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A Comparative Reconstruction of Moral Relativism

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  1. A Comparative Reconstruction of Moral Relativism Mary I. Bockover Professor Humboldt State University Arcata, California United States of America Revised 6-06

  2. Overall Sections • Moral Relativism • Incommensurable Conflict • American Involvement in the War in Iraq

  3. “Moral Relativism” traditionally resulted from a debate that took the universal and the diverse to be mutually exclusive – i.e., either morality is universal or it is (culturally) relative, but not both.

  4. “Moral Relativism” traditionally resulted from a debate that took the universal and the diverse to be mutually exclusive – i.e., either morality is universal or it is (culturally) relative, but not both. • the philosophical counterpart to a debate in the social sciences that contrasted “nature” and “nurture” in the same mutually exclusive way

  5. “Moral Relativism” traditionally resulted from a debate that took the universal and the diverse to be mutually exclusive – i.e., either morality is universal or it is (culturally) relative, but not both. • the philosophical counterpart to a debate in the social sciences that contrasted “nature” and “nurture” in the same mutually exclusive way • the distinction between the “universal” and the “diverse” in ethics is a false dichotomy; morality can be both universal and diverse

  6. “Moral Relativism” traditionally resulted from a debate that took the universal and the diverse to be mutually exclusive – i.e., either morality is universal or it is (culturally) relative, but not both. • the philosophical counterpart to a debate in the social sciences that contrasted “nature” and “nurture” in the same mutually exclusive way • the distinction between the “universal” and the “diverse” in ethics is a false dichotomy; morality can be both universal and diverse • moral consciousness, the normative “ground” from which moral judgment grows is universal

  7. “Moral Relativism” traditionally resulted from a debate that took the universal and the diverse to be mutually exclusive – i.e., either morality is universal or it is (culturally) relative, but not both. • the philosophical counterpart to a debate in the social sciences that contrasted “nature” and “nurture” in the same mutually exclusive way • the distinction between the “universal” and the “diverse” in ethics is a false dichotomy; morality can be both universal and diverse • moral consciousness, the normative “ground” from which moral judgment grows is universal • moraljudgment is relative despite this common ground, or will depend on what is valued (even within the same cultural context this can vary dramatically)

  8. “Moral Relativism” traditionally resulted from a debate that took the universal and the diverse to be mutually exclusive – i.e., either morality is universal or it is (culturally) relative, but not both. • the philosophical counterpart to a debate in the social sciences that contrasted “nature” and “nurture” in the same mutually exclusive way • the distinction between the “universal” and the “diverse” in ethics is a false dichotomy; morality can be both universal and diverse • moral consciousness, the normative “ground” from which moral judgment grows is universal • moraljudgment is relative despite this common ground, or will depend on what is valued (even within the same cultural context this can vary dramatically) Moral consciousness is too general to resolve conflict.

  9. Moral Values, Judgments, Principles & Truth

  10. Moral Values, Judgments, Principles & Truth • A moral value is entailed in more specific moral judgments

  11. Moral Values, Judgments, Principles & Truth • A moral value is entailed in more specific moral judgments • Moral judgment deems that some value should be put into practice, or some practice stopped that is in violation of it or is based on some other competing value

  12. Moral Values, Judgments, Principles & Truth • A moral value is entailed in more specific moral judgments • Moral judgment deems that some value should be put into practice, or some practice stopped that is in violation of it or is based on some other competing value • Ordinarily what we value the most is not reflectively identified and defined; the work of (second-order) ethics

  13. Moral Values, Judgments, Principles & Truth • A moral value is entailed in more specific moral judgments • Moral judgment deems that some value should be put into practice, or some practice stopped that is in violation of it or is based on some other competing value • Ordinarily what we value the most is not reflectively identified and defined; the work of (second-order) ethics • A moral value can be reflectively articulated so to constitute a “first principle”, e.g., of an ethical theory

  14. Moral Values, Judgments, Principles & Truth • A moral value is entailed in more specific moral judgments • Moral judgment deems that some value should be put into practice, or some practice stopped that is in violation of it or is based on some other competing value • Ordinarily what we value the most is not reflectively identified and defined; the work of (second-order) ethics • A moral value can be reflectively articulated so to constitute a “first principle”, e.g., of an ethical theory • A “first principle” articulates the most fundamental value of a particular view, e.g., “happiness”, “freedom”, “benevolence”

