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.