Meta-Ethics.1.1: Fred D'Agostino Thu, 26 Sep 1996 10:48:56 EDT (41 lines)
OBJECTIVE PLURALISM AND APPLIED ETHICS In the book _Postliberalism_, John Gray refers to Isaiah Berlin's 'objective pluralism' in relation to values. In _Political Liberalism_, John Rawls writes of the ineliminable plurality of 'conceptions of the good'. In my book _Free Public Reason_, I try to show that there is, as well, as ineliminable plurality of 'conceptions of reason', and, hence, that the notion of reason can't be recruited to settle issues among individuals who disagree about 'the good'. Individuals may disagree on grounds which reason cannot impugn. As with many other 'post-modernists', I think that which conception of reason we use to settle issues often depends on conventional, and usually power-mediated decisions. This position has important implications for discussion of abortion, euthanasia, and pornography. Adopting a pluralist/conventionalist perspective should make us wary of 'metaphysical' approaches to problems in applied ethics. For instance, to settle the issue of the permissibility of abortion, some theorists think that we need to discover metaphysical truths about the person. If one such truth is that first-term fetuses are/are-not persons, then, ceteris paribus, abortion during the first term may-not/may be permissible. This approach doesn't make much sense once we recognize the role of convention is settling on some determinate practice of reason, and hence on (some possibility of) a determinate answer to so-called 'metaphysical' questions. If first-term fetuses are/are-not persons only relative to some convention about how reason works, then the real issue is about the suitability of the convention for the community, and any mode of presentation that disguises this, as the metaphysical mode certainly does, is therefore to be rejected. (See Amelie Rorty's book _Mind in Action_ for a good example of a non-metaphysical approach to the 'theory' of the person.) A pluralist/conventionalist perspective furthermore suggests a more tolerant approach to disagreement than would perhaps be fostered by a universalist perspective. If individuals who disagree may have grounds for persisting in their disagreement that reason cannot impugn, then, perhaps, our dealings with them may demand greater degrees of mutual recognition and may take the form of negotiations aimed at compromise, rather than discourses aimed at determining the truth.
Meta-Ethics.1.2: Robert Cavalier (rc2z) Wed, 02 Oct 1996 11:28:19 EDT (64 lines)
Many critics of post modern thought are concerned that moral philosophy has lost its bearings and yields to a naive relativism under the guise of a deep relativism. For surely there are 'evil acts' in the world that survive moral disapproval -- all the way from the proto-typical (Johnson), paradigmatic (Toulmin & Josen) 'thin' (Rorty) prohibitions against cruelty to the thickness of the particulars of a case of cruelty. The issue of abortion may indeed show the ambiguity of attempts to apply univocal moral reasoning (algorithms) to the termination of a pregnancy during the first trimester (because of the metaphysical status of the fetus, the application of personhood to the object of controversy, all the reasons Wertheimer gives in "Understanding the Abortion Argument"). In fact, both Habermas and Putnam express complex views on this as well. But now consider the recent case in Belgium in which two girls (around the ages of 9 and 10) were found staved to death in a basement tomb. They had been kidnapped and made to have sex as part of a child pornography ring. The particulars of the case involve the fact that the man responsible was in jail and the person he asked to feed the children did not do so. After being released from a four month sentence, he discovered the dead children and killed his partner before being apprehended himself. Now, this is no Euthyphro and the act of kidnapping children, enslaving them, and forcing them to have sex seems to require unambiguous moral condemnation whatever your theoretical foundation or anti-foundation principles happen to be. The moral wrongness of this situation does not seem capable of changing under any kind of open and informed conversation (and this is might be one of the criteria for supporting its unqualified evil). What makes this case relevant to this forum is that it not only focuses the mind on a situation that every theory must sadly acknowledge and philosophically account for, but also that it links to a number of other topics and perspectives in this forum. MacKinnon will use this as data for the harm that pornography causes; Rorty's subtle reflections on Lolita would, it seems to me, harden into condemnation in light of the palpable cruelty of this case; Califia's belief in cross generational consensual sex would not tolerate these kinds of situations. However we might disagree with the reasons behind the worldviews of MacKinnon, Rorty, and Califia, would we not disagree with the moral condemnations of the Belgium case. And it's that common ground (common sense?) that also needs to be emphasized in discussions of pluralities of reasons. But it might be interesting to see what might make the issue of child pornography as ambiguous as the issue of abortion. If we shift the factual grounds of child pornography from carbon life forms to silicon based graphical representations of children ('virtual child pornography'), would this 'radical redescription' and 'paradigm shift' amend the moral reprehensiveness of the act? What would be the consequences for our society if virtual children could be 'abused' in the internet society? As you might imagine, this is not far fetched...it is not a 'desert island' example.
