Ethical voluntarism and the grounds for moral judgments

In this paper, I argue that Slote’s agent-based virtue ethics amount to a voluntarist virtue ethics that contrasts sharply with ethical intellectualism. Ethical voluntarism is the view that a proper ordering of motives is sufficient for a moral agent to act rightly. That is, the grounds for judging whether an action is morally good or bad are found solely in our assessment of an individual’s inner motives and states. Ethical intellectualism, in contrast, maintains that moral values are independent rational constraints, and that a virtuous person does the right thing by knowing and abiding by them. I will argue that Slote’s agent-based virtue ethics falls short in two ways: (1) his argument for the relevance of the world in linking inner motivations to morally right conduct simply does not succeed, and (2) his agent-basing, or voluntarism, is unable to accommodate the real complexity of moral experiences in the way that the ethical intellectualism defended in this paper can.