2.25 Moral Conscience

Category: Ethics

Keywords: ethical, conscience, morality, moral, morals, ethics, conduct, morally, wrong, code, conflicts, approval, egoism, principles, conflict

Number of Articles: 669
Percentage of Total: 2.1%
Rank: 3rd

Weighted Number of Articles: 519.1
Percentage of Total: 1.6%
Rank: 11th

Mean Publication Year: 1963
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1965.2
Median Publication Year: 1965
Modal Publication Year: 1959

Topic with Most Overlap: Ordinary Language (0.0645)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Virtues (0.0588)
Topic with Least Overlap: Quantum Physics (0.00021)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Models (0.00012)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the moral consciencetopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 1896 when 4.4% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1935 when 0.2% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.25 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.64: Moral conscience.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Moral Consciencetopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 1.4%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 1.8%. Ethics - 5.3%. Philosophical Review - 1.6%. Analysis - 1.2%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 1.8%. Journal of Philosophy - 1.8%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 1.7%. Philosophy of Science - 0.2%. Noûs - 0.8%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 2.1%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 0.1%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 1897 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 4.2% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1935 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.2% of the articles.

Figure 2.65: Moral conscience articles in each journal.

Table 2.56: Characteristic articles of the moral conscience topic.
Table 2.57: Highly cited articles in the moral conscience topic.


I’ve called this moral conscience, though there are any number of other terms I could have used. Along with value, virtues and duties it forms the core of normative ethics. The division among these four topics is somewhat arbitrary, and it isn’t wrong to see them as really forming one large topic.

Not that this topic needs any extra size—it’s already either the third or eleventh largest, depending on which measure is used. Despite the rise in attention to ethics in recent years, it actually peaks in the 1950s, and declines a lot after the 1980s. I think this is due to changes in terminological fashion rather than a change in the topics being considered, but that’s a very contentious take on the literature.

It’s notable that we see some small overlap with idealism here. Usually the model is clear about which articles are, and are not, idealist. But the discontinuous array of dots to the left of the graph is driven by this generalization breaking down. We can see this in, for instance, this article by (future prime minister) Arthur Balfour.

Table 2.58: Arthur James Balfour, “The Philosophy Of Ethics.”
Subject Probability
Moral conscience 0.2110
Idealism 0.1888
Ordinary language 0.1327
Propositions and implications 0.0620
Methodology of science 0.0531
Deduction 0.0460
Thermodynamics 0.0370
Definitions 0.0325
Universals and particulars 0.0256
Justification 0.0231
Social contract theory 0.0227

This topic also features some important work by Michigan faculty, such as these papers. (I’m sure I’m missing a few here as well.)

  • Richard B. Brandt, 1950, “The Emotive Theory of Ethics,” Philosophical Review 59:305–18.
  • William K. Frankena, 1951, “Main Trends in Recent Philosophy: Moral Philosophy at Mid-Century,” Philosophical Review 60:44–55.
  • Richard B. Brandt, 1957, “Philip Blair Rice on Ethical Theory,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 17:404–11.
  • William K. Frankena, 1964, “C. I. Lewis on the Ground and Nature of the Right,” Journal of Philosophy 61:489–96.
  • William K. Frankena, 1966, “The Concept of Morality,” Journal of Philosophy 63:688–96.
  • Richard Brandt, 1972, “Rationality, Egoism, and Morality,” Journal of Philosophy 69:681–97.
  • R. B. Brandt, 1981, “The Future of Ethics,” Noûs 15:31–40.
  • William Frankena, 1988, “Hare on Moral Weakness and the Definition of Morality,” Ethics 98:779–92.
  • R. B. Brandt, 1990, “The Science of Man and Wide Reflective Equilibrium,” Ethics 100:259–78.
  • Peter Railton, 1991, “Moral Theory as a Moral Practice,” Noûs 25:185–90.
  • R. B. Brandt, 1991, “Roderick Firth’s Contribution to Ethics,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51:137–42.
  • Peter Railton, 1992, “Pluralism, Determinacy, and Dilemma,” Ethics 102:720–42.
  • Stephen Darwall, 1995, “Human Morality’s Authority,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55:941–8.
  • Stephen Darwall, 1997, “Learning from Frankena: A Philosophical Remembrance,” Ethics 107:685–705.
  • Stephen Darwall, 1999, “Sympathetic Liberalism: Recent Work on Adam Smith,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 28:139–64.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of Frankena’s most important work is not included in this study because it wasn’t in journals. So it’s nice that it gets included, by proxy at least, via Darwall’s remembrance.