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Moore (1956), p. vii.

See e.g. von Wright (1963) and Hancock (1974). Von Wright claims that metaethics and normative
ethics coincide in the search for the criteria of evaluative concepts. The practical aim of metaethical
investigation is to provide us with standards by which we judge the goodness or rightness of actions
or the justice of social institutions. Hancock remarks that it is possible to regard basic normative
principles as definitional truths in the metaethical sense. Utilitarianism, for instance, is generally
taken as a normative ethical theory. Yet it is possible to treat Mills principle of utility, according to
Poznan Studies in the Philosophy
of the Sciences and the Humanities.
2003, Vol. 80, pp. 413 444
Mikko Salmela
Analytic moral philosophy is often characterized by its meta-normative approach
to ethics. This is, of course, a very loose and indefinite identification, on the
other hand the tradition itself is loose and multifaceted, at least in its present
form. Yet there was once a stern and widely shared belief in a new, more reliable
and scientific, method of ethics. G.E. Moore expressed this belief in his famous
Principia Ethica (1903) as he claimed that the difficulties and disagreements in
ethics are mainly due to a very simple cause: namely to the attempt to answer
questions without first discovering precisely what question it is which you desire
to answer.
Analytic ethicists have often blamed their predecessors and non-analytic
contemporaries for pursuing normative ethics, or casuistry, before they have
plunged sufficiently into those delicate and fundamental problems that lie behind
the normative questions about what is a morally good life and right action. These
problems include conceptual questions about the meaning of ethical terms, such
as good, right, and ought; logical problems about the nature of ethical rea-
soning and argumentation; and epistemological troubles concerning the possibil-
ity of knowledge and justification in ethics. These sort of problems kept analytic
ethicists occupied until the rise of applied ethics in the 1970s, although many of
them were also anxious to deny the supposed neutrality of metaethical research
and emphasize the essential connections and interrelations between metaethical
and traditional normative investigation.
Yet the dominance of metaethical,
Mikko Salmela
which acts are right in proportion as they tend to increase happiness, as an answer to the metaethical
question What is the meaning of the term right?
See Fllesdal (1997). Fllesdal considers several criteria in order to distinguish analytic philosophy
from other currents of modern philosophy, such as phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics,
structuralism, deconstructivism, neo-Thomism, neo-Kantianism, and neo-Marxism. Fllesdal claims
that analytic philosophy cannot be characterized by reference to some method, doctrines, problems,
or schools. It has, however, been strongly concerned with argument and justification. This means that
the analytic/non-analytic distinction runs across the traditional classification of contemporary
philosophy. One can be an analytic philosopher and also a phenomenologist, existentialist, her-
meneuticist, Thomist, etc. Whether one is an analytic philosopher depends on what importance one
ascribes to argument and justification. There are, for example, phenomenologists who are more
analytic, and others who are less, argues Fllesdal (1997, p. 14). His own example of a very analytic
phenomenologist is Edmund Husserl. In a like manner, I shall in this paper consider Erik Ahlman, an
ethicist of phenomenological and existentialist background, as a precursor of analytic moral
philosophy in Finland. My reason for distinguishing Ahlman from the other Finnish phenom-
enologists, such as J.E. Salomaa and Sven Krohn, is because problems of meaning and justification
in ethics have occupied him more than his colleagues. Still, if we apply Leila Haaparantas (1998)
criterion concerning general attitudes towards logic and metaphysics as a means of separating
analytical from phenomenological philosophers, then there is no doubt that Ahlman belongs to the
latter group. Also see Haaparantas contribution to this volume.
Westermarck held academic chairs both in Finland and England. First, in 1906, he was invited to the
Chair of Practical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. A year later he was nominated to the
recently established Chair of Sociology at the University of London. In 1919 Westermarck left his
chair in Helsinki in order to become the Professor of Philosophy and the President at the recently
established Swedish university of Turku, bo Akademi. He retired from his chairs in London and
bo in 1930.
especially argumentative and justificatory, questions over normative pursuits
remained characteristic to analytic moral philosophy throughout the century,
compared with other approaches of contemporary ethics, such as neo-Thomist,
phenomenological, existentialist, or Marxist ethics.
I shall, therefore, take this
metaethical approach as my touchstone in my search for analytic moral phi-
losophy in Finland.
There are three main traditions in Finnish moral philosophy in the 20th
century. The most well-known ethicist of Finnish origin is no doubt Edward
Westermarck (1862 1939), whose concise article Descriptive and Normative
Ethics is also reprinted in this volume. Westermarck was not only a philosopher,
but also one of the leading sociologists and anthropologists of his time.
are some typically analytical concerns in his ethics, such as the meaning of moral
concepts, and the epistemological nature of moral judgments. However, Wester-
marck regarded himself primarily as an empirical scientist, whose main interest
was, echoing the title of his magnum opus, the origin and development of moral
ideas. Westermarcks principal aim was to reveal the factual, i.e. psychological
and sociological elements that constitute our moral evaluation. Therefore, even
if analytic philosophers have often read Westermarck from a logical-cum-
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
According to Stroup (1982, p. 208), to view Westermarck pre-eminently offering an account of the
meaning of moral judgments is a distortion of the nature of his inquiry. Westermarck did not
maintain that moral judgments can be reduced or translated into statements about the equivalent
emotional tendencies of the speaker. He used these verbs only rarely, and clearly not in their modern
logical sense. He rather explained, in a psychological sense, that moral judgments are based on or
express moral emotions.
Rolf Lagerborg was the most original of Westermarcks Finnish pupils in ethics. His sociological
ethics combines elements from Westermarck and Emile Durkheim. See Lagerborg (1937).
See note 3 above.
Tenkku is the only person who has held all the chairs of practical philosophy in Finland: first at the
University of Jyvskyl (1965 1968); then at the University of Turku (1968 1972); and finally at the
University of Helsinki (1973 1980).
semantic perspective, their interpretations have not always done justice to
Westermarcks intentions, as Timothy Stroup has pointed out in his Wester-
marcks Ethics (1982).
Westermarcks scientific approach to ethics inspired
his countrymen Rolf Lagerborg (1878 1956), Gunnar Landtman (1878 1940),
and Rafael Karsten (1879 1956). However, their academic interests coincided
more with Westermarcks sociological and anthropological pursuits.
Westermarcks sociological ethics never quite became established in Finland.
The second tradition in Finnish moral philosophy is the phenomenological
ethics of value. This continentally oriented movement flourished in the first half
of the century with J.E. Salomaa (1891 1960), Erik Ahlman (1892 1952), and
Sven Krohn (1903 1999) as its leading exponents. Salomaa and Krohn relied
extensively on German phenomenologists Max Scheler (1874 1928) and Nicolai
Hartmann (1882 1950). Ahlman, too, started with ethical intuitionism. His
persistent doubts about the epistemological validity of phenomenological intui-
tion led him, however, to agree with Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 1951) and
logical positivists on the noncognitive nature of moral judgments. As a profes-
sional philologist Ahlman also sympathized with and shared these philosophers
semantic and logical interests in the language of morals. These aspects bring
Ahlman sufficiently near to analytic moral philosophy in order to be considered
as one of its precursors in Finland.
Analytic moral philosophy proper was introduced to Finland by Georg Henrik
von Wright (b. 1916) in the 1950s. Von Wright acted at this time also as a Pro-
fessor of Practical (moral and social) Philosophy at the University of Helsinki,
and the ideas he put forward in his famous Gifford lectures at the University of
St. Andrews in 1959 1960 and later in The Varieties of Goodness (1963) and
Norm and Action (1963), matured during these years. Another prominent figure
was Jussi Tenkku (b. 1917), whose influence was mainly as a teacher. He had
studied philosophy in the United States at the Universities of Boston, Columbia,
and Harvard after World War II.
Tenkku specialized in the history of ethics, but
Mikko Salmela
Tenkkus publications in English include the dissertation The Evaluation of Pleasure in Platos
Ethics (1956) and Are Single Moral Rules Absolute in Kants Ethics? (1967). Tenkku also published
in Finnish a treatise on moral philosophy in Ancient Times and the Middle Ages.
Von Wright recognized this fact in his preface to The Varieties of Goodness. He there wrote that
this treatise contains the germ of an ethics, that a moral philosophy may become extracted from it.
See also William Frankenas detailed article Von Wright on the Nature of Morality (1989) in The
Philosophy of Georg Henrik von Wright in which he tries to carry out this extraction from von
Wrights texts.
his disciples include Timo Airaksinen (b. 1947), who is Tenkkus successor at
the University of Helsinki, and the leading contemporary ethicist in Finland.
G.H. von Wrights ethical thought developed under two charismatic teachers:
Eino Kaila (1890 1958) and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Both rejected the idea of
ethics as a truly philosophical or scientific discipline, even though if Kaila
touched upon some metaethical and normative issues in his psychology and in his
less rigorous philosophy of life. Von Wright has, of course, far exceeded Kailas
contributions in ethics. However, he resembles Kaila in not having produced a
full-fledged theory of ethics.
