Moral Foundations

An Introduction to Ethics
By Alexander Skutch
Paperback: $12.00 • ISBN: 978-0-9661908-9-2
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Moral Foundations is the last book of Alexander Skutch’s century-long life. He will be remembered, first of all, as a scientist—a naturalist, a pioneering botanist, the world’s greatest expert on Central American birds, a legend in neo-tropical ornithology. But there was and is much more to tell about this remarkable man. To some mainstream environmentalists, he will remain a controversial and even heretical figure, especially in his espousal of biocompatibility over maximal biodiversity. For others, he will live on as an unmatched writer about nature who offers us a window into a beautiful and magical world. For still others, his thoughts on morals and religion are profoundly important, especially his belief in a religion that is neither dogmatic nor mystical, a form of spirituality that is both highly original and deeply moving.

Moral Foundations is in many respects the capstone work of Dr. Skutch’s long and fruitful life. It is an ideal introduction to the pleasures of moral philosophy and offers clear and stimulating answers to many of the perennial questions that all of us face in our own lives.

About the Author

Alexander Skutch was a world-renowned tropical ornithologist, naturalist, pioneering botanist, and unmatched writer who offered readers a window into beautiful and magical natural world and a belief in a religion that is neither dogmatic nor mystical—a form of spirituality and ethics that is highly original and deeply moving. Skutch was born in Baltimore, MD and earned a doctorate in botany from Johns Hopkins University. For more than six decades and until his death in 2004, Skutch lived on a farm in Costa Rica.


