Presentation on theme: "Dialogue, Cultural Traditions and Ethics Lecture 5 The Possibility of Moral Knowledge William Sweet The Dialogue of Cultural Traditions: a global perspective."— Presentation transcript:
Dialogue, Cultural Traditions and Ethics Lecture 5 The Possibility of Moral Knowledge William Sweet The Dialogue of Cultural Traditions: a global perspective
Culture as ways of living, ways of meaning, and ways of knowing Relation of culture and traditions and practices Ethical traditions as cultural traditions
How to respond to challenges? Criticism / response Providing a positive view Criteria: Meaning Truth Relevance Sufficient evidence
Ethics of Modernity (a summary) The tradition of reason and rationality a) foundationalism b) the turn to the subject Its criticisms of religious and ‘tradition-based’ ethics i) rationalist-based natural law ii) Enlightenment (and post-Enlightenment) rationalism and scepticism
Postmodern criticisms (a summary) The ideal of rationality is problematic; there is no neutral, formal method of arriving at objective truth There are no neutral, objective ‘subjects’ who can make objective judgements, independent of their interests We cannot know nature or reality in itself There is no human nature Truth is not a correspondence of things to the world Foundationalism is inconsistent and arbitrary; there is no ‘ground’ for any of our beliefs There is no objectivity There are no impartial, objective absolute moral rules or principles
Postmodern criticisms (a summary) a) versus rationalism b) versus anthropocentrism c) versus essentialism, natures and natural laws, universal & objective character of morality (historicity) (see “Bases of Ethics and Ethical Foundationalism,” pp. 2-4) d) proof is at least odd, if not relative, if not impossible e) we end up in confusion & emotivism
Dialogue, Cultural Traditions and Ethics Lecture 6 Ethics After Modernity and the Role of Discourse and Tradition William Sweet The Dialogue of Cultural Traditions: a global perspective
Some contemporary ‘after-’ or ‘post-modern’ approaches Richard Rorty ( ) Alasdair MacIntyre (1929- Jurgen Habermas (1929- John Rawls? ( ) Kai Nielsen (1926- Jean Ladriere? (1921-
“The Bases of Ethics and Ethical Foundationalism’ in The Bases of Ethics, Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, “Can there be Moral Knowledge?” in Maritain Studies, Vol. XI (1995): “Solidarity and Human Rights," in Philosophical Theory and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (ed. William Sweet), Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2003.
Richard Rorty, “Solidarity,” Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) Richard Rorty,“Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality,” On Human Rights, The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1993, eds. S. Hurley and S. Shute (New York: Basic Books, 1993), pp. 111–134 Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature Alasdair MacIntyre, “The Virtues, the Unity of a Human Life, and the Concept of a Tradition,” from After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2nd ed., 1984) Jurgen Habermas, “Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Prgram of Philosophical Justification” from The Communicative Ethics Controversy, ed Selya Benhabib and Fred Dallmayr, MIT Press
Kai Nielsen, "In Defence of Wide Reflective Equilibrium" in Ethics and Justification (ed. Douglas Odegard), (Edmonton, AB: Academic Publishers, 1988), pp , Kai Nielsen, "Relativism and Wide Reflective Equilibrium," Monist 76 (1993):
Richard Rorty ( ):
Richard Rorty ‘objectivity' does not mean "corresponding to what there is" (PMN 339), but = "a property of theories which, having been thoroughly discussed, are chosen by a consensus of rational discussants" (PMN 338). ‘true’ = it is the product of the widest consensus or agreement within our set of social practices We can provide only explanations and narratives We can provide sentimental education We can try to ‘awaken’ or ‘educate’ the sentiments The aim is ‘solidarity’ in ethics There is moral progress
What is solidarity? An “ability to notice, and identify with” the pain of others Something we make Why should I be in solidarity? Because we are the way we are
Solidarity is “one-dimensional”; no reciprocity Not just a feeling; we must believe that we must do something & this needs justification/argument/proof Sentimental education consistent with giving reasons and proof Is sentimental education an education? (If yes, then there is a ‘better’ and a ‘worse’) Aim of sentimental education is to make us more aware, not just differently aware Too broad What follows from ‘feeling’? Compassion? Indifference? How can we call on others to be in solidarity?
