Rahul on relativism and moral phil

jwalker jwalker at email.unc.edu
Sun Apr 16 21:07:12 MDT 1995

Hi, Rahul.  I've liked your recent posts.

Sorry to jump into your mano-a-mano with Justin, but I just couldn't resist.

 As to moral philosophy, I
> just don't think it's gotten very far. Compare it with biology. The advance
> from Plato to Rawls (or whoever your favorite is) is nothing compared with
> the advance from Aristotle to Watson and Crick, let alone the present state
> of the art.

One hears this sort of thing said a lot.  I suppose it stems from the
lack of consensus in the normative disciplines like moral and political
philosophy.  Still, I have to wonder what you'd count as progress.  It
seems to me, from having studied these disciplines for a while, that in
some ways lots of progress has been made.  The depth and sophistication
of moral and political phil is pretty impressive these days, and lots of
rather simple views aren't taken seriously any more.  Hell, just check
out the subtle and intelligent interpretations of Plato and Aristotle --
and Marx, for that matter -- to see that we've come a long way from where
they started these debates.
	The progress has a different look, because its subject matter
isn't that of biology, or whatever.  The goal is a normative
understanding of the human experience.  But in seeking that, I think
we're doing OK.

>     I'll repeat if I haven't made myself clear before: My point is not
to > provide an alternative scheme to yours, but to claim that the
relativist > problem cannot be solved.

I'm not trying to speak to the dispute between you and Justin.  But...

This makes me wonder something that a recent post by Lisa also sparked,
namely: how can you be a relativist and advocate socialist revolution?
Or think exploitation is wrong and should be stopped?  Or any of the
things that most people on this list would very likely assent to?  (Of
course as a relativist you can _say_ whatever you want.  What I wonder is
how you can think others ought to do what you advocate.)

John Walker

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