One: The Science of Ethics

1. Delimitation of the Subject

2. Can Ethics Be Classified as a Science?

3. The Divisions of Ethics

4. Problems of Historical Ethics

5. The Early Flowering of Moral Ideals

6. The Slower Advance of General Practice

7. Analytic Ethics, Its Limitations and Value

Two: The Moral Quality of the Cosmos

1. The Objective Criterion of Morality

2. Examples of Continuing Harmonious Association

3. Harmonization

4. Moral Endeavor a Special Mode of Harmonization

Three: The Protomorality of Animals

1. Transition from Cosmic Moralness to Human Morality

2. Can the Conduct of Animals Ever Be Designated as Moral?

3. Intraspecific and Interspecific Morality

4. Respect for Property and Stealing

5. Relations of the Sexes

6. The Settlement of Disputes without Violence

7. Parental Behavior and the Question of Duty

8. Animal Protomorality and Human Morality

Four: Instinct, Reason, and Morality

1. Appetites and Aversions the Springs of All Voluntary Activity

2. A Comparison of Instinctive and Rational Guidance

3. How Instinct Limits Harmful Activity

4. How Reason Increases the Range of Harmful Conduct

5. Disruptive Effects of Nascent Rationality upon Human Life

6. The Fallacy of Naturalism

7. Ultimate Moral Advantages of Reason over Instinct

Five: The Structure of Moral Relations

1. The Nature of Prohibited Acts

2. The Reciprocity of Enduring Relations

3. Reciprocal Relations between Organisms of Different Species

4. Direct and Cyclic Reciprocity

5. Charity, Apparent and Real

6. Analysis of Some Reciprocally Beneficial Relationships

7. Virtue as the Stubborn Adherence to the Form of Moral Relations

8. Virtue in Daily Life and Heroic Predicaments

Six: The Innate Foundations of Morality

1. Origin of the Self-regarding Virtues in the Stresses of Animal Life

2. Origin of Benevolence in Parental Solicitude

3. Comparison of Self-regarding and Other-regarding Motives

4. Adumbrations of Sympathy in Nonhuman Animals

5. Analysis of Sympathy

6. The Complex Mental Processes Involved in True Sympathy

7. The Flowering of Sympathy

8. Love as a Moral Force

9. Reason and the Universality of Moral Imperatives

Seven: Conscience and Moral Intuitions

1. The Role of Conscience in the Moral Life

2. Two Conditions of a Quiet Conscience

3. Our Vital Need of Harmony in All Its Aspects

4. Why Awareness of Moral Lapses Brings More Acute Distress Than Disharmonies of Other Sorts

5. The Innate Preference for Harmony as the Intuitive Foundation of Morality

6. Consequent Preference for the Wider and More Perfect Harmony

Eight: Pleasures and Happiness

1. Primary Bodily Pleasures and Pains

2. Primary Mental Pleasures and Pains

3. Transition from Pleasure and Happiness

4. Instinctive Happiness and Its Vulnerability

5. The Foundations of Stoic Happiness

6. Psychological Truths Underlying Stoicism

7. Proposed Solutions of the Problem of Proportioning Happiness to Virtue

8. Final Assessment of Stoic Happiness

9. The Relation of Pleasures to Happiness

10. Is a Narrow Egoism Compatible with Happiness?

11. We Can Deny Ourselves Pleasures but Not Happiness

Nine: The Determination of Choice

1. Contrasts Between Choice and Other Modes of Determination

2. Mental Faculties Involved in Choosing

3. Choice a Unique Mode of Determination

4. The Common Measure of All Motives

5. The Ultimate Ground of Choice

6. The Compelling Power of the More Harmonious Pattern

7. Congruence of the Psychological Fact and the Moral Obligation

Ten: Moral Freedom

1. Meanings of “Freedom”

2. Confusions Which Support the Notion that Volitions are Indeterminate

3. Freedom as the Perfect Expression of Our Original Nature

4. Discussion of Certain Misunderstandings

5. Free Will and Moral Worth

6. Free Will and Self-improvement

7. Free Will and Responsibility

Eleven: Right and Wrong

1. The Importance of Analyzing Moral Terms

2. The Intrinsic Probability That Moral Notions Are Definable

3. Four Criteria of Rightness

4. The Meaning of “Right”

Twelve: Goodness

1. The Meaning of “Good” Revealed by Its Uses

2. “Good” Not an Indefinable Notion

3. Perfect Goodness

Thirteen: Ethical Judgments and Social Structure

1. Motives, Intentions, and Deeds

2. The Order of Judging Motives and Deeds

3. Characteristics of Ethical Judgments

4. The Moral Solution of Conflicts Necessitates Social Structure

5. Moral Qualities of Socially Limited and of Unlimited Relevance

6. Some Principles of Judgment

7. Veracity Considered in Relation to Social Structure

8. The Esthetic Appeal of Morality

Fourteen: Duty

1. The Relation of “Duty” to “Right” and “Good”

2. The Vital Significance of Duty

3. Duty as the Pressure of the Whole on Its Parts

4. Duty and Spontaneous Inclination

5. Verbal Signs Which Arouse the Feeling of Obligation

6. The Sense of Duty as a Conservative Rather than a Progressive Force

7. Plain-Duties, and the Possibility of Discharging Them in Full

8. Over-Duties and Their Source

9. Aberrations of the Sense of Responsibility

Fifteen: The Relativity of Good and Evil

1. Good and Evil Concepts That Arise in a Developing World

2. The Goodness of Living Things

3. Attempts At an Absolute Separation of Humanity

4. Moral Relativism and Its Transcendence

Sixteen: Characteristics of Ethical Systems

1. The Concept of an Ethic

2. Vital Impulses the Points of Departure of Every Ethic

3. Single Motive Systems Exemplified by That of Hobbes

4. The Value of Monistic Systems

5. Limitations and Dangers of Monistic Systems: the Ethics of Spinoza

6. Diverse Methods of Guiding Behavior

7. Diverse Sanctions of Conduct

8. The Plasticity of Ethical Systems

9. The Varying Scope of Ethical Systems

10. The Propagation and Survival of Ethical Systems

Seventeen: The Foundations of a Universal Ethic

1. The Necessity of Recognizing All-pertinent Motives

2. Virtues Derived from the Will to Live

3. Virtues Derived from Parental Impulses

4. Love of Beauty and Respect for Form as Moral Motives

5. Conscience the Cement of the Moral Structure

6. The Intuitive Element in Every Satisfying Ethical Doctrine

7. The Cosmological Principle and Its Correspondence with the Intuitive Principle

8. The Correspondence between Goodness and Happiness

9. The Correspondence between Self-regarding and Altruistic Motives

10. Should the Number of Individuals or Their Quality Be Our First Consideration?

11. Two Coordinate Aspirations of the Human Spirit

12. Summary