Foundations for Moral Relativism

Foundations for Moral Relativism

J. David Velleman

Language: English

Pages: 120

ISBN: 1909254444

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In 'Foundations for Moral Relativism' a distinguished moral philosopher tames a bugbear of current debate about cultural difference. J. David Velleman shows that different communities can indeed be subject to incompatible moralities, because their local mores are rationally binding. At the same time, he explains why the mores of different communities, even when incompatible, are still variations on the same moral themes. The book thus maps out a universe of many moral worlds without, as Velleman puts it, "moral black holes". The five self-standing chapters discuss such diverse topics as online avatars and virtual worlds, lying in Russian and truth-telling in Quechua, the pleasure of solitude and the fear of absurdity. Accessibly written, 'Foundations for Moral Relativism' presupposes no prior training in philosophy.

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possible by convergence on ordinary attitudes. The community’s evaluative frame of reference is established by the drive toward sociality plus the shared ways of thinking, feeling, and acting to which members of the community are thereby drawn. Other communities have their own evaluative frames of reference, established by the same force drawing them toward other ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, whichever are theirs. Hence reasons are relative to a community — specifically, to the

Relativism 61 will consist in his attitudes, especially those attitudes which he and others ordinarily have.15 This rule has many exceptions, however, as is inevitable whenever holistic reasoning is at work. For example, co-members of a community may coordinate on behaving in a particular way under particular circumstances no matter what they think or feel. They will then be able to read the applicable act-descriptions directly off the circumstances, because they will know what “we” do in

us, the nearest physical black hole is 1,600 light-years away — nearby on a cosmic scale but far enough away for us to sleep at night. What would it take to reassure us likewise about moral black holes? Realists and rationalists have the comfort of believing that moral black holes are impossible: wherever there are people, they believe, recognizably moral norms are in force. But what comfort is there for those of us who are relativists? We must look for comfort in the possibility that moral black

performing it; what you lose is your objective awareness of yourself as the agent, an inhabitant of the world who is doing something and is hereby aware of doing it. In short, you lose your objective self-awareness. Since forgetting yourself in this sense is the exception, the rule must be remembering yourself — that is, maintaining your objective self-awareness. Yet when you “remember yourself” in an activity, you aren’t “thinking about” yourself, either; your objective self-awareness is merely

presenting a well-dressed appearance that doesn’t go well with a slouch. 14 I discuss this phenomenon, and its significance for the philosophy of action, in “The Way of the Wanton”, in Practical Identity and Narrative Agency, ed. Kim Atkins and Catriona Mackenzie (New York: Routledge, 2008), 169–192. 78 Foundations for Moral Relativism Mutuality An objective-self conception is essential to many forms of mutuality that are distinctive of persons. Consider joint intentions. When one intends to

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