[lit-ideas] Re: Justifying Moral Principles?

  • From: Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 21 Feb 2015 20:42:29 +0600

Walter O. wrote:

"We justify our judgements and actions through the giving and assessing of
reasons.  In doing so, we appeal to one or more moral principles for
purposes of securing satisfactory levels of impartiality and objectivity.
But can the principles themselves be justified? Could Rorty"s
"ethnocentrism" really be the last word on the subject?  On that
meta-ethical view, any attempt to justify a moral scheme or "vocabulary"
would prove to be question-begging since the justification would have to
appeal to principles, norms and criteria internal to its own vocabulary. So
how then do we justify the Categorical Imperative, Principle of Equal
Respect for Persons, The Original Position, Principle of Discourse, etc..
Are these really but articles of political faith?"

I don't find Rorty's position as problematic as Walter does, for two
different reasons. First, for Rorty, the ethnocentrism really kicks in only
when public debate reaches an impasse, and we are only left with
acknowledging that these are the beliefs that 'we' hold. It seems to me
that this is similar to the situation that leads Kant to acknowledge the
fundamental asocial sociability of human beings, in 'Idea for a Universal
History', or that nature separates people, in 'Perpetual Peace'. In the
end, there can be no Utopia or World government because there are just too
many differences for there to be a single set of laws. For Rorty,
ultimately, we are bound to our particular histories, but falling back on
this particularity is what should happen only when public reasoning has
gone as far as it can.

Second, the list that Walter gives, i.e. Categorical Imperative, Principle
of Equal Respect for Persons, etc., require judgment, and I would prefer
that judgment ultimately come under politics. For Kant, judgment is the
activity of putting experience under universal rules or laws, so with the
CI, we evaluate specific activities by deriving maxims of action from them
and attempting to make them universal laws. Because this activity always
requires judgment, that is, how the particular comes under the universal,
there will always be the problem of how to overcome differences. Kant
recognizes that nature divides people, and the one way nature divides is in
giving people different interests and goals. So, while in a very Hobbesian
fashion, Kant urges people to pursue their interests in as selfish, in
other words rational, manner as possible, the reconciliation of differences
between people will require a political solution. This political solution
will bring about an equilibrium of competing forces and interests, most
likely established through a 'spirit of commerce', and most likely in the
formation of a Republic. I realize that Walter will not be happy with this,
but what comes to mind is a quote from Stanley Fish: 'Politics, interest,
partisan conviction, and belief are the locations of morality. It is in and
through them that one's sense of justice and the good lives and is put into

In short, yes, I am quite happy with Walter's list being articles of
political faith and I see this as very much being within the vision Kant
outlines for his hope for a peaceful future.



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