they drew them was Hegel” (69). In this paper, I argue that - putting aside the question of origin - the British Idealists provide both an approach and insights relevant to a constructive ethics in a world of ethnic and cultural diversity.
    After identifying a number of features characteristic of an Idealist approach to ethics, I claim that Idealism offers an unusual openness to other cultures - indeed, one finds elements of 'idealism' within a number of cultures.  The Idealist approach is also one that, unlike many today, is open to metaphysical enquiry. As an ethical theory, an idealist 'critical ethics' has many of the characteristics of a 'critical history'; as a set of ethical principles, an idealist ethics provides a means by which cross-cultural ethical dialogue may be pursued.