It is, therefore, consistent to treat their ethical
views as a distinct phase that precedes the extensive breakthrough of analytic
moral philosophy in Finland in the 1980s. Although different in philosophical
outlook, Erik Ahlman, Eino Kaila, and G.H. von Wright share the metaethical
emphasis in their quest of the morally good life.
Erik Ahlman began his academic career as a classical philologist. He received his
doctorate from the University of Helsinki in 1916 with a dissertation titled Das
lateinische Prfix com- in Verbalzusammensetzungen. A strong inner urge at-
tracted him, however, toward philosophy which gradually exceeded his
philological interests during the 1920s. In 1926 Ahlman was appointed Docent of
Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, and in 1935 he was appointed the first
Professor of Philosophy and Theoretical Pedagogics at the recently founded
Jyvskyl Institute of Pedagogics (later the University of Jyvskyl). In 1948
Ahlman returned to Helsinki as Professor of Practical Philosophy, but a terminal
illness put an end to his life in 1952. Ahlman published seven books and several
articles on philosophy, mainly on ethics, philosophy of culture, and philosophical
anthropology. Although some of them are rather well known in Finland, the fact
that they were written in Finnish has denied Ahlmans critical and fresh ideas an
international audience.
Erik Ahlman is one of those philosophers, along with Plato, Bertrand Russell,
and A.N. Whitehead, not to mention several others, whose thought contains two
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
von Wright (1989b), p. 16.
Ahlman refers to Kants Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals according to which moral law
descends from unserem eigentlichen Selbst. He also compares his varsinainen min to Max
Schelers Persnlichkeit and Sren Kierkegaards selv.
Ahlmans philosophical workbook 29.3.1936.
parallel but divergent veins. The first is analytic, acute, and logical; the other is
synthetic, speculative, and metaphysical. This dualism originally converged with
young Ahlmans two academic subjects, philology and philosophy. Consequent-
ly, Ahlmans first, unprofessional contributions to philosophy were speculative
metaphysics la Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 1860) and Henri Bergson (1859
1941), from whom he received his earliest influences. Later in the 1920s, as
philosophy took priority over philology in Ahlmans career, the two veins began
to merge in his philosophy.
G.H. von Wright has characterized G.E. Moore by saying that Moore
exemplified a rare combination of deep-rooted, almost dogmatic philosophical
convictions and living doubt about any argument to defend them or to prove them
The description would also fit Erik Ahlman. There is a deep intuitive
confidence in the existence of a metaphysical self or Selbst
[in Finnish, varsi-
nainen min], whose individually valid and absolute values can be disclosed by
a veracious introspection. At the same time, there are also strong and persistent
doubts about the epistemological validity of phenomenological intuition and its
capacity to yield ethical knowledge. Ahlman ends up rejecting both cognitivism
and objectivism in his critical intuitionism, which combines elements from
phenomenological, existentialist, emotivist, and even postmodern ethics. Non-
cognitive intuitionism is a rare position, but Ahlman supports it with semantic
and epistemological arguments. It is in these arguments, set forth primarily in an
extensive article Arvoarvostelmista (On Value Judgments, 1929), that the
analytic turn of Ahlmans thought comes to the fore.
Ahlman agrees that there is a semantic difference between factual and value
judgments. It is true that moral judgments often look like factual statements in
their grammatical form. This is a beautiful painting looks like the sentence
This is a yellow painting, he remarks. Yet the function of value judgments
resembles imperatives and emotive outbursts that are neither true nor false. Does
this mean that Ahlman commits himself to the emotivist translation of evaluative
concepts into ejaculations that express ones emotions and evoke others to emote
likewise? Yes, to the extent that value judgments do not describe moral proper-
ties of persons, actions, policies, etc. They are always partly desires, commands,
suggestions, Ahlman admits.
His account for the noncognitivity of moral
judgments differs, however, substantially from emotivism.
Mikko Salmela
Edward Westermarck makes the same point in his Ethical Relativity (1932, p. 107). He remarks that
moral disapproval may be evoked by the very sounds of words such as murder, theft,
cowardice, and others which not merely indicate but also express the opprobrium attached to it.
Ahlman (1929), pp. 91 101. Ahlmans account resembles the exposition of the logical nature of
moral judgments that G.H. von Wright put forward in his paper Om moraliska frestllningarnas
sanning (1954). See chapter 4 in this paper.
Ahlman (1929), p. 70.
Ibid., p. 71.
Ahlman observes that there are concepts in every language whose meaning
includes an evaluation. It does matter whether we refer to a group of humans as
people, commoners, or rabble. The referent, i.e. the factual content of the
word, a group of humans, remains almost the same, but there is a very different
evaluation attached to each concept.
Ahlman claims that such ethical and
aesthetic terms as good, evil, valuable, invaluable, right, wrong,
beautiful, and ugly are totally devoid of factual content. They have no other
meaning than the evaluative one that is based on emotion. Therefore, the question
Is it true that this intention is good? is not meaningful until we provide the
evaluative concept good with a descriptive translation. There are two ways to
proceed. Either we give the concept a psychological or sociological translation
according to which good means approved by me or approved by people in
general. Or we relate good to a norm, and define it as compatible with a
moral norm. Neither translation, however, succeeds in establishing moral truths.
The former translation fails because psychological and sociological translations
eliminate the normative feature of the original statement. Descriptive truths about
moral evaluation are not moral truths. The latter translation entails a semantic
problem. It may be true or false that a singular moral judgment complies with the
fundamental norm, but the norms themselves are neither true nor false.
even though we see no reason to apply the term true to value judgments, one
will not exclude the possibility that they might still be correct or objectively
valid in some sense.
Ahlman here refers to the intuitionist theory of justifica-
tion applied by the phenomenologists.
The epistemological troubles of ethical intuitionism culminate in the jus-
tification of fundamental moral norms. Ahlman suggests, along with phenomeno-
logical ethicists, that fundamental moral principles are evaluations qualified with
evidence. We shall have to begin with a sentence that is both evaluation and
norm at the same time: an evaluation from the psychological point of view and a
norm from a logical point of view.
Ahlmans discussion reveals, however, the
problems with which this account is shot through. The problems of emotional
evidence are threefold: they concern the valuing subject, the object of valuation,
and the content of valuation.
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
Ibid., p. 75.
Ahlmans criticism resembles here Edward Westermarcks scorn of intuitionism in his Ethical
Relativity (1932). Westermarck exposes fundamental disagreements in the views of highly respected
intuitionists, such as Henry Sidgwick and G.E. Moore. According to Sidgwick, the proposition that
pleasure is the only rational ultimate end of action is an object of intuition; according to Dr. Moore,
also a professor of philosophy, the untruth of this proposition is self-evident. The latter finds it self-
evident that good cannot be defined; but others, who have no smaller claim to the epithet of moral
specialists, are of the very contrary opinion. Westermarck, therefore, concludes that in the case of
moral principles enunciated as self-evident truths disagreement is rampant.
Ahlman (1929), p. 77.
See e.g. Scheler (1973, p. 255): There is a type of experiencing whose objects are completely
inaccessible to reason; It is a kind of experience that leads us to genuinely objective objects and
the eternal order among them, i.e. to values and the order of ranks among them. And the order and
laws contained in this experience are as exact and evident as those of logic and mathematics; that is,
there are evident interconnections and oppositions among values and value-attitudes and among the
acts of preferring, etc., which are built on them, and on the basis of these a genuine grounding of
moral decisions and laws for such decisions is both possible and necessary.
First, it is difficult to determine the real subject of moral valuation. People
seem to change their valuation of the same object from one time to another.
There may even exist divergent and opposite valuations in different layers of
ones self. Which of these valuations is, then, the authentic valuation of the
subject?, asks Ahlman.
The evidence may also be self-deceptive, and there is
no way to ascertain that this is not the case. Even worse is the fact that my
evidence, which is a certain psychological content, is likely to fade away as I
subject it to critical scrutiny. Further still, it seems that evident valuations vary
with people, including intuitionist philosophers.
Secondly, it is extremely
difficult to determine the proper object of valuation. Emotion, will, and imagi-
nation shape and mold objects of valuation, bringing always different aspects to
the fore. Therefore, as we later value some object unlike before, this is mainly
due to more accurate or new knowledge of it. We do not, then, value exactly the
same object.
All these problems shook Ahlmans confidence in the phenom-
enological Wesenschau according to which value-essences and their preference
relations [Rangordnung] can be determined with exact and immediate cer-
Ahlmans solution to the epistemological problems of intuitionism was non-
cognitivism. It is based on a kind of existential or prescriptivist moral commit-
ment. A sincere and earnest commitment is the only method by which we can
justify our moral principles after the intuitionist verification has proved to be
insufficient. To be sure, intuitions are there, but it is up to our choice what to do
with them, where to rest the case about their authenticity and when to resume
Mikko Salmela
Life-world (Lebenswelt) is not Ahlmans own expression. Instead, he uses human situation or
human condition. The notion of life-world originates, naturally, from Edmund Husserls Die
Krisis der europischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phnomenologie (1936), to which
Ahlman does not explicitly refer.
Ahlman (1953), pp. 88 89.
Ahlman (1925), p. 146.