  15. Moral Values, Judgments, Principles & Truth • A moral value is entailed in more specific moral judgments • Moral judgment deems that some value should be put into practice, or some practice stopped that is in violation of it or is based on some other competing value • Ordinarily what we value the most is not reflectively identified and defined; the work of (second-order) ethics • A moral value can be reflectively articulated so to constitute a “first principle”, e.g., of an ethical theory • A “first principle” articulates the most fundamental value of a particular view, e.g., “happiness”, “freedom”, “benevolence” • Moral judgments are value-judgments, and are relative because there is no independent, objective standard that can determine their truth or resolve conflicts between them

  16. Why a Moral Conflict Becomes Incommensurable

  17. Why a Moral Conflict Becomes Incommensurable • First, there are so many values that can be the most fundamental (first) principle for those who believe in them

  18. Why a Moral Conflict Becomes Incommensurable • First, there are so many values that can be the most fundamental (first) principle for those who believe in them • Second, circumstances are such that one of these values is judged to have moral priority by one person, group, or culture, etc., and this conflicts with another value judged to have moral priority by another person, group, or culture

  19. Why a Moral Conflict Becomes Incommensurable • First, there are so many values that can be the most fundamental (first) principle for those who believe in them • Second, circumstances are such that one of these values is judged to have moral priority by one person, group, or culture, etc., and this conflicts with another value judged to have moral priority by another person, group, or culture • And third, the normative nature of moral judgment is such that deciding which value is superior can only appeal back to what is valued instead of a common standard which could objectively determine their truth

  20. The Problem of Moral Incommensurability

  21. The Problem of Moral Incommensurability • Moral consciousness is the universal ground from which moral value grows; but paradoxically also supplies the ground from which moral difference, even incommensurable conflict, takes root

  22. The Problem of Moral Incommensurability • Moral consciousness is the universal ground from which moral value grows; but paradoxically also supplies the ground from which moral difference, even incommensurable conflict, takes root • There is no way to get outside of one’s own “values system” to judge which view is ultimately right or wrong, better or worse, without begging the question of what should be valued the most

  23. The Problem of Moral Incommensurability • Moral consciousness is the universal ground from which moral value grows; but paradoxically also supplies the ground from which moral difference, even incommensurable conflict, takes root • There is no way to get outside of one’s own “values system” to judge which view is ultimately right or wrong, better or worse, without begging the question of what should be valued the most • Objective arguments can only be made based on whether the reasons used to justify putting some value into practice are consistent, or whether the supporting facts are sound

  24. Some Reasons for the War“Support our Troops”

  25. Some Reasons for the War“Support our Troops” • Clear proof that WMD had been manufactured

  26. Some Reasons for the War“Support our Troops” • Clear proof that WMD had been manufactured • Clear proof that Iraq had capacity to deliver them

  27. Some Reasons for the War“Support our Troops” • Clear proof that WMD had been manufactured • Clear proof that Iraq had capacity to deliver them • A dramatically conflicted relationship between Iraq (under Hussein) and the U.S.A. (since George Bush, Sr.)

  28. Some Reasons for the War“Support our Troops” • Clear proof that WMD had been manufactured • Clear proof that Iraq had capacity to deliver them • A dramatically conflicted relationship between Iraq (under Hussein) and the U.S.A. (since George Bush, Sr.) • Iraq’s contempt for the United Nations

  29. Some Reasons for the War“Support our Troops” • Clear proof that WMD had been manufactured • Clear proof that Iraq had capacity to deliver them • A dramatically conflicted relationship between Iraq (under Hussein) and the U.S.A. (since George Bush, Sr.) • Iraq’s contempt for the United Nations • Evidence gathered by the Security Council of Iraqi terrorist cells

  30. Some Reasons against the War“Peace is Patriotic”

  31. Some Reasons against the War“Peace is Patriotic” • On principle or on religious grounds, believing that the inevitable loss of innocent life – though not intentional – cannot be justified even if the goal is to remove a despot who intentionally does even worse

  32. Some Reasons against the War“Peace is Patriotic” • On principle or on religious grounds, believing that the inevitable loss of innocent life – though not intentional – cannot be justified even if the goal is to remove a despot who intentionally does even worse • Like the French and Germans, many Americans also thought there was not enough evidence that WMD were still being produced to make the national defense argument succeed