Meta-Ethics.1.3: Fred D'Agostino
Thu, 03 Oct 1996 07:26:49 EDT (63 lines)
Robert Cavalier raises an interesting point. Can the objective pluralistI prefer this to 'relativist' acknowledge the forcefulness of such 'paradigm' cases of cruelty? That s/he cannot seems to be implied, and it also seems to be implied that, if s/he cannot, then h/er position cannot be taken seriously. I agree that being taken seriously means having something to say about these casesand something that can be taken seriously by our dialogue partners. What do I have to say about these cases? That they are paradigms of evil, just as Cavalier suggests. Can I say this consistently with my objective pluralism? I do not see why not. That reason does not always speak univocally does not mean that it never does so. Am I just being opportunistic in taking advantage of this 'loophole' ('not always' doesn't mean 'never') without any basis, within the pluralist position, for making these cases exceptions to pluralism? I do not think so. I do not see how these actions could be justified within ANY framework of reason; these frameworks differ in more subtle ways, and the implications of their differences arise elsewhere, at the edges and margins, not here at the heart of things morally. Doesn't saying this rely on the kinds of metaphysical considerations I said we needed to foreswear? I don't think so. Saying that these actions are evil of course depends on some convention about evil; 'evil', I still insist, is not a 'natural kind' term. But that our convention must classify these actions as evil seems assured by the functions that we want such a notion as 'evil' to serve in our world. No conception of 'evil' could be an adequate interpretation of that concept which did not classify these actions as evil.
Meta-Ethics.1.4: Robert Cavalier
03 Oct 1996 12:12:51 EDT (28 lines)
Thanks for the nice response, Fred. Now it seems to me that if we have 'paradigm cases' to work with, the recent work on 'casuistry' might shed light on the *method* that could be used to discuss hard cases (from within the context of a plurality of world views). This is, after all, what our society (and the Supreme Court) will do with the topic of euthanasia. I have a section on our site that discusses this 'casuistical' approach in some detail. I'd be interested in how, for example, Toulmin and Jonsen's work fits in with 'objective pluralism.' There are those who say that emphasis on 'cases' omits emphasis on case-transcending principles (Gert, Baier)...and that we are left, as Habermas says, with 'phenomenologial descriptions.' But it seems to me that as we go from 'norms' (as prima facie duties, 'context-transcending' validity claims) to the application of those norms to hard or marginal cases, we must fall back up the kind of casuistical methods proposed by Toulnin and Jonsen, methods that acknowledge an important role for modern rhetoric. Habermas struggles with this in his Remarks on Discourse Ethics (see Justification and Application p. 37). How might all this converge on the example of 'virtual child pornography' (or a similar, paradigm bending, case)?
Meta-Ethics.1.5: Charles Ess Thu, 03 Oct
1996 14:08:28 EDT (63 lines)
Let me begin by responding to Fred D'Agostino's opening comments.