Saamisen ksitteen suhde pitmisen ksitteeseen (On the Relation of the Notions may and
ought), Ajatus 11, 1942. Ahlmans paper differs from G.H. von Wrights famous exposition of
deontic logic not only on account of its informal approach but also because of the things that are
pronounced obligatory, permitted, and forbidden. Von Wright (1957) states that these are acts, but
Ahlman seems to assume that these notions can be applied to both acts and facts.
action on some of them. Since act and value we must, that is our existential lot in
the human life-world.
The self ends up standing on its own. It is incapable of receiving any ultimate
support beyond itself. This is the human lot. It is only on this condition that a
human can be a human being. I have said that the discovery of objective
morality would annihilate morals in the most rigorous sense of the word, and I
still hold on to this claim. (Let it be admitted that if we strain the demand for
humanity so far that we must know the problematic nature of all morals and
yet act morally it is not easy to be a human being. But one can answer by
saying that it is should not be easy.)
In a sense it is, however, misleading to call Ahlmans noncognitivism his
solution to the epistemological problems of intuitionism glanced through
above. It may, rather, turn out that noncognitivism was his original position from
which he launched his critique toward intuitionism, in spite of his constant
sympathies with it. There is much textual evidence to support this interpretation.
The most crystallized statement is perhaps an early aphorism from 1925. Ahlman
sounds here like the postmodern ethicists Emmanuel Levinas (1906 1995) and
Zygmunt Bauman as he claims that if it was possible to justify morals, the result
would be extinction of morals.
Ethical commitment without objective
grounds might, thus, be no defeat after all. On the contrary, Ahlman seems to
have entertained a thought that it is the only method by which we can reach our
supposed metaphysical self, if there is one. It is an essential feature of morals
that it cannot be justified. It is just through this fact that morals is connected with
our deepest self, hints Ahlman in his unpublished workbook in 1936.
Ahlmans most obvious contribution to analytic moral philosophy in Finland
is, however, a short paper on the logic of deontic and evaluative concepts.
Ahlman was not familiar with formal logic, and his arguments are mainly di-
rected against neo-Kantian logicians and Husserl. Husserl claimed that the
notions of ought to (sollen) and must not (soll nicht) are the basic deontic
concepts from which the notions of do not have to (muss nicht) and allowed
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
Ahlman (1942); (1938), pp. 27 36.
von Wright (1979), p. xxiv.
to (drfen) can be deduced by negation. Ahlman rejects this attempt because
the latter are only contraries of the former notions, not contradictories, as Husserl
suggests. His own solution accepts both obligation and permission as basic
deontic categories. A must not be B implies that A ought not to be B, and A
does not have to be B is equivalent to A is allowed not to be B. He also
accepts Heinrich Rickerts test for distinguishing value concepts from other
concepts. If the negation of a concept yields two concepts either of which is a
value concept, then the concept itself is also evaluative. Finally, Ahlman employs
both this criterion and the earlier one about the deontic categories to prove that
indifferent is a genuine value concept. If something is not indifferent, it is
either valuable or worthless. Indifferent is also something that is allowed to be or
does not have to be, while its negation either ought to be or must not be. Both
these arguments intend to establish the conclusion that it is not legitimate to infer
any permissions or claims about indifference from scientific, i.e. factual premises
only. The value-neutrality of science means therefore, unlike many laymen but
also some scientists have tended to think, that it is beyond both indifference and
Eino Kaila is perhaps the most influential philosopher in Finland in the 20th
century. He distinguished himself in both philosophy and psychology, and his
academic legacy set the course for an entire generation of Finnish scholars, both
scientists and humanists. As an outstanding scholar and a most accomplished
lecturer Kaila conveyed fresh ideas and approaches to Finland. These included
experimental psychology, Gestalt theory, the psychology of personality, philo-
sophical and mathematical logic, and logical empiricism, all of which merged
with the broader mainstream of analytic philosophy after World War II. Kaila
thus became the originator of analytic philosophy in Finland, in spite of the fact
that he disliked the label analytic. This antipathy sprang from his lifelong
search for a synthetic philosophy that would unify the findings and theories of
modern science.
G.H. von Wright has claimed that Kailas intellectual temperament was such
that he could not get deeply interested in problems of moral philosophy . It is
characteristic that he approached the subject matters of practical philosophy in
the first place with a psychological interest, not with logical or epistemological
Mikko Salmela
Ibid., p. xxiii.
Stenius (1964), p. 1.
Niiniluoto (1990), p. 15.
Russell (1946), p. 724.
ones, maintains von Wright.
Erik Stenius (1911 90), another established pupil
of Kaila, has in a similar tenor associated Kaila with pre-Socratic philosophies of
nature, in opposition to Socratic moral, social, and political philosophy.
Niiniluoto (b. 1946) also suggests that Kailas interest in the philosophy of nature
connected him primarily with aesthetics instead of ethics.
I have no intention to
refute these estimations, but I still hold that there are some fundamental ethical
issues in Kailas thought, although it is true that he deals with them more often in
a psychological and rhetorical, rather than, an analytic manner.
Eino Kailas relation to ethics was somewhat problematic. On one hand he
stressed that severe and scientific philosophy is limited to epistemological and
logical analysis of scientific theories and concepts. He also emphasized the need
for a synthetic philosophy of nature that would unify the findings and theories of
science. In this major project problems of human behavior belonged primarily to
the domains of biology and psychology. On the other hand, Kaila is also known,
at least in Finland, as the author of Syvhenkinen elm [The Depths of Spiri-
tual Life] and as an influential contributor to the cultural debate of his time. The
problem lies in the fact that Kaila never explained the relation of these normative
pursuits to his scientific philosophy. Is Syvhenkinen elm a contribution to
philosophy, and if it is, what kind of philosophy does it represent?
The same question has also troubled other philosophers of analytic origin.
One of them is Bertrand Russell, who published several essays, for instance on
marriage and morals, war and peace, or education. As an emotivist he confessed
that his moral judgments express his own desires and evoke similar desires in his
readers. Yet, Russell was ready to admit that this is not an appropriate rendering
of our moral experience. In opposing the proposal [to introduce bull-fighting to
this country] I should feel, not only that I was expressing my desires, but that my
desires in the matter are right, whatever that may mean, he wrote.
I assume
that Kaila was faced with a similar dilemma, although he does not concede his
discontent with emotivism as readily as Russell. I claim, however, that we can
derive this fact from the various perspectives that Kaila provides on moral
There are four interconnected accounts of the nature and justification of
moral judgments in Kailas philosophy. The first, the emotivist one, is suggested
as part of his general critique of metaphysics. Kaila joined the logical positivists
venture to purge philosophy from meaningless sentences that cannot be verified
by either empirical or logical investigation. For this purpose he introduced the
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
Kaila (1942), p. 50 / Ahlman (1938), p. 34. Original italics.
Kailas conclusion is not altogether consistent with Ahlmans account. Ahlman tries to make a
distinction between ordinary feelings and cognitive feelings of value. This distinction is quintes-
sential to the phenomenological ethics that Ahlman knew very well. Max Scheler, for instance, makes
a distinction between passive feeling-states (Gefhlzustnde) and active, intentional feelings
(Fhlen von etwas), the latter being the source of ethical knowledge.
Kaila (1942), p. 53.
Kaila (1942), p. 52. Original italics.
Principle of Testability. It states that the real content of a synthetic sentence is
the sum total of the testable sentences which it implies. Synthetic sentences that
lack testable implications are empty and meaningless, in spite of the fact that they
may make grammatical sense. Kailas examples of meaningless sentences in-
clude metaphysical theories about the ultimate nature of reality, phenomenologi-
cal talk about essences, and ethical claims about objective and absolute values.
The explicit target of Kailas criticism is the ethical theory sketched by Erik
Ahlman in his treatise on axiological metaphysics, Olemassaolon jrjellisyys
arvometafyysillisen ongelmana [in German: Der Sinn des Daseins als wert-
metaphysisches Problem] (1938). Kaila holds that Ahlmans theory is crystal-
lized in the sentence, according to which the fact that I feel that a thing is
valuable or unvaluable does not imply that it really is valuable or unvaluable.
Kaila finds the quoted sentence meaningless in this particular theory, because the
author i.e. Ahlman, to whom Kaila does not explicitly refer also suggests
that our legitimate value judgments are based on special feelings of value. But if
our feelings satisfy the demand of testability of value judgments, nothing can be
valuable irrespective of feelings. Therefore, Kaila concludes that the quoted sen-
tence is meaningless.
He then proceeds to provide an emotivist account of these
kinds of sentences.
Kaila agrees with the phenomenologist Max Scheler that values are given as
objective features of things in our natural, unreflected experience. This phe-
nomenal objectivity of values is, however, perfectly consistent with their func-
tional subjectivity: values are based on our emotional and motivational structure,
which varies substantially between persons. This noncognitive origin of values
explains the empirical relativity of value judgments. It also reveals that a claim
about the being of values in spite of our evaluative feelings
, pace Ahlman, is
not a genuine statement but a noncognitive expression of needs, wants, and
feelings. Kaila goes even as far as to equate value judgments with political
propaganda that employs incentives, suggestions, imperatives, signals in one
way or another (instead of symbols).
