Foundations for Moral Relativism

Foundations for Moral Relativism

J. David Velleman
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 119
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  • Book Info
    Foundations for Moral Relativism
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-909254-46-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. I. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    There is no universally valid morality, only moralities plural, each having merely local validity. This much seems clear on first glance at the historical and ethnographic data. First impressions can be deceiving, though, and this one is troubling as well, so it calls for a second look. Ethnographers and historians can look again at its empirical sources;¹ a philosopher wants to look at its foundations. The philosopher asks: Can there be plural moralities of merely local validity?

    There can of course be localmores. Moresare always specific to a culture or society or community.² Butmoreslack the obligatoriness,...

  5. II. Virtual Selves
    (pp. 5-22)

    Most mornings, thousands of computer users log on to a virtual world called Second Life. Their computer screens show scenes of a nonexistent world, peopled by humanlike figures. Each user sees the world from the perspective of one of those figures, which is his avatar in the world and whose movements and utterances he controls through his computer keyboard and mouse. The other figures on his screen are being controlled by other users, all of whom witness one another’s avatars doing and saying whatever their owners make them do and say. Through their avatars, these users converse, buy and sell...

  6. III. Doables
    (pp. 23-44)

    Right now I am writing a philosophical essay about the sociology essay “On Doing ‘Being Ordinary’”, by Harvey Sacks.¹ The thesis of this brilliant essay (Sacks’s, not mine) is that no matter what we do, we are doing something else in addition, namely, being ordinary. By “being ordinary”, Sacks means doing something that is ordinarily done in a situation like ours, conceived as a situation ordinarily encountered by people like us, conceived as people of some ordinary kind. I am a philosophy professor, an ordinary sort of person to be. Even if I held the Extraordinary Chair in Philosophy (I...

  7. IV. Foundations for Moral Relativism
    (pp. 45-70)

    I am not going to argue for moral relativism. The case for moral relativism is not an argument; it’s a pair of observations. The first observation is that people live and have lived by mutually incompatible moral norms. The second observation is that no one has ever succeeded in showing any one set of norms to be universally valid.

    These observations do not prove that there is no universally valid morality, but they do lead us to wonder: If there weren’t a universally valid morality, would there be any valid morality at all? Could there be multiple moralities, each of...

  8. V. Sociality and Solitude
    (pp. 71-88)

    The moral universe of relativism is a scary place. Bad enough that there are physical black holes; relativism raises the specter of moral black holes as well, places where the laws of morality collapse. The fear is not just that there can be ways of life in which this or that unsavory practice turns out to be morally permissible; it’s that there can be ways of life that draw no distinctions remotely like our distinction between right and wrong, so that nothing is either permissible or impermissible in a sense that we can recognize as moral.

    Lucky for us, the...

  9. VI. Life Absurd? Don’t Be Ridiculous
    (pp. 89-98)

    Macbeth says that life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. This description fits Thomas Nagel’s definition of absurdity: “a conspicuous discrepancy between pretension or aspiration and reality”.¹ Nagel offers his own examples: “[S]omeone gives a complicated speech in support of a motion that has already been passed; a notorious criminal is made president of a major philanthropic foundation; you declare your love over the telephone to a recorded announcement; as you are being knighted, your pants fall down.” We might add: “An idiot tells a tale that signifies nothing.” The idiot aspires or pretends to tell a...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 99-104)
  11. Index
    (pp. 105-108)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 109-111)