I regret to say that I haven't yet read Fred D'Agostino's book, _Free Public Reason_, so I must ask begin with a question of clarification: How do you show that there is an "ineliminable plurality of 'conceptions of reason,'..."? As someone rather interested in Habermas's reformulation of a Kantian notion of reason, I can easily acknowledge that there is a plurality of conceptions of reason (e.g., instrumental reason, calculative reason, teleological reason, communicative reason, "transversal reason" [I'll invite Mike Sandbothe to say more about that one], and the like) - but what makes them _ineliminably_ pluralistic? Moreover, why does it follow from a plurality of conceptions of 'reason' that reason is no longer a viable candidate for resolving disagreements concerning the good? My question here rests on (what may be) a (mistaken) analogy: just as cultural relativism (as analogous to an ineliminable plurality of cultural practices) by no means entails ethical relativism (as analogous to your postmodern conception of reason as reducible to convention and power) -- so I'm not at all sure that a plurality of reasons so clearly forces us into what you're characterizing as a conventionalist approach to applied ethics. As this analogy suggests, I further worry about the obvious: how will a pluralist/conventionalist perspective avoid the well-known problems of ethical relativism? To put the point on it - if all ethical decisions are made within conventional, relativistic frameworks, then why should we debate those decisions at all? (I'm not saying you have no response to this: on the contrary, it's such an obvious point that I'm sure you're quite well prepared to address it - I'm simply asking that you do so.) Relatedly, you point out that "a pluralist/conventionalist perspective furthermore suggests a more tolerant approach to disagreement than would perhaps be fostered by a universalist perspective." Perhaps, but again, it seems to me that two sorts of questions need to be raised here: 1) can I easily assume that universalist perspectives - e.g., those of Habermas, et al - will _not_ issue in _sufficient_ tolerance for life in a civil and pluralistic society? (My own understanding of Habermas is that tolerance is indeed a crucial feature, one that is built in in some measure in his discourse ethics, for example, both in its requirements for perspective-taking/solidarity and in the formalistic procedure as such, since it may issue in diverse "contents" of moral norms as it is taken up by diverse communities. So perhaps the issue here is: does Habermas or systems like his fail to provide "enough" tolerance, while yours does - and how would you show this?) 2) why is tolerance a value - one that apparently needs to enjoy universal validity? My point here is one of theoretical consistency: given a pluralist/conventionalist starting point, one which seems to me in danger of quickly sliding into simple ethical relativism - why does "tolerance" (or compromise, for that matter) enjoy a privileged status as a value which much be respected as valid by all communities, in the middle of a theory which otherwise seems committed to relativizing all other values? Looking forward to your reply - Charles Ess
Meta-Ethics.1.6: Fred D'Agostino
Mon, 07 Oct 1996 00:43:42 EDT (127 lines)
Just to address some of the points Charles Ess makes. Why and in what sense are there a plurality of conceptions of reason? I begin with the notion of "public reason", i.e. the notion of reason that's supposed to be in play when citizens discuss the ground rules for their lives together as members of a democratic community. This notion is exemplied in Habermas's notion of communicative reason, though that is not its only exemplification. Indeed, the fact that there are, just as a factual matter, a number of (at least superficially) distinct exemplifications of this notion sets the problem for my work. For instance, we have the Rawlsian exemplification in the form of original position argumentation, the contractualist exemplification in the work of David Gauthier. Even this "sample" is enough to make one of the most important points. The different exemplifications of "public reason" are so different (at least superficially) that it's hard not to wonder whether they are even compatible with one another. For instance, both Rawls and Habermas work with a notion of public reason that's already "moralized" in the sense that what counts as reasonable, by their standards, depends on moral demands being met. Gauthier, on the other hand, wants to derive morality from (a more nearly purely) instrumental notion of reason. He wants, perhaps, to derive public reason from private reason. Now imagine that someone asks us whether some restriction or recognition of liberty is or isn't reasonable and hence legitimate and hence to be honored. What do we say to h/er? After all, the restriction/recognition might be reasonable by Rawls's notion, but not Gauthier's. Of course, this is just the beginning; it's certainly not the last word. Perhaps we can decide which of these exemplifications of the idea of public reason, which differ amongst themselves in their implications, is the right one to be using. Then we will be able to answer the question posed for us unequivocally. But what if the criteria we use to decide which exemplification is the right one are themselves plural and incommensurable? Then we are in strife. And that this is the case is precisely the argument of Free Public Reason. Of course, some decision can be made even in these cases. But the decision will be to adopt a convention, not to recognize some "natural fact" about what is/isn't in accordance with the demands of public reason. Notice, by the way, that the situation is not really the one so beloved of the relativist. It is not that there are many different truths, but that there is, in the situation contemplated, none at all there are truth-value gaps in relation to public morality. Or so I contend. Again, the gaps can be "closed" by convention, and conventions can be better and worse for certain purposes or relative to certain interests (perhaps there is some relativism, but not of truth, here again). But wherever there are conventions, there are alternatives, which might be better for other purposes or relative to opposed interests, and hence there is (the possibility of) the play of power. Of course, this is what, politics (largely) is, and while one can't, in specifics, call the history of politics very edifying, one can't call it altogether depraved either, at least not universally. What is there to fear in the inescapability of politics? (I mean politics, of course, in the sense of coalition formation, compromise, you scratch mine/ I'll scratch yours.) It's politics in this sense that brought us the Voting Rights Bill, after all.
