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Topics in Moral and Political Philosophy Moral Relativism.

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1 Topics in Moral and Political Philosophy Moral Relativism

2 Conduct that seems to challenge our most certain moral beliefs polygamy, arranged marriages, suicide as a requirement of honor or widowhood, severe punishments for blasphemy or adultery, female circumcision

3 Moral Relativism Descriptive Moral Relativism (DMR): It is a matter of fact that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements across different societies. Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR): The truth value of moral judgments and/or their justification is not universal, but relative to specific backgrounds (traditions, practices etc.) Normative Moral Relativism (NMR): we should tolerate the behaviour of those acting on moral judgments we reject, unless our disagreement can be rationally resolved.

4 Foot on Descriptive Moral Relativism Objection: moral disagreement is more limited than DMR allows Philippa Foot: There are some shared criteria of non-moral concepts, e.g. ‘rude’, such that not just anything could be considered rude. Similarly, there are shared criteria of moral concepts such that not just anything could be a moral virtue or obligation.

5 Reply to Foot Dilemma: If courage is understood narrowly (e.g., as the virtue of facing death in battle -- Aristotle), then there is little disagreement about what courage is, but there will be disagreement as to whether courage should be valued. If ‘courage’ is understood very broadly, then most people can be said to value courage, but, they might ultimately have very different conceptions of what courage is.

6 Other objection to DMR We need to be careful in reading empirical evidence cited in support of DMR. Moral disagreements results from:  applying general moral values about which we all agree to different circumstances  applying general moral values about which we all agree to the same circumstances in light of factual disagreement about what these circumstances are. Either way there is no real moral disagreement.

7 Metaethical Moral Relativism NB MMR is different from Moral Nihilism MMR does not deny that there is moral truth (i.e. that moral judgments are entirely subjective). Rather, it claims that moral truth is relative to a certain background. What does it mean that x is “true relative-to” a society?

8 Why do moral judgments have truth-value relative to a society? Possible answer: authoritative standards are those that reasonable members would accept. Objections: 1) why only reasonable members of the society? Why not all reasonable and well-informed persons? 2) what explains the authority of the claim that we should abide by certain standards because we agreed to do so?

9 Why do moral judgments have truth-value relative to a society? 3) we normally belong to different groups (family, cultural groups, religious groups, ethnic groups etc).  Do the moral judgments produced within each group have truth- values?  How we identify the relevant group is itself a moral question (it’s not merely descriptive)

10 David Copp Conduct x is morally wrong only if it is wrong in relation to the justified moral code of society S And Moral codes are justified only if the society would be rationally required to select it. But Which code a society is rationally required to select depends on the basic needs of the society and all societies have the same basic needs (physical survival and maintaining a system of cooperation from one generation to the next)

11 David Copp II P1: the rationality of choosing a moral code largely depends on its capacity to meet basic needs P2: basic needs tend to be similar across societies C: The content of all justified moral codes will tend to be similar. (The promotion of things such as physical survival, self-respect and special relationship is necessary for minimal rational agency). NB: the rationality of selecting a code depends: -on common features of human nature (basic needs) -on diverse features of different societies (values). Basic needs are more important than local values in determining which moral code it is rational for a society to select.

12 Does relativism support tolerance? DMR cannot imply that tolerance is obligatory (or even permissible). The mere fact there are moral disagreements entails nothing about how we should act towards those with whom we disagree. MMR cannot imply that it is an objective moral truth that we should be tolerant, because MMR denies the existence of objective moral truths. MMR cannot imply that it is a relative moral truth that we should be tolerant because the truth-value of statements varies from society to society. (“people ought to be tolerant” may be true in some societies and false in others).

13 Should we be afraid of relativism? Scanlon gives 3 possible reasons: 1)Morality performs an important protective function in regulating our behaviour 2)We like to think that we are justified in condemning behaviour that we perceive as unjust. These judgments are important to us 3)We like to think that we have good reasons to believe that our way of life is justified Can these reasons be neutralized?

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