Value Pluralism and Absolute Moral Judgments

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Widespread and deep moral disagreements are persistently resistant to rational solutions and thus allow for continuing debate over the validity of moral judgments. This paper will discuss prominent positions regarding whether moral judgments may be true and false in an absolute sense or a relative sense, in light of the diverse and intense disagreement in moral judgment. This paper will defend the pluralistic conclusion that if there are not specific universal values, there is at least a minimum value of humanity without which a society could not survive. Moral judgments may be true and false in the absolute sense of this minimum.

There are two main categories to classify different positions regarding moral judgments. Normative Moral Relativity is the view that the truth or falsity of moral judgments is not absolute, but is relative to the convictions, practices, or traditions of some group of persons such as a society or culture. This answers the question “How should I live?” by saying that one should follow the values of your society or culture. Richard Shweder, in his “The Astonishment of Anthropology”, defends an anthropological relativism that stresses the importance of tolerance and moral diversity. Shweder’s position allows for difference in moral opinion among different cultures. Terence Tanner’s anthropological view, in his “Human Rights, Human Difference”, is like Shweder’s in it appreciation for diversity, however Tanner calls for “transcultural” principles of justice or, allowing people to be different so long as they allow other to be different as well.

Moral Objectivity is the view that morality would be objective only if moral judgments are ordinarily true or false in an absolute sense, many moral judgments are ...

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...f value of humanity, leaving moral basics up to the individual culture. Thomas Aquinas defended a version of Moral objectivism, claiming that natural law is universal and that disagreements regarding the universal natural law can be explained by mistakes, developing understanding of that universal natural law or the need for divine intervention. Martha Nussbaum examines different daily and universal human experiences in which most people must participate. Through this examination Nussbaum defends a version of Moral Objectivism, this one heavily supported by Aristotle, that there is indeed a single objective account of the human good based on our common humanity. However, it is Isaiah Berlin’s version of pluralism and his clear demand for a minimum value of humanity that fully encompasses the true relationship between cultures and thus the nature of moral judgments.

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