Meta-Ethics.1.7: Charles Ess
Tue, 08 Oct 1996 10:42:49 EDT (92 lines)
Responding to Fred D'Agostino, above (posting:6).
I don't follow several steps here. It seems to me that you're arguing from a _pluralism_ of conceptions of public reason to an incommensurability of conceptions of public reason (using Gauthier vs. Rawls and Habermas as your example) to what still amounts to a relativism regarding public reason (while you don't want to call it that, this is what I understand when you say "It is not that there are many different truths [ = pluralism, as I understand the term], but that there is...none at all [ = relativism, as I understand the term], which then entails for you "politics" in the sense of coalition formation, compromise, tit-for-tat exchange, etc. If this is correct, then I have several criticisms of the argument. 1) Of course there are before us a plurality of conceptions of public reason. I use this fact myself as the starting point of a new topic for us: see my opening question on '"Public Reason" and abortion," (posting:5.1). But plurality does not necessarily slide into incommensurability and thus into relativism. For example: even among conflicting conceptions of public reason - we seem to continue to use a public form of reason to discuss and critique these conceptions. (Readers should recognize here a form of Hegel's "cunning of reason" argument, as well as its descendents in Habermas's notion of communicative reason as working in such discussions of reason.) This does not "prove" a _univocal_ conception of reason which would exclude plural conceptions - but it does suggest that we cannot so easily move from plurality to incommensurability. There is a logical leap here, in short, which I do not think is sound. 2) I also suspect that underlying this move is an expectation which I associate with positivism and its descendents in analytic philosophy - namely, that either we achieve a single, univocal definition of reason, moral standards, etc. - or we assume a relativism in which any definition is as good as another (i.e., "conventional" in the sense I believe you're using it). I see this suggested in a couple of ways. One is in the expectation that "we will be able to answer the question posed for us unequivocally," - and in the absence of that unequivocal (=univocal) answer, the only alternative is "plural and incommensurable" conceptions. More broadly - the argument as a whole seems to boil down to an either/or: either we have a single conception of public reason - or we end with power politics. But this misses, of course, a rather wide middle-ground of pluralisms and "both/ands" - ones arcing back to Aristotle's notion of analogical and "pros hen" equivocals as middle-grounds between raw univocation and equivocation, as ways, in turn, of formalizing the middle-grounds limned out in the Socratic dialogues. These middle-grounds find contemporary expression in any number of theorists, including Habermas. Perhaps I'm overreading the argument here - but if there is such a positivist expectation, I would suggest that it needs considerable justification before we accept it for the sake of the rest of the argument. 3) Even if one grants the first premise (which I do), the second premise doesn't follow (especially if it's undergirded by positivist expectations I think are questionable) - and thus neither does the rest of the argument. As well, the either/or of the broad argument - either a single, univocal (and, postmodernists would object, totalizing and thus totalitarian) conception of reason prevails, or we have power politics guided only by (relativistic) convention - seems to me to be overly simple, especially in its relativist conclusions. One doesn't have to be a relativist to recognize the role of power (presuming, still further, that such power is always irrational in an important sense) in shaping political decisions. Rather, one can rather comfortably acknowledge - as I believe Habermas's position does - that a pluralism of conventions and interests will play important roles in shaping political decisions -- but these are not exclusive of the role of some form of public reason in shaping those decisions as well. In particular, I recall that the Voting Rights Act did indeed involve a lot of good ol' Texas-style "you scratch my back/I'll scratch yours" bargains. But this by no means excludes the fact that the Voting Rights Act itself was _also_ supported by a variety of _moral_ _arguments_ - i.e., rational appeals to moral principles (e.g., equality, justice as fairness, etc.). So your case strikes me as a good example of the "both/and" I see in Habermas (and others), over against the either/or I see you attempting to draw.
