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Foot, Philippa. The Philosopher’s Defence of Morality
1952, Philosophy 27(103): 311-328
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Added by: Anne-Marie McCallion

Introduction: Philosophers are often asked whether they can provide a defence against hostile theories which are said to be “undermining the foundations of morality,” and they often try to do so. But before anything of this kind is attempted we should surely ask whether morality could be threatened in this way. If what people have in mind is simply that the spread of certain doctrines leads to the growth of indifference about right and wrong there is no philosophical problem involved. So long as we treat the matter as a case of cause and effect it will belong rather to the psychologist than the philosopher, and we have no reason for questioning that correlations of this kind may exist. But this is not the assumption, or not the only one, for people undoubtedly do think that if certain doctrines could be proved then moral judgment would have been shown to be “nonsensical,” “meaningless,” or “invalid,” so that thereafter it would be not merely difficult but positively irrational to formulate and attempt to follow moral principles. It would be simple enough if the attack was supposed to be against some particular moral code, for there are recognized ways of arguing that a thing is not right but wrong. But when it is morality in general which is to be disproved or discredited it is difficult to see what this means or how it could be done. What would have to be shown is not that this or that is not right, but that nothing is—or not in the old sense so that attacking moral judgment is not like attacking a theory but more like attacking theorizing itself, which shows where the difficulty lies. If something is stated it can be denied or disproved, but a moral judgment does not contain statements except about what in particular is right or wrong. Yet many people, though they would probably reject a request for a justification of morality in the form of some argument as to why we should do our duty, feel that morality would be in a positive sense unjustifiable if certain supporting truths were knocked away from the structure. This may indeed be so, but we are unable to show that it is, or to explain the matter by appealing to “presuppositions” of morality, which besides being far too vague would too easily include much that was linked merely psychologically to the recognition of obligation. I propose, therefore, to look at some specific arguments which are supposed by those who resist them to constitute a threat to morality, and to ask whether this supposition is justified.

Comment: This text offers a persuasive and creative attack on the dominant meta-ethical views of the 20th century. Foot offers insightful reasons to reject the subjectivist, relativist and amoralist positions on ethics. As such this text would be suitable for intermediate level courses on moral philosophy, history of philosophy classes as well as – potentially – critical thinking courses, as Foot’s argumentational style in this paper would likely be illuminating to students when analysed.

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Jaggar, Alison. Reasoning About Well-Being: Nussbaum’s Methods of Justifying the Capabilities.
2006, Journal of Political Philosophy 14(3): 301-322.
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Added by: Carl Fox

Content: Discusses Nussbaum’s methodology and the question of whether she covertly relies on assumptions about her own moral authority.

Comment: Most useful as further reading on political liberalism or the capability approach.

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Midgley, Mary. Trying Out One's New Sword
1981, Heart and Mind: The Varieties of Moral Experience. London: The Harvester Press Ltd., 69-75
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Daniel Weltman

Abstract: All of us are, more or less, in trouble today about trying to understand cultures strange to us. We hear constantly of alien customs. We see changes in our lifetime which would have astonished our parents. I want to discuss here one very short way of dealing with this difficulty, a drastic way which many people now theoretically favour. It consists in simply denying that we can ever understand any culture except our own well enough to make judgements about it. Those who recommend this hold that the world is sharply divided into separate societies, sealed units, each with its own system of thought. They feel that the respect and tolerance due from one system to another forbids us ever to take up a critical position to any other culture. Moral judgement, they suggest, is a kind of coinage valid only in its country of origin.

Comment:

Midgley describes and attempts to refute cultural relativism, the view that we should not morally judge other cultures. She uses clear examples, writes in a straightforward manner, and makes her points concisely.

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Wolf, Susan. Two levels of pluralism
1992, Ethics 102 (4):785-798.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Jojanneke Vanderveen

Abstract: Pluralism in ethics, as I understand it, is the view that there is an irreducible plurality of values or principles that are relevant to moral judgment. While the utilitarian says that all morally significant con- siderations can be reduced to quantities of pleasure and pain, and the Kantian says that all moraljudgment can be reduced to a single principle having to do with respect for rationality and the bearers of rationality, the pluralist insists that morality is not at the fundamental level so simple. Moreover, as many use the term, and as I shall use it in this essay, the pluralist believes that the plurality of morally significant values is not subject to a complete rational ordering. Thus, it is held that no principle or decision procedure exists that can guarantee a unique and determinate answer to every moral question involving a choice among different fundamental moral values or principles. My aim in this article is not to argue for the truth of ethical pluralism but, rather, to explore some implications of its truth, or even of the self-conscious recognition of the possibility of its truth. Specifically, I shall argue that pluralism, or, indeed, even the possibility of pluralism, has implications for the way we understand issues concerning moral objectivity and moral relativism, as well as implications for the positions we take on them. I shall begin by sketching a common pattern of thought about these issues.

Comment: [This is a stub entry. Please add your comments to help us expand it]

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