Rejection of Ahlmans theory implies that Kaila does not accept moral real-
ism. It is noteworthy to stress that it does not entail total rejection of normative
ethics. Kaila does not deny the testability of value judgments; he only blames
Mikko Salmela
Kaila (1986), p. 188.
Kaila (1986), p. 189.
Kaila (1990), p. 92.
Kaila (1986), p. 189. Original italics.
Ilkka Niiniluoto (1986, p. 25) suggests this pragmatic interpretation in his preface to the third
reprint of Syvhenkinen elm.
Ahlmans account for contradiction. A closer look suggests that Kaila does not
even attack the possibility of moral justification, but a more limited ontological
issue concerning the existence or being of values. This brings out the question
whether the principle of testability could somehow be applied to value judg-
Practical testability is Kailas second approach to the justification of moral
judgments. It is an attempt to widen the limits of meaningful language toward
metaphysical and religious beliefs, whose real content is narrow or empty, but
which may still motivate our action.
Therefore, Kaila suggests that outlooks on
life are testable by the results that they achieve by motivating action. A tree is
known by its fruit. Those outlooks are good whose fruit is good.
The origin of
this pragmatic point goes back to Kailas formative years as a philosopher when
he was influenced by William James. Already in 1912 he wrote that we may
tolerate metaphysical beliefs if they are necessary in order to reach the highest
values of life.
This pragmatic criterion does not, however, remove the prob-
lems concerning the acceptability of religious and metaphysical beliefs.
Kailas account of practical testability turns into an ethical question about the
consequences of our action. True is that which is good. An outlook on life is
true, i.e. acceptable, in so far as adherence to it leads to acceptable conse-
quences, writes Kaila.
His standards of acceptable consequences include such
spiritual values as love of ones neighbor, truth, beauty, nobility, justice, piety,
and holiness. These values are fundamental for Kaila in the sense that we cannot
test their acceptability by referring to consequences that have been brought about
by such metaphysical beliefs that are committed to these values, because our
argument would turn out to be circular. No remedy is provided by a pragmatic
adjustment according to which spiritual values can be justified by the useful
consequences they motivate us to bring about.
This interpretation runs into a
problem when we should set the criteria for useful consequences. If we end up
defining them as spiritual values, as we are most likely to do with Kaila, the
problem of justification remains. Therefore, the idea of practical testability does
not seem to solve the problem of moral justification.
The fullest statement of Kailas position in ethics is contained in the address
which he delivered on the occasion of the inauguration of the Academy of
Finland in 1948. In this paper he suggests that the core of morality is the Golden
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
Kaila (1992), pp. 453 454. See also Kaila (1986), pp. 279 281.
Kaila (1992), p. 454.
Kaila (1992), p. 453; (1986), p. 280.
Kaila (1992), p. 456.
Kaila (1992), p. 457; cf. Kaila (1986), pp. 280 281.
Kaila (1986), p. 281. Original italics. Cf. Kaila (1992), pp. 456 457.
Kaila (1992), p. 456. Original italics.
En gestaltpsykologisk betraktelse ver moral-filosofins centralproblem, Tidskrift fr psykologi
och pedagogik 3, 1947.
Rule, a norm of reciprocity among people. This norm is shared by several devel-
oped systems of morality, including Christianity, Hinduism and Kantianism, as
well as positive moralities of different cultures. Its demands for equal treatment
has an empirical foundation on the account of the fact that human beings occupy
roughly symmetrical positions in the field of social relationships.
Kaila admits
that in so far as our sense of morals and justice has some objective foundation,
this foundation lies in the principle expressed by the Greeks as equally to
He even admits that the Golden Rule seems to possess objective
validity and peculiar self-evident truth.
From these remarks Kaila concludes
that the principle of reciprocity may even be theoretically, objectively
The rational foundation of morality cannot, however, provide a foundation for
any theory of normative ethics. The principle of reciprocity cannot function as a
guiding norm to the question Who is my neighbor?, i.e. whom should we treat
Kaila agrees with his famous countryman Edward Westermarck that
the boundaries of the community of neighbors have tended to widen in the
course of history. Yet every individual differs from every other person, and there
appears to be no objective criteria for telling morally significant similarities and
differences from insignificant ones. It is evident that instinct, emotion, and
drives and not by any means knowledge determine the social field that
through my conscience sets certain demands on me, contends Kaila.
He thus
ends up agreeing with the conclusion he attributes to Westermarck and other
profound thinkers, according to which there is no theoretical, objective,
scientific justification and proof for any morality or justice.
It may well be that Kaila put forth his ideas about the central problems of
moral philosophy from the standpoint of Gestalt psychology, as a paper of this
title suggests
, and that the analytic approach to ethics as the logical study of the
language of morals was unfamiliar to him. Yet it is possible to raise a question:
Could the principles of reciprocity and symmetry (of people in the field of social
relationships) also qualify as logical features of the moral point of view? If this
is the case, if these features urge us to view morality in a certain light, then
Kailas characterization can be seen as a kind of contribution to analytic and nor-
Mikko Salmela
G.H. von Wright (1996, pp. 4 5) has in a recent manuscript suggested a parallel interpretation of
Westermarcks ethics. I, therefore, owe my interpretation of Kaila to him.
Kaila (1992), p. 412.
Kaila (1992), p. 421.
Bergson (1944, p. 113) speaks about an original impetus, that has carried life by more and
more complex forms to higher and higher destinies. Kaila was influenced by Bergson in his youth,
although he rejected vitalism quite quickly. Bergsonian views, however, continued to influence him
mative ethics. It contributes to normative ethics in the sense that it proposes
certain standards for the concept of morality, instead of merely discovering them
through some kind of empirical investigation.
Kaila would also be correct in his
remark that logical investigation alone is incapable of answering the question
Who is my neighbor? On the other hand, Kaila seems to deny the conceptual
autonomy of the moral point of view when he explains the demands of moral
sense as expressions of ones position in the social field.
If the analysis of reciprocity has revealed a slight inclination toward norma-
tive ethics in Kailas thought, further elaborations toward it can be found in his
psychological writings about the spiritual life. The Finnish expression syv-
henkinen elm is a celebrated neologism that Eino Kaila invented for his scien-
tific and artistic purposes. It is often rendered as spiritual life in English, but
this translation (a literal translation of syvhenkinen would be deep-spiritual)
does not capture the rich and deep variety of aesthetic, ethical, and religious,
even scientific, phenomena and meanings Kaila covers with this concept.
The concept of spiritual life has two basic functions in Kailas thought. On
the one hand, the need for spiritual life provided Kaila a psychological explana-
tion for the various normative and traditionally esteemed fields of human experi-
ence, such as the arts, religion, and morality. This descriptive meaning of spiri-
tual life was an essential part of Kailas lifelong project to establish a monistic
philosophy of nature. On the other hand, Kaila was reluctant to reduce the ex-
perienced normativity of spiritual phenomena to their psychological explana-
tion. In this latter meaning spiritual life became a unifying normative ideal in
Kailas philosophy of life. The enchantment of spiritual life embraces the
highest values that a human life as a whole can possess, he even declared.
Although Kaila rejected metaphysical and religious speculations about
universal moral law, his own scientific theory of the development of spiritual
life resembles such metaphysical theories as Hegels idealism or Bergsons
vitalism. They are both confident that the highest values will be realized in the
future course of history. The hero of Kailas account of history is biological
life. During billions of years it has created ever more spiritual, i.e. complex,
sophisticated, and organized structures and forms of life.
Kaila cites biological
and physiological facts to support his theory, but his account of the dynamic
impetus of life also shares some Bergsonian features.
Kaila, for instance,
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
as a kind of antithesis to his naturalism. Ample evidence of their presence in Kailas thought is
included in his Syvhenkinen elm [The Spiritual Life. Discussions on the Ultimate Questions.
1943] This is a semi-popular work in which Kaila discusses various issues of the philosophy of life.
The book consists of dialogues between two interlocutors, an artist and a scientist. These characters
represent two sides of Kailas personality, as he readily admits in the preface. Bergsonian ideas are
entertained by the artist Aristofilos, but they are firmly rejected by Kailas favorite alter ego, the
scientist Eubulos.
Kaila (1992), p. 421. A similar account can be found in Syvhenkinen elm. Kaila (1986, p. 282)
explains that he believes from a field-theoretical basis in a certain kind of reason in the evolution
of mankind.
Kaila (1992), p. 444. My italics.
See Kaila (1986), p. 174.
Kailas unpublished letter to Allan Sandstrm 8.3.1947. My translation and italics.
See Kaila (1942a). Kailas sympathy with Hegel and Snellman is based on the holistic traits in their
thought. Kaila suggests that we may interpret the Hegelian view of social life with the assistance of
modern holistic biology. Hegelian concepts like objective mind [Objektiver Geist] or national
assures his readers that the law-like evolution of biological life also guarantees
the development of spiritual life in the future.
Facts do not imply norms or values, as the well-known principle of ethics
states. Kaila agrees with this principle, as he writes that I have in several pub-
lications employed the term spirituality to coin the highest degrees of human
existence, not as an evaluation, but in a sense that, so it seems to me, can be
defined biologically.
Yet on other occasions, he seems to approach ethical
naturalism, according to which moral facts can be founded on non-moral facts.
