Moral Anatomy and Moral Reasoning

Robert V. Hannaford

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Robert Hannaford's book answers two fundamental questions: How do we come to do what is morally demanded of us—i.e., what compels us into "acceptable acts"? And, how does our being moral emerge from what we are and how we are related to each other?

“Hannaford skillfully weaves together strands drawn both from philosophers, classical and contemporary, and from psychologists. His original yet accessible inquiry deserves careful attention, not only for its incisive argumentation, but also for its clear vision, common sense, and humanity.


“Hannaford’s suggestion that care for others must be at the root of moral reasoning and is a part of our psychological makeup is novel philosophically and carries the implication that altruism is not something that is acquired, but rather who we are as a species.

—Child Development Abstracts & Bibliography
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Hannaford shows that doing (reasoning and acting morally) and being (our "moral anatomy" or essential nature) do not exist in a vacuum but are rooted in community, in our relations with others. Moral reasoning, he argues, focuses on what we ought to do in a situation where we must consider the needs, desires, and expectations of others. "It's about doing," he explains. "We provide food and water for the victims of an urban riot or a nearby natural disaster, and when we are met by a lost child, we try to help it in finding its parents. As responsible people we [make] choices that we believe can be shown to be acceptable to others in the community. What is morally correct must reflect the judgment of the moral community."

Rejecting relativists who claim the impossibility of universal moral values, Hannaford develops a theory based on a variation of the Golden Rule. He demonstrates how our natural responsiveness to others' feelings and sufferings, our concern for other persons "conceived as like ourselves" lies at the heart of our moral anatomy and moral reasoning and ultimately guides our moral actions.