Meta-Ethics.1.8: Ross Poole (rpoole) Tue, 08 Oct 1996 23:00:46 EDT (20 lines)
Comments on Fred D'Agostino's Original Contribution (I will catch up with the rest shortly!) Negotiation based on compromise rather than reconciliation on the basis of truth will reflect differential power; we may not in practice be able to do better, but it would be nice to have a philosophical theory able to criticize the results of such negotiation. Relativism is not the same thing as pluralism. There are different moralities, different rationalities. We do not have access to absolute standards of morality, rationality by which to evaluate different moralities, rationalities (Habermas hankers after one). This does not mean that we are not sometimes in a position to say that one morality is (morally) better than another, and also to say that once conception of rationality is (rationally) better than another. If such situated comparisons are rationally defensible, then we can defeat relativism without claim access to an absolute standpoint. (MacIntyre, Taylor both make this point)
Meta-Ethics.1.9: Fred D'Agostino (fdagosti) Wed, 09 Oct 1996 02:58:11 EDT (161 lines) Let me answer some of the points Charles Ess makes in Meta-Ethics 1.7. I think the key point is that I reason the other way round from what Ess seems to imagine. I don't (think that I) slide from pluralism into incommensurability, but, obviously, I havenÕt made it clear how the argument is supposed to go. Let me try to set it out schematically. Suppose that we have multiple criteria for judging some set S of possible situations. Call these criteria C1...Cn. Suppose that, for some Ci and Cj, if X (from S) is Ci superior to Y (from S), then it is Cj inferior to Y. (This will be very common in situations of ethical and political judgment.) Suppose that we need to make OVERALL judgments among the members of S. To do so we will need, given my initial supposition, to weight X's Ci superiority over Y against its Cj inferiority. If we can't do this in a socially "compelling" way, then we will have incommensurability. My claim about public reason is that we sometimes have this situation - multiple and competing criteria for which there is no CANONICAL system of weighting. Hence we get that, for one system of weights on Ci and Cj, X is better overall than Y, whereas, for another, Y is better overall than X, and thus that there is no judgment about the relative merits of X and Y which it is incumbent on all to accept (or else fail in reason). Perhaps this confirms Ess's suspicion that I am working with some "positivistic" false dichotomy - either univocity or else incommensurability. I don't think so. It's not that I argue against univocity and then jump to the conclusion that incommensurability is the only alternative. It is, rather, that I try to establish incommensurability as a way of arguing against univocity. Of course, the force of the argument depends on the success of my argument for incommensurability. It has two main "prongs". (1) I argue that various proposals for determining a canonical system of weights cannot work. For instance, perhaps we are to determine a canonical system of weights by aggregating individuals' judgments about what these weights should be. (If A assigns weights W1 and B assigns weights W2 to Ci and Cj, then we determine a socially valid system of weights W* by "aggregating" W1 and W2 in some way, thus getting a determinate answer to the X vs. Y question which, provided the aggregation procedure satisfies certain requirements, is binding on both A and B.) If we approach the problem this way, then, by an extension of Arrow's Theorem, we can show that there is no canonical system which is guaranteed to satisfy these reasonable conditions on aggregations. Hence, the prima facie difficulty persists - we have incommensurability and not merely plurality. (The use of "aggregation" and the invocation of Arrow is just an example; other possibilities are also considered in Free Public Reason.) (2) I suggest, following Kuhn, that the absence of a canonical system of weightings is a socially valuable resource. Kuhn argued that the community of scientists maintained an "essential tension" that was necessary for the progress of science by accommodating both "conservative" and "innovative" members - i.e. individuals who gave different weights to the various criteria for judging "paradigms", and hence formed different overall judgments about them. Without these differences, the community would be too slow or too quick in changing its paradigms. I extend this by analogy. A diversity of unresolved differences in ways of weighting the various criteria relevant to moral and political reasoning is a valuable resource. Given (1) we are stuck with incommensurability, but, if (2) is correct, then this isn't such a bad place to be stuck. Of course, if incommensurability is established, then there are certainly _costs_ as well as benefits. For instance, if A and B disagree about some substantive matter and if they also disagree (within the limits of "reason") about how to weight criteria that will play a role in "resolving" their substantive disagreement, then appeals to these criteria are not going to help in resolving their substantive dispute. Of course, they may have to resolve it nonetheless, and this may be possible to do. But resolution will either presuppose some existing shared convention about resolving disputes of this kind or will require the development of such a convention. In either case, power is likely to play or to have played a role.
