[lit-ideas] Re: Justifying Moral Principles?

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2015 15:29:07 +0100

The idea that people should be as ethnocentric and partisan as possible and
that the clash of radically defined opposing interests will somehow work
out for the best was rather widespread in the former Yugoslavia some time
around 1990. The things did work out eventually, but arguably not for the


On Sat, Feb 21, 2015 at 3:42 PM, Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> 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
> action.'
> 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.
> Sincerely,
> Phil

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