Kai Nielsen We can have rationality without foundationalism Philosophy is critical theory Rationality without foundationalism ‘objectivity' = informally intersubjective; no “Archimedean point” Wide reflective equilibrium
1. Start from our “deeply embedded norms” / framework principles 2. We “winnow out” these culturally received notions 3. Filter out errors in judgement; get the best factual knowledge 4. Seek a “fit” of our “considered convictions” 5. We “shuttle back and forth” between facts and convictions 6. We arrive at a “consistent and coherent set of beliefs” … for a time No belief is immune to criticism
Is this just another kind of rationalism? Is it true that all my beliefs are open to criticism? How do I know I have the best factual knowledge (circular?)? When do I know that I have reached WRE? Can I use WRE to evaluate other societies? Can I use WRE to evaluate past societies? Is society today better/worse than 100 years ago?
Alasdair MacIntyre Challenges: IF moral standards are contextually determined and lack foundations, THEN we can never be certain our standards are legitimate and we can’t prefer one set of standards to another
A demand for proof in ethics is odd, if not impossible Modern ethics combines many cultural traditions and norms – and leads to relativism or emotivism or scepticism We should focus on moral practices, the traditions in which they appear, and on people of practical wisdom (see Aristotle)
1. actions/practices are defined in contexts a practice is: “any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.” (MacIntyre, After Virtue 187) There cannot be an external justification of one’s actions but an internal justification (i.e., within the practice, in terms of its goods, etc.)
2. We must revive the model of practical reason we cannot specify a complete set of moral rules We need room for insight 3. Morality occurs within / is constituted by a set of practices (a tradition) a tradition is "an argument extended through time [an ongoing discussion or dialogue] in which certain fundamental agreements are defined and redefined" "about the goods the pursuit of which gives to that tradition its particular point and purpose" (MacIntyre, After Virtue 222).
Traditions may experience epistemological crises when the practices or traditions seem to run into a dead end Physics (Newtonian and Einsteinian) Cultures The phronimos ‘moves outside’ the tradition to find an answer This is rational, but not rule following (e.g., how, when, where, etc.) and there are no foundations There can be progress: “what results when a tradition deals with its problems by looking to resources in other traditions”
1. Diversity does not prove irresolvability 2. Moral theories historically influenced but not historically restricted 3. If M is right, how can we look outside our traditions/cultures? 4. If M is right, can we speak of progress? 5. Are all evaluations of practices/traditions internal? 6. Requires a prior standard to establish the phronimos
Habermas: two stages to discourse. First, each side of the debate should act according to four ideal aspects of communication: that is, sincerity, legitimacy, understandability and truth. Second, the debate should be a procedure of argumentation in search of a rational founding (Begrundung) of propositions. When discussants arrive at a ‘higher’ proposition, they have an argumentative consensus.   J. Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume One, translated by T. McCarthy, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), pp 
Responding to post modern approaches Still rationalist; still foundationalist (in critique) If on a par, sceptical We can know reality footprints Standard of truth not just correspondence Quasi coherence and a ground There is a purpose to sentimental education We look for explanations of our feelings Why are babies worth more than bugs? Solidarity must be ‘reasonable’
Natural Law: reflections on theory and practice (ed. with Introductions and notes, by William Sweet), South Bend, IN: St Augustine's Press [distributed by University of Chicago Press], 2001; Second printing, corrected, Man and the State, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, La loi naturelle ou loi non écrite: texte inédit, établi par Georges Brazzola. Fribourg, Suisse: Éditions universitaires, [Lectures on Natural Law. Tr. William Sweet. In The Collected Works of Jacques Maritain, Vol. VI, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, (forthcoming).]