[lit-ideas] Re: Univocal philosophy as the value of transcendental claims?

  • From: "Phil Enns" <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 4 Jan 2009 13:47:34 +0700

John McCreery wrote:

"If, on the other hand, we are aware that acts considered theft in one
time and place may not be seen as such in other times and places, we
cannot avoid the tangle of ethnographic and historical specifics,
differing legal systems, cases and precedents into which such
comparisons lead us."

One can engage in an anthropological study of acts considered theft,
and certainly such a study would reveal a wide variety of interesting
differences.  What would be assumed, however, is the identification of
a moral quality that transcends historical and ethnographic, something
that would allow for the identification of theft regardless of
contingencies.  Put differently, the only way John's analysis of theft
through various ethnographic and historical specifics would be
possible is if the moral case of 'theft' necessarily transcended those
specifics.  If the identification of 'theft' depended on historical
and ethnographic contingencies, then there is no way John could know
what to compare.  Put more simply, how would John know what to do with
the word 'theft' in a different language unless there were a universal
quality belonging to the use of that word that allowed for
translation?  And if such a translation were possible, what is left of
John's objection?

Moral cases are always instantiated in both history and culture, and
these instantiations are open to study by anthropologists.  However,
that there are moral cases is a subject of study that escapes
anthropology and belongs properly to philosophy.  (I would add
theology but that is a different argument.)


Phil Enns
Yogyakarta, Indonesia
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