Meta-Ethics.1.10: Kenneth R Baynes (kbaynes) Fri, 11 Oct 1996 22:43:11 EDT (49 lines)
After some fumbling around, I have been able to find my way into this discussion group. Please excuse the tardiness, and the limited contribution I will be able to offer. I have found all of the contributions stimulating and provocative, and must confess that I am myself quite unsure just what one can hope to derive from a project such as Habermas's discourse ethics. I am reasonably certain, however, that it is not a situation in which, for example, there already exists a right answer on, say, the abortion controversy, and that we philosophers simply need to try to figure out what that answer is. It is, I take it, for similar reasons that Rawls' suggestion that public reason (or its burdens) removes the abortion controversy from the political agenda seems so unconvincing. What seems missing from the discussions so far is that for Habermas (as well as for positions such as Gutmann and Thompson re. moral argument in the face of deep disagreements) is that the discourse itself helps to create or generate new perspectives from which moral problems might be approached. This is not to suggest that existing preference/convictions will or must be transformed in a discourse, but it is at least to hold it out as a possibility that a discourse will produce a new insight into the matter under discussion. The situation is, as others have noted, a modern (or even postmodern) one in which it can no longer be assumed that there is a shared set of background moral presuppostions and beliefs. Rather, it is a question of whether discourse can help uncover or create shared assumptions that were not previously recognized or did not even exist.
I agree too with the suggestions that there is need for an element of casuistry in the Habermasian model of discourse. One cannot understand ethical decision-making as simply the application of a rule. However, and it is in this context that I have found the work of Klaus Guenther (The Sense of Appropriateness) to be invaluable. It is not simply that discussion/discourse comes to an end, and we reach a point where practical judgment (in sense of Aristotle's phronesis) is required. Rather, it may be that there exists a sort of dialectic between prima facie rule accepted as valid and a second type of discourse (what Guenther identifies as discourses of application) whose aim is to determine whether all of the morally relevant factors bearing on the situation have been taken into consideration. Such reflection/discussion on the context of application may eventually call into question the prima facie rules, or it may extend the norms into new interpretive contexts. Again, though, I do not think there is the assumption that there must be (or can only be) one right answer to a moral dilemma.
I must break off here, as I am not even sure that I can send this message (alas, Charles, I warned you that I was quite a novice with the internet. I shall try to join in again later, if it is clear that I have had success.
Meta-Ethics.1.11: Fred D'Agostino (fdagosti) Mon, 14 Oct 1996 00:16:07 EDT (108 lines)
Let me reassure Kenneth Baynes; he has managed to communicateand how we welcome his contribution!
Baynes adds an interesting element to the discussionone which echoes with a point made by Chambers in one of the background readings for the forum.
Discourse can be a process of 'bildung', of education and not just of trying to fit what I already think (as a given) together with what you already think (again, taken as fixed)perhaps one or both of us will come to think differently than we did.
Of course, where there is antecedent disagreement, this MUST happen if there is to be consensus at the end. Of course, where there is a DEEP pluralism, this is something that may fail to happen, even 'in the end'and without either of the parties necessarily being mistaken.
For me the question is whether the telos of discourse can reasonably be thought of as consensus if pluralist assumptions are correct. It would seem that, when they are, any achieved consensus has been achieved at least partly via mechanisms which are not wholly 'rational'.
To be sure, a question remainseven accepting these pluralistic assumptions. What IS the telos of discourse in cases where consensus cannot be 'freely' secured?
Perhaps it is to SHOW us that consensus cannot be 'freely' secured...and, hence, if we value autonomy, that no 'engineered' consensus should be imposed either.
