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The Perfectionist Turn

From Metanorms to Metaethics

Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen

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A profound and vital alternative to contemporary political and ethical theorising

Contemporary political philosophy - especially in the works of Martha Nussbaum, John Rawls and Amartya Sen - has assumed that it can separate itself off from other philosophical positions and frameworks. In this book, Den Uyl and Rasmussen challenge this trend by moving from the liberalism they advocate in their earlier work to what they call ‘individualistic perfectionism’ in ethics. They continue to challenge the assumption that a neo-Aristotelian ethical framework cannot support a liberal, non-perfectionist political theory by filling in the nature of the perfectionist ethical approach utilised in their previous political theorising.

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Analytic Contents
Introduction: What is Ethics?
Part One: Making the Turn: An Overview of Individualistic Perfectionism
The Search for Universal Principles in Ethics and Politics
Tethering II
Part Two: Facing a New Direction
The Perfectionist Turn
Toward the Primacy of Responsibility
The Entrepreneur as Moral Hero
Afterword: Big Morality.

About the Author

Douglas J. Den Uyl is Vice President of Educational Programs at Liberty Fund, Inc. He has published essays or books on Spinoza, Smith, Shaftesbury, Mandeville and others. His most recent books include the co-authorship with Douglas B. Rasmussen of the 2006 book Norms of Liberty and God, Man and Well-Being: Spinoza’s Modern Humanism in 2008. He co-founded (with Douglas Rasmussen) the American Association for the Philosophic Study of Society, The North American Spinoza Society, and The International Adam Smith Society. He taught Philosophy and was Department Chair and Full Professor at Bellarmine College (now Bellarmine University) before coming to Liberty Fund.

Douglas B. Rasmussen is Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University in New York City. He is the author of numerous articles in various philosophical journals and books as well as coauthor (with Douglas J. Den Uyl) of Liberty and Nature, Liberalism Defended, and Norms of Liberty (which has been translated into Portuguese and Spanish). His research interests are in ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, ontology, and political economy.


This outstanding work develops an illuminating contrast between moralities that arise from the "template" of responsibility for one’s self-perfection and moralities that arise from the "template" of respect for persons at large. The authors defend the responsibility approach – especially through their sustained, innovative, and nuanced case for a highly individualistic moral perfectionism.

- Eric Mack, Tulane University

The Perfectionist Turn offers a powerful defense of perfectionism itself, and demonstrates how ethics can be independent of yet in rapport with politics.

- Fred D. Miller, Jr., University of Arizona

This work motivates a thorough reconsideration of the project of ethical theorizing. The Perfectionist Turn makes the individual the center of ethical gravity, anchoring moral value in the particulars of exercising agency rather than abstract conceptions owing their objectivity to universality. A subtle, illuminating metaethics of virtue is articulated in conjunction with the complementary political principles.

- Jonathan Jacobs, The City University of New York

The book covers a lot of ethical ground without losing focus. Those interested in a novel perspective on normative theory and meta-ethics will find much of use in this work. Summing Up: Recommended.

- J. McBain, Pittsburg State University, CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

The Perfectionist Turn covers an impressive amount of ground, from the metaethics of virtue to a mercifully non-Rawlsian basis for political liberalism. In developing a sophisticated normative system worthy of the name, Den Uyl and Rasmussen have shown ambition rarely seen in contemporary value theory. Their book is not an easy read, but it is a rewarding one.

- Justin Tosi, Georgetown University, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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