Kailas favorite version of naturalism is evolutionist ethics.
There is no doubt that Kaila preferred spiritual life to a life concentrated
around the satisfaction of primitive needs or drives. The superiority of the former
way of life is based on its higher level on the scale of biological evolution.
scale also provides the standard for values.
The eventual value and meaning of life may only be founded on an ever
continuing rise of value, a never-ending conquest of new values, higher than
those that we already possess and that have turned into trivialities, on progress,
i.e. on the rise of the level of organization that has no beginning and no end.
The seed of Kailas ethical naturalism lies in this implicit definition of value
with a descriptive notion of the level of organization. According to this account,
spiritual values are valid for us because they represent the highest and most
accomplished level of biological evolution. On the other hand, evolution brings
forth ever more developed and accomplished levels of organization. Therefore,
no value can possess eternal and ahistorical validity. A similar account of his-
torically relative objectivity of moral judgments was advocated by G.W.F. Hegel
and J.V. Snellman (1806 81), a Finnish Hegelian, whose ethical ideas Kaila
presented sympathetically during World War II.
Mikko Salmela
mind [Volksgeist] refer, according to Kaila, to emergent, non-additive laws of social behavior that
are not deducible from the laws of individual behavior. Moral rules are part of social laws, whose
constant evolution effects also morality. Therefore, moral truths are relative and historical, although
they are experienced as absolute and objective in every particular phase of history. Kaila does not
explicitly agree with this interpretation of Hegelianism, but he does not reject it either.
von Wright (1963), p. 5; cf. von Wright (1989a), p. 51.
von Wright (1989a), p. 51.
Even if there are some echoes of the evolutionist account of moral justifica-
tion in Kailas thought, one must emphasize that he did not develop these ideas
any further. The ethical naturalism of Eino Kaila remained an outline whose full
implications he did not perhaps even realize. On the other hand, it is evident that
an evolutionist theory of moral justification is inconsistent with the emotivist
analysis that renounces the descriptive and cognitive nature of moral judgments.
The attempt to avoid inconsistency, together with Kailas positivist view of
ethics as a discipline that does not belong to scientific philosophy proper, may
partly explain why, in spite of all these multifaceted clues, he did not specify his
position regarding the thorny question of moral justification.
G.H. von Wrights diverse contributions to philosophical analysis of human
action are well-known throughout the philosophical world. They include deontic
logic, a general theory of norms and values, a theory of action, and practical
inference, among others. All these topics have important bearings on ethics.
Since, however, my space is limited and the remaining topics will be touched
upon in other papers in this volume, I shall concentrate on those fields that are
most intimately related to von Wrights ethics. They center around his axiology,
or general theory of values.
G.H. von Wrights ethics is a combination of metaethics and normative
ethics. Unlike some his analytic colleagues, von Wright has always been aware
of the interdependence of these types of philosophical investigation. In The
Varieties of Goodness he observed that the words we use in moral discourse are
in search of meaning.
That is, their usage calls for a clarification of their
criteria of application, as he stated elsewhere.
But since this conceptual quest
is conducted in ethics it also has a practical aim to provide us with the grounds or
standards whereby we judge good and bad and duty. Therefore by shaping our
moral notions, i.e. explicating our conceptual intuitions in moral matters, we
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
Von Wright (ibid.) continues that a similar account applies to political and social philosophy.
Concepts like democracy and social justice, legitimacy and sovereignty are as much in search
of meaning as the fundamental notions of ethics. To shape their meaning is to get to understand
better our social situation and to develop standards for assessing the purposefulness of existing social
institutions. As a consequence of a deepened understanding of the meaning of society, our life in
relation to its existing forms may be one of acquiescence and conformism or one of dissent and
von Wright (1943), p. 115.
Ibid. Translation by Knut Erik Trany (1989, p. 492).
Ibid., p. 116. Translation by Knut Erik Trany.
Knut Erik Trany has noticed the same tension in von Wrights early views. He finds them hardly
representative of the ethical doctrines of most logical positivists in the 1930s and 1940s.
shape the way we react to the conduct of our fellow humans, which is the very
function of normative ethics.
Early accounts
Von Wrights earliest contribution to ethics amounts to a few lines in an
exposition of logical empiricism, Den logiska empirismen (1943). It is a very
original combination of ethical emotivism or emotionalism, the general principles
of logical empiricism, and the phenomenological ethics of Max Scheler. Von
Wright contends with Edward Westermarck, Axel Hgerstrm, and emotivists
that value judgements express emotional reactions. Yet he claims that their talk
about the relativity and subjectivity of values does not exclude a factual
universal validity as regards ethical and aesthetic valuations.
We can constitute
value concepts on the basis of emotional reaction, and a close empirical scrutiny
of those emotional reactions which are called forth by things subject to moral or
aesthetic judgement will show these reactions to stand within a law-like, i.e.
invariant relations to their external objects.
An empiricist may, therefore, even
agree with such objectivistic theorists as Max Scheler, who hold that values are
as objective as colors, shapes, and other sensible properties. That universal
validity which, according to the empiricist theory, we can ascribe to value judge-
ments, is not something we prescribe vis--vis reality, but on the contrary some-
thing the real world forces upon us, concludes von Wright.
Von Wrights early outline of the nature of value judgments appears to be a
strange combination of epistemological subjectivism and metaphysical objec-
Value concepts are constituted on the basis of subjective emotions, but
these emotive reactions are so uniform that we shall have to interpret values as
some kind of secondary properties. This kind of metaphysical realism is com-
Mikko Salmela
See von Wright (1996), p. 4: The paper contains what still seems to me a moderately good inter-
pretation of the core of two giants of moral philosophy, but also an attempt to rescue the value-
subjectivism and the value-nihilism from the swamps of moral anarchy and egoistic subjectivism.
von Wright (1954), p. 55.
pletely alien to von Wrights mature writings, although the tension between
metaethical subjectivism and objectivism remains even there.
Von Wrights first actual contribution to moral philosophy was a paper Om
moraliska frestllningarnas sanning (On the Truth of Moral Ideas, 1954).
The title was adopted from a well-known lecture by the Swedish philosopher
Axel Hgerstrm, whose ethical ideas bore a significant resemblance to his Finn-
ish contemporary, Edward Westermarck.
The paper contains a neat exposition
of the core of their ethical theories, together with von Wrights own account of
the epistemological nature of moral judgements. It is also worth a closer view,
because it includes von Wrights most systematic critique of noncognitivism in
Om moraliska frestllningarnas sanning falls into two parts. The first part,
which opens with a critical exposition and discussion of Westermarcks and
Hgerstrms ethical theories, expands into a general critique of ethical noncog-
nitivism, represented by Westermarck, Hgerstrm, Rudolf Carnap, A.J. Ayer,
Charles Stevenson, and R.M. Hare. There are two lines of arguments that have
been employed to support noncognitivism, according to von Wright. The first
one, favored by logical empiricists, is based on the notion of the meaningful
sentence. The other one, developed by R.M. Hare, is the reduction of value
judgements into norms and further into imperatives. Von Wright rejects both
lines of argument.
The first line of argument suffers from a flaw that von Wright calls the
dogmatism of impoverished meanings. It seems to me to be one of Wittgen-
steins greatest achievements that he has in his late philosophy so convincingly
shown the futility of all attempts to set limits to the concept of meaningfulness.
The second line of argument is guilty of reductionistic fallacy. The notion
refers to an illegitimate move from logical affinity to identification of concepts.
This is a common fallacy among philosophers, as the painstaking but unsuccess-
ful efforts of logical empiricists have proved. The lessons of phenomenalism and
logical behaviorism should be learned by modern ethicists, whose reductionistic
attempts indicate an inadequate sense of logical nuances. Von Wright points out
that I can praise someones intention to, for example, donate a large sum of
money to charity, without having to claim that he or she has a duty to do so.
Identification of norms with imperatives also raises problems because there are
many logically different kinds of imperatives: commands, persuasions, wishes,
prohibitions, prayers, etc. Extremely problematic is the case of permissions and
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
Ibid., pp. 54 57.
Ibid., pp. 65 68. We can investigate consequences and motives of acts, their useful or harmful
effects on other purposes, their subsumption under virtues, etc. This kind of empirical investigation
may, however, run into conceptual difficulties. We are, for instance, forced to determine whether this
or that kind of act really is courageous or compassionate or useful for a particular purpose.
Ibid., pp. 66 67.
Ibid., p. 68.
rights. Von Wright doubts their logical connections to any sorts of imperatives.
Therefore, the fact that evaluations cannot be identified with norms and even
less with imperatives is, in my opinion, not difficult to see.
In the second part of the paper von Wright presents his own outline of the
truth of moral judgments. Within the confines of this article, however, there is
only space for the core of von Wrights insightful ideas. He first puts aside the
positivistic question of meaningfulness: ordinary language shows that moral
judgments play an important role in our linguistic communication, and this is suf-
ficient proof for their meaningfulness. Von Wright then divides moral
judgments into two categories. We usually employ moral judgments to assert
whether our or other peoples acts conform with, or deviate from, already
existing moral standards. We may, for instance, hold an act good because it
displays such criteria or standards of goodness as courage, compassion, or self-
denial. Moral judgments of this type are true or false in the objective sense,
because there are empirical methods to establish whether the act displays those
criteria or not.
