Natural Citizens: Ethical Formation as Biological Development presents a novel view, "naturalist humanism," that applies recent scientific work challenging dichotomous views of biological development. Rather than being a passive victim of its evolutionary fate, the developing organism is an active participant, partly constructing its own ecological niche from internal and external resources. The human developmental environment, our ecological niche, has a distinctive socio-cultural character. Richard Paul Hamilton proposes that we understand the development of moral character as an integral part of biological development with the virtues construed as refinements of mundane social intelligence.
Drawing on work in 4E Cognition, Hamilton revisits the traditional idea of ethical understanding as quasi-perceptual but argues that this can only be made intelligible by taking a non-representationalist view of perception. The virtuous person has learned how to focus her attention on what enables her to live a fully human life, individually and communally. Given that not all societies are equally conducive to fully human lives, the concluding sections explore how contemporary capitalist society distorts our attention and what obstacles it places in the way of virtue. Natural Citizens highlights the unsustainable state of current social and economic relations and the urgent need for radical alternatives.
Richard Paul Hamilton is senior lecturer in philosophy and bioethics at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle.
Introduction: Naturalist Humanism
Chapter One: Why Should We Be Naturalists?
Chapter Two: Standard Naturalism, The Placement Problem and Companion in Guilt Arguments
Chapter Three: Is the Natural Goodness Approach of Philippa Foot and Michael Thompson a Suitable Candidate for Liberal Naturalism?
Chapter Four: The Possibility of a Transcendental Naturalism
Chapter Five: The Myth of The Biological Given and The Developmentalist Turn
Chapter Six: Virtues as Powers and Perfection
Chapter Seven: Virtue as Skilled Perception
Chapter Eight: Culture as Our Ecological Niche
Chapter Nine: The Burdens of Attentiveness
Chapter Ten: Can There Be Bourgeois Virtues?
Conclusion: Radical Hope and Revolutionary Virtue
Natural Citizens: Ethical Formation as Biological Development is a profound re-imagining of what it is to adopt a naturalistic stance in ethics and politics. In a wide-ranging, lucid, and very engaging discussion, Richard Hamilton demonstrates how it is possible to avoid the dichotomy of metaphysically extravagant normative realism on the one hand and dismissive or reductive naturalism on the other. Along the way he examines the biological and social basis of moral virtues and their relationship to socially embedded cognition, perception, and progressive politics.
This book is a very important contribution to virtue theory and a robust defense of a distinctive form of ethical naturalism. Rejecting both ‘standard naturalism’ of the reductivist sort, and the natural goodness approach of Foot and Thomson, Hamilton argues for a multi-disciplinary approach he calls ‘naturalist humanism.’ In interesting discussions of aspects of contemporary life sciences, he argues that ethics is not independent of our biology and our biology is not independent of the complex processes of our socio-cultural development. This work is, in my view, the most plausible form of ethical naturalism to date.