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Prospects for a Common Morality

Prospects for a Common Morality

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 312
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    Prospects for a Common Morality
    Book Description:

    This volume centers on debates about how far moral judgments bind across traditions and epochs. Nowadays such debates appear especially volatile, both in popular culture and intellectual discourse: although there is increasing agreement that the moral and political criteria invoked in human rights documents possess cross-cultural force, many modern and postmodern developments erode confidence in moral appeals that go beyond a local consensus or apply outside a particular community. Often the point of departure for discussion is the Enlightenment paradigm of a common morality, in which it is assumed that certain unchanging beliefs inhere in the structure of human reason. Whereas some thinkers continue to defend this paradigm, others modify it in diverse ways without abandoning entirely the attempt to address a universal audience, and still others jettison virtually all of its distinguishing features. Exhibiting a range of positions Western participants take in these debates, this volume seeks to advance the substance of the debates themselves without prejudging the outcome. Rival assessments of the Enlightenment paradigm are offered from various philosophical and theological points of view. In addition to the editors, the contributors include Robert Merrihew Adams, Annette C. Baier, Alan Donagan, Margaret A. Farley, Alan Gewirth, David Little, Richard Rorty, Jeffrey Stout, and Lee H. Yearley.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2081-8
    Subjects: Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. vii-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION (pp. 3-28)
    Gene Outka and John P. Reeder JR.

    Recent moral and political thought seems Janus-faced. We find on the one side a remarkable kind of cross-cultural moral agreement about human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, announced in the United Nations in 1948, proves to be far more than an isolated episode of idealistic recoil from the horrors of World War II. Such rights have been reaffirmed and elaborated in numerous international instruments and agreements; as a result, the policies of some governments have changed, and people in many parts of the world have risen against repression. For example, many people take the work of Amnesty International...

    Alan Gewirth

    The idea of a common morality has been central to many phases of the history of philosophy. It also figures prominently in recent moral, legal, and political thought and action. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated by the United Nations in 1948 assumed the existence, in some sense, of common moral standards for judging nations and governments; a common morality is also invoked not only in contemporary appeals for human rights but also in the agonized concern over such ongoing problems as homelessness, poverty, drug addiction, AIDS, and other human afflictions.

    At the same time, however, the idea that...

    Alan Donagan

    Is there any prospect that all societies and cultures in the world will one day accept the same morality? No. Is there any prospect that their mores or ways of living will become much more alike? Yes, provided that the socialist and “third world” societies adopt market systems of economics, as it now appears that they will.

    How can societies have much the same mores and yet not the same morality? The thinkers of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, who laid the foundations of twentieth-century social and political science, were in a position also to lay the foundations for an adequate twentieth-century...

  7. Chapter 3 THE NATURE AND BASIS OF HUMAN RIGHTS (pp. 73-92)
    David Little

    We are currently confronted with two conflicting sets of claims and beliefs about our contemporary spiritual and intellectual condition. On the one hand, we are told we live in a “postmodern” world in which universal standards of truth and morality, standards that are believed to be applicable and justifiable independent of particular cultural or religious traditions, are simply unavailable. For example, Alasdair MacIntyre informs us bluntly that “human rights are fictions.” That is so, he says, because there are no universally convincing reasons for believing in human rights, just as there are no such reasons for believing in witches or...

    Robert Merrihew Adams

    One of the objections often raised against religious theories in ethics is that in a religiously pluralistic society they will be divisive, undermining the common, or shared, morality on which a society depends for its health. We would be better served, objectors suggest, by a purely secular ethical theory on which all could agree. The short answer to this objection is that there is a sense in which every society must, and therefore will, have a shared morality, but that a shared ethical theory is not required for such a common morality. And it is good that it is not...

    Gene Outka

    Two appeals lie embedded in Mill’s honorable judgment. One is to sheer consistency. Those who protest persecution when they are victims contradict themselves if they persecute others when they acquire power. The other is to explicit convictions. Those who define themselves by a religion enjoining charity, liberty, and mercy violate these injunctions when they use their power to persecute others.

    These appeals doubtless go well together in giving Mill’s judgment the force it has. Still, each appeal presented by itself asks us to weigh distinct considerations. The first extols noncontradiction in our de facto judgments and practices. If we reach...