It is also misleading to claim that these judgments are based on
emotion: they are based on facts and moral criteria, although their utterances are
often blended with emotional reactions.
Sometimes moral judgments concern those very criteria or standards we
usually take for granted in our evaluations. Judgments of this kind are familiar in
logical surroundings like our modern world that provide several standards for
moral evaluation. We debate, for instance, whether an inherently vicious act is
justified if it increases the total amount of happiness in society. Von Wright
readily admits that there can be no objective answers to these kinds of debates.
The purpose of his example is, however, more moderate. It only intends to show
that the reasons we provide to support our moral criteria in ethical discussion are
not subjective or contingent in the conventional meaning of these concepts.
Judgments about moral standards are neither true nor false. They lie before true
and false in the moral realm, von Wright contends.
The reason is not that
judgments about moral criteria are based on emotions. They have, rather, logical
affinities with definitions. From this affinity unfolds also the possibility of
scientific normative ethics.
Mikko Salmela
Ibid., p. 69. Original italics.
von Wright (1989a), pp. 34 35; (1995), p. 8.
I must also exclude from a detailed discussion von Wrights contribution to the modern ethics of
virtue. Von Wrights chapter on virtue in The Varieties of Goodness has provided an influential
impetus to the revival of this classical approach in ethics. Von Wright accepts the Aristotelian
analysis, according to which virtues are traits of character, not skills, dispositions, habits, or features
of temperament. The role of virtue is to balance or eliminate the influence of passions on choices that
affect the choosing agents own good or the good of some other being or beings. Virtue helps one to
act with dispassionate judgment concerning what is the right thing for him or her to do. The various
virtues may, therefore, be characterized as forms of self-control. Hence, virtues are no ends in
themselves but instruments in the service of the good of man. Von Wrights account of self-control
as the key virtue has been criticized by David Carr (1984) and Philippa Foot (1989). They have
remarked that although some virtues, including courage and temperance, can be interpreted as forms
of self-control, the same does not apply to all classical virtues, such as benevolence, wisdom, or
justice. Von Wright has later accepted this criticism. It seems to me one of the interesting features
of the conceptual situation in the philosophy of virtue that virtue defies a unique, nontrivial
elucidation or definition. The virtues constitute, I think, a nice example of family-resemblance in
Wittgensteins sense, states von Wright (1989c, p. 791). Foot has also criticized von Wright for his
instrumental account of virtue which allows even burglars and robbers to display self-regarding
virtue in their pursuit of their own good. But there is no problem here according to von Wright. To
argue that true courage must have moral worth seems to me to be sophistry, he claims. But, he
continues in his delicate manner, I may be mistaken. If I am, Foot is right in thinking that
It is common to all forms of normative ethics that they search for the stan-
dards of moral values. The fact that a standard must in the end be set (imposed),
does not, as we have seen, exclude the fact that one provides reasons for ones
choices. Neither does it exclude an antecedent rational reorganization of that
conceptual field, where reasons are sought for. There are no grounds for
categorically refusing to accept the scientific nature of such investigations.
may well be that normative ethics is doomed to constant reformulation of its
basic concepts, unlike more traditional disciplines, such as physics or biology.
But this does not imply that normative ethics boils down to creative promulgation
of values. Ethics as a discipline is connected both to metaethics by its conceptual
investigation and to normative ethics by its practical aim to direct our lives. This
analysis of the nature of philosophical ethics became the core idea of von
Wrights mature ethics.
The good of man and value-rationality
The Varieties of Goodness is, according to von Wrights own evaluation, his
most personal and best argued scholarly work, although it has not had a wide-
spread influence on later research.
It is an analytic treatise on the forms or
varieties of goodness, virtue, duty, and justice.
The central notion of the treatise
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
something essential is missing from my attempted clarification of the self-regarding virtues, e.g.
courage and temperance.
A partial explanation for this transition may lie in the criticism provided by Kurt Baier (1989,
pp. 233 269) and Thomas Schwartz (1989, pp. 217 232) in The Philosophy of Georg Henrik von
Wright. They show that welfare cannot be the proper equivalent of the good of man because the
logical properties of the two concepts differ from each other. First of all, welfare is a narrower notion
than the good of a being. Welfare, according to both Baier and Schwartz, is related to circumstances
that guarantee the satisfaction of ones basic needs. Many kinds of circumstances may do equally
well for this purpose, even though their effect on the good of a being would be different. Baier also
remarks that the expression good of man may mean two related but distinct things. Good of man
may either be something that is good for a person. Or it may be some good that a person has, that is
his or her possession. Because welfare is only related to the latter interpretation, the good of man
and the welfare of man cannot be synonymous. Secondly, the good of a person includes the things,
such as food or a prize in a lottery, that enhance his or her good. This is not the case with welfare.
Things that enhance ones welfare are not part of it themselves. Welfare is then logically
equivalent to health and happiness. They all refer to a state, although von Wright claims the
von Wright (1989a), p. 154; (1985), pp. 167, 186 187; (1980), p. 71.
von Wright (1963), p. 119.
Ibid. Von Wright (1989c, p. 803) has later specified that his position has affinities to utilitarianism
in that it measures the moral value of an action in terms of the good and bad this action calls forth
although it does this in a way very much at odds with the idea of the maximization of good.
von Wright (1963), p. 178; (1989), p. 803.
von Wright (1989c), p. 800.
is the good of man. It is a utilitarian notion that involves the meanings of wel-
fare, happiness, and well-being. Later, however, von Wright has linked it rather
to happiness in a more Aristotelian sense, as a quality of a mans life over a
substantial part of it.
Both happiness, welfare, and well-being are necessary or
natural ends in the sense that the pursuit of their opposites unhappiness and
ill-being as intrinsic ends would be perverse and irrational.
Von Wright denies the conceptual autonomy of morality. Whether an act is
morally good or bad depends upon its character being beneficial or harmful, i.e.
depends upon the way in which it affects the good of various beings.
goodness is, then, a sub-form of utilitarian goodness.
This implies a teleologi-
cal account of norms and duties. Duties, in general, are practical necessities that
promote or respect the good of some being.
The existence of moral duties is
based on the fact that human beings in a hypothetical state of nature are rough
equals, i.e. are endowed with roughly the same capacities for promoting and
injuring one anothers good.
It is, therefore, rational for every individual to
accept a general practice of not harming other persons good, on the condition
that other agents adopt the same practice regarding him or her. The moral duty to
respect this rational cornerstone of morality that von Wright labels the Principle
of Justice, according to which No man shall have his share in the greater good
Mikko Salmela
von Wright (1963), p. 208.
von Wright (1963), p. 209; (1989), p. 802. Von Wright seems to agree with Thomas Hobbes and
his modern follower David Gauthier (1986) that moral action can be motivated by purely egoistic,
self-regarding reasons. He even writes that we can imagine the men as thoroughly selfish, void of
any sense of justice or morality whatsoever. They have not the slightest desire to pay their due for
their share. But the greedier they are on their share, the stronger will the normative pressure become
under which they are themselves to pay their due. This is a fascinating mechanism. In co-operating
for the common end of imposing heteronomous other-regarding duties on others, men come to get
these same duties heteronomously imposed upon themselves. We can, in other words, make us a
picture of a society, in which justice and morality are kept going even perfectly through self-
interest. Von Wright rejects this straightforwardly egoistic motivation, but so does, too, Gauthier. He
insists that there can, and indeed must, be an internalized, affective adherence to the moral principles
that have been generated from the principles of rational choice in order for them to be truly moral. A
rational egoist finds participation in mutually advantageous co-operation intrinsically not merely
instrumentally valuable for him- or herself, because it is only this co-operation that can bring him
or her increased opportunities for a satisfactory life. The egoism of this motivation is sophisticated,
but von Wright would probably still reject it because of its self-regarding justification of moral
duties. (See also note 98.)
Another Kantian feature is von Wrights emphasis that the notion of moral goodness cannot be
defined in terms of beneficial consequences alone. It must be supported with morally good intention,
that is, the intention to respect or promote the good of some other being for its own sake.
of a community of which he is a member, without paying his due, may come to
be practically necessary for an agent for self-regarding or other-regarding rea-
Every action that follows the Principle of Justice is moral, but only
when ones action is motivated by autonomous other-regarding duty necessitated
by a will to secure for all the greater good which similar action on the part of his
[or her] neighbors would secure for him [or her], does one act from a moral, i.e.
disinterested and impartial, motive.
It is through this emphasis on right moti-
vation that von Wrights moral theory is related to the Kantian, and charac-
teristically German, Gesinnungsethik.
A strong and persistent theme in von Wrights thought has been his attempt
to find or build a connection between the ideas of morality and rationality. Von
Wright has always emphasized that the content of the good of man is, at least
partly, a matter of personal choice. On the other hand, he has also stressed that
the choices of an individual can still be more or less rational. This idea led von
Wright in the 1980s to the notion of value-rationality. It is a form of practical,
ethical rationality that von Wright has tried to revive in his own thinking.
