Ethics, Value, and Reality

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Ethics, Value, and Reality is a collection of essays written after Kolnai settled in England in 1955. These essays from Kolnai's mature years sit atop a remarkable gestation of moral and political thinking. At the heart of his thought is the special role of privilege in a good social order. Kolnai relies heavily on the work of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century value theorists such as Alexius Meinong, Nicolai Hartmann, and Max Scheler. He blends this continental tradition of ethics with British intuitionism and Scottish Enlightenment articulations. For Kolnai, ethical life cannot be adequately understood except by reference to moral emphasis, and thus, Kolnai can be thought of as a liberal conservative. He acknowledges myriad values, moral and non-moral, and accepts that all can have some claim upon us. Low values as much as high values have a legitimate claim. His is a tolerant conservatism though not for a moment does he forgo the necessity of judgment: a readily graspable hierarchy keeps the respective demands of values in proportion. Kolnai welcomes the call to seriousness, which is the hallmark of existentialism. The ground of Kolnai's thought is the idea of emotion as cognitive. He saw the typical analytical philosopher's fascination with simplicity of explanation not only thoroughly refuted by the gains in understanding wrought by phenomenological method, with its deference to the richness of phenomena, but sensed in the monistic inclination he dreaded a harbinger of totalitarianism. Never denying his emotionalism, he nonetheless made his points well enough by adopting an analytical approach to philosophy and ethics. This is a major work crossing moral and political philosophy.