Perhaps it is to give us the opportunity of reaching some 'passing' pseudo-consensus.
Perhaps it is to try to make the compromise we end up having to settle for look less like an opportunistic modus vivendi and more like a way of honoring, of positively endorsing, our diversity.
And, of course, casuistry has a role to play in all this. On a pluralistic analysis, it will of course involve what Paul de Man calls the 'rhetorical positioning' of one's interlocutorsi.e. an emphasis on certain aspects of the cases that points in a particular direction that you want them to take. (Of course, in a pluralist framework, there may be other aspects that could also, just as reaonably, be emphasized, and which, if emphasized, might have other implications. But, since that sometimes cannot be avoided in a pluralist context, there is no shame in putting the emphasis where YOU think it belongs...and HOPING to inveigle others to accept too that it belongs there.)
I repeat a point I made in an earlier exchange: I think this is how we actually proceed discursively; those who fear that a recognition of pluralism will lead us astray somehow are asking for some modus operandi that is essentially different from the one we have ALWAYS ACTUALLY RELIED ON. Of course, there is plenty to complain of about this modee.g. the nearly 100 year gap between the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation; the nearly 100 year gap between the latter and the Voting Rights Act. But these gaps are not opened any wider, on my submission, by either the reality or the acknowledgment of pluralism.
Meta-Ethics.1.12: Aristotle, Habermas, Rushdie (rc2z) Mon, 14 Oct 1996 09:44:42 EDT (64 lines)
Thanks to both Ken and Fred for the recent comments -- I will certainly follow-up on some of the suggestions that you both made in your contributions. And I agree that the act of 'argument' fully understood is itself a virtuous activity (look at the essay by Hampshire in the backgound material on Putnam).
Regarding Ken's comments on Aristotelian phronesis, I'd like to urge a consideration of Martha Nussbaumys piece on Aristotelian rationality in _Love's Knowledge_. An important feature of 'practical wisdom' involves the virtuous appropriation of rich experience. To have such experience enables one to know when one paradigm or another might best be applied in a particular case under particular circumstances. This kind of knowledge owes much to the details of life (experience and sensitivity)....what a good doctor possesses after long years in medical practice. In the moral sense, it involves the imaginative grasp of other lives and the complexity of human perspectives and situations. It's precisely this element in moral decision making that has led us to work on multimedia case studies in ethics (and to utilize some digital video of patient and doctor interviews in our siteys section on euthanasia).
Nussbuam also speaks of the cultivation of a community of perceivers and this will be important if we are to adopt procedural as opposed to substantive principles of justice. I think that this kind of Aristotelian 'ethics' will always have a role to play in our meta-ethical discussions.
I also think that this plays a role in the procedures of Habermas's Discourse Ethics...though it remains to be seen whether we will achieve more 'clarity and perspective' than 'validly and resolution' in our topical studies (pornography, abortion, euthanasia). But this is not to say that we can't arrive at some form of Habermassian validity in regard to fundamentals. For example, I think that Habermas, Rawls, and Putnam would all agree that the case of Salmin Rushdie exhibits a violation of precisely the kinds of rights that Discourse Ethics and Public Reason would defend.
Habermas's reference to the case of Rushdie, the author whose work "Satanic Verses" was condemned and who subsequently was put under the order of death, can be found in the following quote:
"....the priority of the right over the good first emerges at a postmetaphysical or nonfoundationalist level of thought. Only in modern societies do cultural traditions become reflective in the sense that competing worldviews no longer simply assert themselves against one another in noncommunicative coexistence but are compelled to justify their claims to validity self-critically in light of argumentative confrontations with the competing validity claims of all others....This fact was dramatically highlighted by the Rushdie affair: no culture that has, with the transition to modernity, integrated second-order concepts into its everyday practices and its collective identity can accord claims that are merely asserted in a fundamentalistic manner the same argumentative role as reflectively justified claims (Justification and Application, p. 181.)
Now to bring this back to Fred's thesis. What is the 'cash value' of Habermas's claim and how does it compare and contrast with 'objective pluralism'? (It is interesting to note that Congress has just passed a law against female genital mutilation and that the criteria for this prohibition lay within what Rawls would call Public Reason.)
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