Although the notion of value-rationality originates from Max Weber, being a
translation from his Wertrationalitt, von Wright connects it rather to the form
of rationality that Aristotle calls phronesis, in the meaning of a true and
reasoned state of capacity to act with regard to the things that are good or bad for
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, 1140b 4 5, quoted from the translation by Sir David Ross.
Von Wright translates phronesis variably as practical reason, practical wisdom, deliberation,
value-rationality, or more extensively, comprehension of the right way of life. All these
expressions point to the kind of rationality that enables us to evaluate the influence of human activity
on our total well-being.
von Wright (1985), pp. 180 184; (1987), pp. 21, 131; (1989), p. 161; (1992), p. 171. Von Wrights
interpretation of Aristotles practical reason as an ability to deliberate different optional ends related
to the good life is not, however, completely coherent with Aristotles own account. As von Wright
also remarks, Aristotle denies independent deliberation of ends. In The Nicomachean Ethics (1112b
12) Aristotle writes that we deliberate not about ends but about means.
von Wright (1985), p. 180.
Ibid., p. 175.
Whereas the Aristotelian notion of prohairesis is equivalent to instru-
mental rationality, the choice of optional means to some given end, phronesis, on
the other hand, is concerned with the deliberation of the optional ends of human
life. These ends are of a specific kind since they are not aspired to as a means to
some further goals but as intrinsic constituents of the good human life.
Von Wright argues that we need value-rationality to complement and direct
instrumental rationality. The hold of instrumental rationality is a problematic
feature in modern Western culture, because it tempts us to separate the questions
of ultimate ends from the sphere of rational argumentation and thus to suppress
the other form of rationality connected with ends, not as means to other, perhaps
only faintly comprehended ends, but as relevant to the purpose that philosophers
have called the good of man.
The task of value-rationality is thus to bring the utmost ends of human life,
buried under the instrumental way of thinking, into conscious, rational delibera-
The point of value-rationality is to qualify the preferential choices of an agent
with knowledge of the causal consequences and prerequisites connected with
attaining the optional ends. Von Wright considers the achievement of an end to
be a positive value. Means used in order to attain the end, in contrast, denote a
negative value. Rational deliberation is the procedure in which we simply com-
pare the magnitude of these values. As von Wright puts it, we do this always
while asking ourselves whether an end is (or was) worth pursuing. In other
words, we ask whether an end is worth its price or not.
A reasonable agent
does not pursue ends that require means that cost more than the rewards that the
attainment of those ends would provide. von Wrights own example is a man
who has ruined his health because of his professional and social ambition and
now regrets his former preferences. His foolishness was that he did not antici-
pate the way he might have had to change his preferences. Consideration of his
real preferences would, however, have been possible had he clearly paid
Mikko Salmela
von Wright (1963), p. 181; (1983), pp. 83 84; (1985), pp. 181 182.
von Wright (1963), pp. 106 113; (1983), pp. 83 84; (1985), pp. 181 183.
von Wright (1963), pp. 112 113.
von Wright (1985), pp. 173 174; (1989c), p. 786. Von Wright admits that many reasoned prefer-
ences are anchored, in the way of psychological motivation, in likings. To prefer safety to comfort
may be a purely subjective tendency. Von Wright argues, however, that this need not always be the
case. We may, for example, choose to do our duties, although we would prefer to amuse ourselves.
attention to the causal consequences that would follow from his action, claims
von Wright. Now it was only the actualization of these causal connections that
taught him practical wisdom about the price of his end.
It is by causal connections that von Wright sees objective reality controlling
the rationality of human ends. This kind of practical wisdom requires, however,
complete knowledge over the causal connections related to optional actions.
Relying on this knowledge, we should be able to evaluate and anticipate how the
actualization of our ends will affect our valuation of these ends. Von Wright
admits that this is a problem of all theories of teleological ethics, as he says that
we all have to face some irrevocable and oppressive decisions, knowing the
importance of the decision without being able to determine all its consequences
and hence its influence on our good.
Another problem of value-rationality that
can, to some extent, be tackled is the weakness of will.
Weakness of will, akrasia, is a serious practical problem connected with
value-rationality. This problem concerns especially strongly desired and easily
attainable ends, whose harmful side-effects will occur only in the distant future.
One chooses an optional action whose consequences are desired in the short run,
but whose long-term consequences turn it into an unwanted one. One can fall
into such irrationality either for lack of self-discipline or because of ones short-
sightedness. In the latter case one simply lacks the capacity for clear articulation
of ones preferences.
But are there some ends that every value-rational and
enlightened person with a strong will would choose?
Von Wright has tried to meet this problem by introducing a distinction
between intrinsic and reasoned preferences. Intrinsic preferences are based on
merely liking better, and are equivalent to tastes. I may prefer oranges to apples,
because I like oranges better. Compared to intrinsic preferences, von Wrights
definition of reasoned preferences is only negative, because he considers rea-
soned all preferences that are founded on some other reasons than mere liking
better. An example of a reasoned preference could be a preference to take a train
rather than to take a flight, because traveling by train is safer and cheaper than
flying, even though one might like flying better.
Leaning on this distinction
between intrinsic and reasoned preferences, von Wright has tried to give a more
adequate account of the good of man.
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
von Wright (1989c), pp. 786 789. Von Wright tries to bring together both intrinsic and reasoned
preferences in his notion of the overall good of man. He does not, however, even try to meet the
question concerning the proportion between intrinsic preferences and reasoned preferences in the
overall good of man. He passes over the question by stating that whether a man will be better off
(overall), if he consistently, instead of seeking his own (personal) good, lets his actions be guided by
love of his neighbor, is a question that cannot be decided on conceptual grounds. Von Wright is
compelled to put the question aside because of his general view on philosophical ethics. The
philosophers task is limited to conceptual investigation of moral notions and their criteria of
application alone. It is not the task of the philosopher, as a philosopher, to censure people or society.
His task is to reflect on the conceptual standards used in moral censuring and social criticism,
maintains von Wright (1989b, p. 51). Conceptual clarification may provide more adequate tools for
moral and social criticism, as von Wright readily remarks. Yet it cannot provide a sufficient basis for
a normative theory of ethics. Von Wrights own pursuit of normative theory based on value-
rationality illustrates this problem well.
von Wright (1989c), p. 796.
von Wright (1996), p. 3.
Von Wright introduced another distinction between the overall and the
merely personal good of man in The Philosophy of Georg Henrik von Wright
(1989). The notion of merely personal good depends on intrinsic preferences
alone. The broader notion of the overall good of man must, instead, be explicated
in terms of preferences, some of which are reasoned preferences of a specific
The reason for these specific kinds of preferences is, according to von
Wright, that they enhance another persons happiness, that persons merely
personal good. These conceptual clarifications do not, however, guarantee that
every individual would include those particular ends of happiness, welfare,
health, friendship, and loving care, that von Wright has characterized as natural
or necessary, into his or her good. This conclusion is also confirmed by von
Wright himself. In the last resort the subjects own judgement decides whether
something is or was good for him and thus counts as a positive constituent of
his good, he maintains.
There seems to be an internal tension between the subjectivist and objectivist
account of value in von Wrights ethics. The idea of survival, health, welfare,
happiness, friendship, and loving care as necessary, or natural ends, or
needs, represents an objectivist account of valuable goods. On the other hand,
there is the firm metaethical subjectivism according to which genuine valua-
tions express a subjects approval or disapproval of an evaluated object.
slightly controversial accounts might be reconciled, if we interpreted von
Wrights position as a kind of Humean uniformal subjectivism. Moral judg-
ments would then be founded on subjective valuations. On the other hand, we
could expect considerable consensus on the valuation of many goods, on the
condition that ones valuations are universalizable, impartial, disinterested, and
sympathetic to other peoples good. Von Wright has confirmed that there might
Mikko Salmela
See Hancock (1974), pp. 8 9. Hancocks example is the principle of universalizability in R.M.
Hares and Henry Sidgwicks ethics. Hare regards this principle as metaethical: it is a logical feature
of the language of morals. Sidgwick, in turn, posits the same principle as a self-evident, normative
axiom of equity. Similar considerations also hold for another of Sidgwicks axioms. We might read
the axiom of benevolence, according to which one is morally obliged to treat anothers good as equal
in importance on ones own, as a metaethical account of the meanings of the term morally obliged
and good, or as a logical feature of the moral point of view. In this way, one can build a rich
normative theory in the guise of metaethical inquiry.
von Wright & Aarnio (1990), p. 329.
von Wright (1996), p. 6. See also von Wright (1990), p. 329; (1989c), p. 800: The ultimate
foundation of morality is love. This view of morality could be called agapistic.; von Wright
(1985), p. 196: if it is rational to think that loving care should be generalizable, it is also the demand
of practical reason that we should try to develop it in ourselves and in people we educate. This
demand is expressed in the highest command of Christianity to love ones neighbor as oneself. This
is the right kind of self-love in a generalized form.
be a plausible connection between natural or necessary ends and these criteria
of moral evaluation, although its exact nature needs further consideration. But
how can we justify those particular criteria of moral evaluation mentioned
The moral point of view
G.H. von Wright belongs to that tradition of modern analytic ethics in which
normative principles of evaluation have been derived from the logical investiga-
tion of both the moral point of view and of basic moral terms, such as ought.