  10. Chapter 6 CLAIMS, RIGHTS, RESPONSIBILITIES (pp. 149-169)
    Annette C. Baier

    Our sociability is a matter not just of our tastes but of our capacities. Language does more than help us cater to our sociable tastes; it is itself a social capacity, one that we enjoy exercising. We may learn it largely by spontaneous imitation, but others teach us its finer points, and we both need and welcome initiation into the various roles that speech involves—teacher and learner, speaker and hearer, asker and answerer, proposer and seconder, challenger and defender, proclaimer and dissident. Speech, once we are fully initiated into it, introduces us to the plurality of social roles that...

  11. Chapter 7 FEMINISM AND UNIVERSAL MORALITY (pp. 170-190)
    Margaret A. Farley

    Feminists have understandable reasons both to reject and to promote belief in a common or universal morality. The social construction of moral norms is hardly anywhere more evident than in the history of interpretations of women’s roles and duties in the family and in society. The suffering caused by what are now judged to be mistaken views of women’s “nature” and its laws has moved many feminists to a deep skepticism regarding moral norms in general. Yet insofar as feminism is a movement aimed at the well-being of women, it has an important interest in understanding what truly is for...

    John P. Reeder Jr.

    In this essay I assume that there is indeed, as Richard J. Bernstein has argued, a way beyond the false alternatives of objectivism and relativism. But I argue that everything depends on what one takes that to be.¹ I first discuss the historical context and Bernstein’s typology, and then I try to set out a version of that way I call neopragmatism. The thrust of my view is that the rejection of an “ahistorical” starting point for justification, understanding, and agreement does not settle the substantive issues at stake in debates about a common or universal morality. I suggest that...

  13. Chapter 9 ON HAVING A MORALITY IN COMMON (pp. 215-232)
    Jeffrey Stout

    The place is Northern Ireland, Jerusalem, Sri Lanka, or Chicago. Two or more groups are in conflict over some issue, and we would like to see the conflict resolved reasonably and peaceably. One thing we will want to know is the extent to which their moral vocabularies, principles, patterns of reasoning, and judgments about specific cases resemble or can be made to resemble one another. If the similarity is great, we say that the groups in question have a common morality. If high similarity can probably be brought about by acceptable means, and members of the groups are willing to...

    Lee H. Yearley

    In this essay I concentrate on conflicts about which ways of life reflect human flourishing. That is, I focus on those situations in which people disagree about matters that concern their understanding of the best kind of life, the most fully human way to be and behave. I am especially interested in conflicts between obviously good kinds of lives—for instance, conflicts between a life dedicated to pastoral simplicity and a life dedicated to public service, or between a life dedicated to perfectionist goals such as meditation or the retranslation of Wang Yang-ming and a life dedicated to teaching beginners...

  15. Chapter 11 THE PRIORITY OF DEMOCRACY TO PHILOSOPHY (pp. 254-278)
    Richard Rorty

    Thomas jefferson set the tone for American liberal politics when he said “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty Gods or no God.”¹ His example helped make respectable the idea that politics can be separated from beliefs about matters of ultimate importance—that shared beliefs among citizens on such matters are not essential to a democratic society. Like many other figures of the Enlightenment, Jefferson assumed that a moral faculty common to the typical theist and the typical atheist suffices for civic virtue.

    Many Enlightenment intellectuals were willing to go further and say...

  16. Chapter 12 TRUTH AND FREEDOM: A REPLY TO THOMAS MCCARTHY (pp. 279-290)
    Richard Rorty

    Thomas mccarthy is remarkably good at seeing the interconnections between theorists’ ideas, at explaining why they say the odd things they do, and at helping them out of the holes they dig themselves into. When I feel baffled by something Jürgen Habermas is saying, I read McCarthy on Habermas and things clear up. I am very flattered that he has taken the time to write about my stuff. I got the same benefits out of reading him on myself as I have gotten from reading him on Habermas and on Michel Foucault. He writes about me with great understanding and...

  17. CONTRIBUTORS (pp. 291-292)
  18. INDEX (pp. 293-302)