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The Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   623
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9" Width: 5.9" Height: 1.6"
Weight:   2.15 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 30, 2010
Publisher   Cambridge University Press
ISBN  052147938X  
EAN  9780521479387  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
The aim of this text is to set Kant's ethics in its historical context by showing in detail what the central questions in moral philosophy were for him and how he arrived at his own distinctive ethical views. The book is organized into four main sections, each exploring moral philosophy by discussing the work of many influential philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries. In an epilogue the author discusses Kant's view of his own historicity, and of the aims of moral philosophy. In its range, in its analyzes of many philosophers and in revealing the subtle interweaving of religious and political thought with moral philosophy offers an account of the evolution of Kant's ethics.

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More About J. B. Schneewind

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Schneewind is Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University.

J. B. Schneewind currently resides in the state of Maryland. J. B. Schneewind was born in 1930 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Johns Hopkins University The Johns Hopkins University The Johns Hopkin.

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Magisterial  May 12, 2007
This outstanding and remarkably learned book is a history of moral philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Schneewind's primary theme is that thought about morality evolved from an emphasis on obedience to God and was dominated by theologians to an emphasis on autonomy and thought dominated by philosophers. In a broad sense, this book is a description of the transition in moral thinking from Aquinas to Kant. While most of this book is careful description and analysis of the writing of the many contributors to the evolution of modern moral thought, Schneewind in careful to identify the birth of modern moral philosophy in the intellectual crisis that accompanied the Reformation and the great religious conflicts of the early modern period. Schneewind makes the further point that developments in moral philosophy can only be understood properly as being at least partial responses to problems of each writer's time.
Schneewind begins with the historic natural law formulations of Aquinas and some criticisms of him by later Medieval theologians. This sets the stage for the emergence of modern natural law thinkers in the early modern period. These thinkers would tend to emphasize a considerable amount of human capacity to develop moral systems. Schneewind points out that this emphasis on human capacities was to some extent prefigured and led by Machiavelli and Montaigne, both of whom, though in very different ways, pointed to independent human powers of judgement. The section on natural law theorists is followed by the rationalists and perfectionists of the 17th century, many of whom, and again in different ways, would emphasize the human capacity for reason and the possibility of human self-improvement. By the 18th century, the role of human capacity has increased and by the mid-18th century, entirely naturalistic moral formulations, such as those of Hume, various French atheists, and later Bentham emerge. Schneewind concludes with a brilliant section on Kant's German antecedents and how Kant chose from and extended prior work to develop his concept of morality as the action of a universal human autonomous will.
Running through Schneewind's narrative are a number of important subsidiary themes, such as the debates over the moral relationship between man and God, the recurrent role of the collision of Classical and Christian thought, the role of the Republican tradition that starts with Machivelli, and the emergence of philosophy as an autonomous tradition.
Written very well, this book exhibits remarkable depth of knowledge and judicious understanding of formidably difficult topics. Beyond Schneewind's description of the basic theme, it is an excellent reference source on many of the thinkers discussed in the text.
The philosophy of self-governance  Dec 15, 2002
Jerome Schneewind has tackled a big job in this massively erudite volume and done it remarkably well.

This book is a thorough history of modern moral philosophy, from roughly Thomas Aquinas to Immanuel Kant. What it traces is the development of the ideal of self-governance (the "autonomy" of the title).

And wow, is it good. It's well-written, it's scholarly without being inaccessible, and it treats the thought of every major ethical theorist (and some minor ones) of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

It's divided into four blocks. The first treats the subject of natural law, which was in philosophical fashion at the time our story opens. The second covers the "perfectionist" ethics that followed the movement away from natural law. The third treats philosophers who began to sever ethics from theology altogether and develop a "naturalized" morality. The fourth covers the last steps up to the philosophy of Kant, including his immediate forebears and the development of Kant's own concept of "autonomy".

The five-hundred-odd-page text never bogs down, either. Schneewind is a crisp and clear writer who keeps things both interesting and moving. (I especially like his half-chapter on Spinoza.)

This is somewhere between history of philosophy and philosophy of history. On the one hand, Schneewind is just reporting the historical development of ethical philosophy; on the other hand, he's also describing the philosophical arc from natural law to Kant in a way that sheds Kant's light backward onto two centuries' worth of his predecessors.

If you're interested in ethics and its history, you'll want to read this. It's hard to understand where we are and where we're going without knowing where we've been.

Indubitably good  Jan 18, 2000
I would encourage anyone who is interested in modern morality, and moral philosophy specifically, to read this judicious and profound history. Many contemporary moral problems simply aren't understandable without understanding the historical context from which they arise. A principal virtue of this book is that it is the first text - to my knowledge - which deals with the history of modern moral philosphy using the texts of moral philosophers themselves, and thereby staying away from unphilosophical forms of historicism. Also, the text makes understandable some of the problems to which "autonomy" as a current moral value is intended to address, and so helps one understand why that value has become so important in contemporary culture discourse. Deceptively readably, the proundness of this book is a tesitmony to the importance of an intellectual movement its author help to establish - that ideas themselves are important to explaining human progress, but that they need to be placed within the intellectual context from which they come. Simply put, it is that rare book - difficult to find in the current academic world - that represents the achievement of a life time of thought and teaching about modern moral philosophy, by someone who is himself a philosopher, and who those of us that know him admire.

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