  33. Some Reasons against the War“Peace is Patriotic” • On principle or on religious grounds, believing that the inevitable loss of innocent life – though not intentional – cannot be justified even if the goal is to remove a despot who intentionally does even worse • Like the French and Germans, many Americans also thought there was not enough evidence that WMD were still being produced to make the national defense argument succeed • Still others held that even if there were, war was not justified at the time because of the lack of international support

  34. Critique Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq

  35. Critique Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Failure to get greater U.N. support and to find evidence of WMD

  36. Critique Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Failure to get greater U.N. support and to find evidence of WMD • Failure to provide adequate support for the many innocent Iraqis harmed by the war

  37. Critique Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Failure to get greater U.N. support and to find evidence of WMD • Failure to provide adequate support for the many innocent Iraqis harmed by the war • Critical differences in value between Iraqi culture and ours, e.g, the value of political freedom that we take to be an “inalienable” and “universal” human right derives from a Western concept of person that most of the world, including much of Iraq, does not obviously share

  38. Critique Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Failure to get greater U.N. support and to find evidence of WMD • Failure to provide adequate support for the many innocent Iraqis harmed by the war • Critical differences in value between Iraqi culture and ours, e.g, the value of political freedom that we take to be an “inalienable” and “universal” human right derives from a Western concept of person that most of the world, including much of Iraq, does not obviously share • Failure to have a clear exit strategy (and this administration has said that U.S. armed forces will likely remain in Iraq for at least a decade)

  39. Critique Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Failure to get greater U.N. support and to find evidence of WMD • Failure to provide adequate support for the many innocent Iraqis harmed by the war • Critical differences in value between Iraqi culture and ours, e.g, the value of political freedom that we take to be an “inalienable” and “universal” human right derives from a Western concept of person that most of the world, including much of Iraq, does not obviously share • Failure to have a clear exit strategy (and this administration has said that U.S. armed forces will likely remain in Iraq for at least a decade) • Iraq is the second largest untapped oil source in the world, and that the American way of life has made no great strides to become less dependent on fossil fuel (oil factor argument)

  40. Support Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq

  41. Support Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Given that legal and moral justifications are related, but distinct, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 could, after the fact, be deemed illegal but could also be deemed moral or even obligatory on different grounds

  42. Support Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Given that legal and moral justifications are related, but distinct, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 could, after the fact, be deemed illegal but could also be deemed moral or even obligatory on different grounds • One reason the U.N. was established after WWII was to keep despots like Hitler and Stalin from coming to power and reeking havoc on the world again; no longer a legal justification for war but still could be a moral one

  43. Support Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Given that legal and moral justifications are related, but distinct, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 could, after the fact, be deemed illegal but could also be deemed moral or even obligatory on different grounds • One reason the U.N. was established after WWII was to keep despots like Hitler and Stalin from coming to power and reeking havoc on the world again; no longer a legal justification for war but still could be a moral one • So it was argued that removing Hussein was morally justified, as long as innocent civilian life was not intentionally sacrificed to do it

  44. Support Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Given that legal and moral justifications are related, but distinct, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 could, after the fact, be deemed illegal but could also be deemed moral or even obligatory on different grounds • One reason the U.N. was established after WWII was to keep despots like Hitler and Stalin from coming to power and reeking havoc on the world again; no longer a legal justification for war but still could be a moral one • So it was argued that removing Hussein was morally justified, as long as innocent civilian life was not intentionally sacrificed to do it • Americans often can afford to take the idealistic perspective of judging peace to have moral priority over freedom (the political freedom of Iraqi people) since their freedom is not directly at stake, while (military) American life is

  45. Support Abroad of U.S.A.’s Invasion of Iraq • Given that legal and moral justifications are related, but distinct, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 could, after the fact, be deemed illegal but could also be deemed moral or even obligatory on different grounds • One reason the U.N. was established after WWII was to keep despots like Hitler and Stalin from coming to power and reeking havoc on the world again; no longer a legal justification for war but still could be a moral one • So it was argued that removing Hussein was morally justified, as long as innocent civilian life was not intentionally sacrificed to do it • Americans often can afford to take the idealistic perspective of judging peace to have moral priority over freedom (the political freedom of Iraqi people) since their freedom is not directly at stake, while (military) American life is • It is important for Americans to remember the lessons of WWI and WWII, especially from the perspective of those who required the help of others to preserve their own freedom and did not get it (or did not get it in time)