Deryck Beyleveld has forged a theory of ethical rationalism that has made an important impact on legal and moral philosophy—that this collection of essays makes clear. He has not only refined and improved the original account developed by Alan Gewirth, but provides us with ethical rationalism’s most prolific defender today. One area of particular insight is Beyleveld’s many applications of ethical rationalism to practice and, most especially, to medical law and ethics which has been especially influential. This work has set the bar for all proponents and critics alike.
We focus narrowly on a specific concern that we have with ethical rationalism: its primacy of rationality over other characteristics, such as our emotions. This is not to deny the importance of reason in our thinking about law and ethical concerns. But we have concerns with any view that holds that reason is the only key to how any tensions should be resolved. Such a position claims for reason a privileged status it does not have or merit. One problem for us is that, in our view, ethical rationalism does not appear to adequately consider the importance of emotions and so it does not provide a satisfactory account of law and morality as a result. We examine this concern in the first part of our chapter.
This chapter’s second part raises concerns with the application of ethical rationalism as a model for understanding sexual offences. We highlight both the need to foreground emotion in order to understand the current law, as well as the dangers from a normative perspective of appearing to marginalise the role of emotion in sexual offences. Not only would a prioritisation of rationality fail to reflect the role emotion can play in current rape law, but we would argue, is particularly problematic in this area of law in terms of promoting justice. In summary, Beyleveld’s ethical rationalism exercises an important impact on legal theory and legal practices. Nonetheless, we raise some reservations about its connection to these impacts that lead us to support revisions to this approach.
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