Monday, October 22, 2012

Wong on a different direction for moral philosophy

"Not all moral values that are well grounded for us need to be well grounded for all human beings in all ages and places. It will be argued in chapter 6 that values can be grounded in such a way that they are suitable for human beings under certain sets of broadly defined circumstances, though not necessarily for human beings under all historically known circumstances, much less all conceivable circumstances.
"However, showing that adopting our moral values is one way to flourish requires us to meet certain challenges.... My point here is that this is the sort of task we must engage in if we are to sustain confidence in our moral commitments. It is a task that many moral philosophers have thought to be irrelevant to confidence, opting instead for very abstract universalistic justifications of our morality. If I am right, moral philosophy needs to take a different direction, one that is more closely related to political theory and to certain versions of poststructuralism and critical theory." (Wong, Natural Moralities, 109-110)

I take Wong to be saying that taking seriously the situational character of morality makes the work of moral philosophy more challenging and more important. It is not about finding a few universal principles that ground our norms of right and wrong, of giving precedence to one kind of value over another. It is about understanding the concrete specifics of our situation: our location in history, in the present, in this time and place, in relation to other individuals and other societies and other cultures (with other moralities), and it is about understanding how these concrete specifics determine the basis for our morality.

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