Von Wright agrees with Kant, Richard Hare, and Kurt Baier on universalizability
as the core of moral language. Westermarcks account of impartiality and dis-
interestedness of moral judgments expresses the same idea of universalizability,
and at the root of Kants and Westermarcks thinking lies the Christian command
of love.
All these formulations emphasize the symmetry and reciprocity of
moral subjects. Moral will is beyond egoism and altruism a disinterested and
impartial will to justice. It treats your neighbor as though his welfare were yours
and your welfare his. To have this attitude is to love your neighbor as yourself
This still remains, in outline, my position, von Wright summed up in 1996.
The Kantian notion of universalizability and the Christian command of love
refer to the tradition that has molded our understanding of what it means to think
morally. This is the sole starting point from which the search for the moral point
of view can proceed, since there is no transhistorical perspective on morality.
So one can say that to regard morals as something universally binding,
impartial and disinterested, is inherent in the way the Western culture has
understood morality. But to make this, as I said, a defining criterion of morality
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
von Wright & Aarnio (1990), p. 329.
von Wright (1997).
Nagel (1988), p. 111.
Ibid., p. 104.
in accordance with reason is of course a stipulative definition, an attempt to mold
the concepts of reason and morality so as to match each other.
There is an interesting connection between von Wrights account of the
conventionality inherent in the moral point of view, and his recent idea of com-
munities of shared values. His example of a community of shared values is the
traditional European morality whose basic norms and values were based on
Christian ethics. The cultural authority of Christianity has, however, been de-
clining over the past few centuries.
One reason for this decline has presumably
been the very recomprehension of those norms and values that have defined our
community of shared values. The notions of universalizability, impartiality,
disinterestedness, and sympathetic consideration of other peoples good, were in
the previous European community of shared values considered as normative
demands of moral evaluation. Furthermore, their objective validity was to be
established by rational investigation. The modern antirealist account of the
conventional or stipulative nature of these criteria seems to reduce their credibil-
ity, both philosophically and psychologically.
Thomas Nagel has criticized R.M. Hare for including substantial claims into
his utilitarian analysis of the language of morals. But by making his main moral
claims part of the definition of morality, Hare excludes the search for their basis
from moral theory, which is where it belongs.
I suspect that there is a similar
kind of problem in von Wrights attempt to yield normative criteria from the
conceptual investigation of the moral point of view. Or is it plausible to reject
such an established theory with a long but spotty history as classical ethical
egoism, merely on the grounds that it does not survive the logical analysis of the
language of morals?
Nagel remarks that if Hare were right in his claim that utilitarianism is
included in the meaning of moral terms, then the most prominent alternatives to
utilitarianism could not even be consistently stated in moral language.
evident erroneousness of this conclusion reveals that there is no single and
privileged language of morals but several languages of morals, which might
perhaps be characterized according to the Wittgensteinian notion of family
resemblance. They all agree on the prescriptive and evaluative nature of moral
judgments, but acting on a principle and the universalizability of ones principles
together with disinterestedness, impartiality, and the symmetric valuation of
every persons good are criteria that meet with difficulties. They are more severe
requirements that are not part of every view of morality, such as classical ethical
Mikko Salmela
Ethical egoism may be universalizable, but it denies the symmetry of moral agents by claiming
(pace Frankena 1967, p. 18) that the individuals one and only basic obligation is to promote for
himself the greatest possible balance of good over evil. Egoistic justification of morality has
traditionally been accused of being self-contradictory or nonmoral: morality cannot boil down to
mere prudentiality. David Gauthier has attempted to overcome the latter criticism in his Morals by
Agreement (1986). He claims that morality can be generated from the principles of rational choice
since the acceptance of mutual constraints is the most advantageous alternative for individual
maximizers of utility even from the non-moral point of view. Moral principles, chosen in the non-
moral initial bargaining position, guide and constrain mutually beneficent co-operation. On the
other hand, Gauthier admits that there must be an internalized adherence to these principles in order
for them to be truly moral. Therefore, a rational egoist also attaches an intrinsic value to his or her
fellow participators and the moral constraints that make the co-operation possible. This conclusion is,
according to Gauthier, consistent with motivational egoism. Levinas (1985), in turn, rejects both
universalizability of moral prescriptions and the symmetry of moral agents. There is no symmetry or
reciprocity in the ethical relationship, because the Other is always prior to me, and my responsibility
to Him or Her is unlimited. Universalizable rules and commands refute my responsibility to this
particular Other here and now. When I act on a moral norm I annihilate the radical otherness of the
Other and reduce Him or Her to one of them, into an object of knowledge and, hence, power.
Levinass position captures the altruistic element in morality better than, for instance, the Christian
command of love. Love thy neighbor as thyself does not respect the otherness of the Other because
the standard of other-regarding love is set by my self-love.
egoism, or the postmodern ethics of Emmanuel Levinas.
Von Wrights
stipulative account of the moral point of view provides a better rendering of this
variety than Hares. Yet, several views operate on what it means to think and
judge morally in our postmodern and post-Christian culture. It seems to me,
therefore, impossible to decide the argument between rival moral theories by
appealing to one analysis of the features that characterize the moral point of
Although I have read Erik Ahlman, Eino Kaila, and G.H. von Wright through the
typical i.e. the logical, semantic, epistemological, and justificatory ques-
tions of analytic moral philosophy, I hope that I also have been able to reveal, or
at least hint at, how one-sided these interpretations are, especially regarding
Ahlman and Kaila. Both philosophers display analytic features in their ethical
thought, but other kinds of influences are so evident and strong that it would be
misleading to classify them into some analytic tradition. Actually, there was no
such distinct tradition or movement in Finnish moral philosophy before von
Wright, nor after his first contributions on ethics and general theory of value in
the 1950s. Instead, the efforts of analytic philosophers, including von Wright
himself, were mainly directed at the problems of philosophical logic, philosophy
Analytic Moral Philosophy in Finland
See von Wrights interview in niin & nin 2/1995: Im inclined... to favor subjectivism over
objectivism, and Im at least inclined to be suspicious and skeptical towards any kind of objectivism
in ethics.
of language, and philosophy of science. Nevertheless, von Wrights The
Varieties of Goodness gave the first impetus for the rise of the analytic tradition
itself and this has characterized moral philosophy in Finland since the late 1970s.
Therefore, regardless of their analytic or phenomenological bent, all the above-
mentioned ethicists, agree more than they disagree.
A characteristic feature of Finnish moral philosophy in the first half of the
20th century is a relatively limited and homogeneous background. The influence
of the classics, Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, has been immense, together with the
German tradition: Nietzsche, neo-Kantianism, and phenomenological ethics of
value. The various intuitive insights of Max Scheler, whom analytic philosophers
have often underrated, provided inspiration even to Kaila and von Wright. Kaila,
in particular, was also influenced by J.V. Snellman, the greatest Finnish Hegelian
of the 19th century, and the philosopher of the Finnish national awakening.
The strong emphasis on cultural tradition, and its decisive role in molding the
identity and cultivation, or Bildung, of the individual are part and parcel of this
Snellmanian legacy that lived on in the Finnish society until the recent decades.
Von Wrights philosophical influences have, naturally, also included such
pioneers or early classics of analytic moral philosophy as Edward Westermarck,
Axel Hgerstrm, G.E. Moore, A.J. Ayer, Charles Stevenson, G.E.M. Anscombe,
and R.M. Hare. The influence of Christian ethics is also worth mentioning. A
strong and authoritative Lutheran tradition postponed the process of seculari-
zation in Finnish society and culture until the recent decades. This might be one
reason why both Kaila and von Wright hold the Christian command of love as
the foundation or core idea of morality, although their motivations are, of course,
purely philosophical. This strong tradition of ethical realism may also provide a
partial explanation for the urge that Kaila and von Wright, despite their explicit
noncognitivism and antirealism, have felt towards some kind of objectivity in
There seems to be a tension between Kailas and von Wrights cultural and
analytic enterprises. In their popular essays both Kaila and von Wright stress the
validity of the traditional values of European culture: truth, nobility, beauty,
justice, freedom, equality, and love for ones neighbor. Von Wright has even
declared that we need objective values in order to overcome the foundational
crisis of our culture. But neither Kaila nor von Wright has provided any theoreti-
cal justification for the truth or objective validity of these cultural values. On the
contrary, they have been either reserved, or even resistant to objectivism in
It is, of course, perfectly consistent to be an adherent of ethical sub-
Mikko Salmela
My thanks are due to Dr. Mark Shackleton for revising my English.
jectivism and yet to deplore the fact that this position does not favor common
values of culture. But such a remarkable tension should perhaps invigorate ones
attempts to create a theoretical position that can do justice to both subjectivist
and objectivist elements in morality. Von Wrights insightful analyses of value-
rationality and the moral point of view have paved the way for this kind of
research in the Finnish analytic moral philosophy of today.
Department of Moral and Social Philosophy
P.O. Box 9 (Siltavuorenpenger 20 A)
00014 University of Helsinki
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