[Paleopsych] Routledge: Daniel M. Weinstock: Moral Pluralism

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Daniel M. Weinstock: Moral Pluralism
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

     Moral pluralism is the view that moral values, norms, ideals, duties
      and virtues are irreducibly diverse: morality serves many purposes
       relating to a wide range of human interests, and it is therefore
      unlikely that a theory unified around a single moral consideration
    will account for all the resulting values. Unlike relativism, however,
    moral pluralism holds that there are rational constraints on what can
         count as a moral value. One possible, though not necessary,
        implication of moral pluralism is the existence of real moral
    dilemmas. Some philosophers have deemed these to be inconceivable; in
     fact, however, they do not constitute a serious threat to practical
        reason. Another possible implication of moral pluralism is the
        existence within a society of radically different but equally
         permissible moralities. This poses a challenge for political
         philosophy, and might justify a liberal view that particular
         conceptions of the good life ought not to be invoked in the
                        formulation of public policy.

      1. Moral pluralism and moral theory
      2. Relativism and moral dilemmas
      3. Moral pluralism and political philosophy

                     1. Moral pluralism and moral theory

     Moral pluralism is the view that moral values, norms, ideals, duties
     and virtues cannot be reduced to any one foundational consideration,
    but that they are rather irreducibly diverse. As such, moral pluralism
           is a metaphysical thesis, in that it tells us what moral
    considerations there are. Pluralist moral philosophers disagree as to
     exactly what the plural sources of moral value are. For example, Sir
    David Ross (1930) distinguished six species of duty, including duties
    of fidelity and reparation, of gratitude, of justice, of beneficence,
     of self-improvement and of non-maleficence; and Thomas Nagel (1979)
    has claimed that the conflicts among diverse moral principles are due
     to there being five distinct sources of value - special allegiances,
    universal rights, utility, perfectionist ends of self-development, and
       individual projects (see Nagel, T. §5). Despite the differences
     between these accounts of the sources of moral value, the resolution
     of which constitutes a challenge for substantive moral theory, these
    thinkers can be seen as united in the view that morality has developed
    to protect and promote basic interests related to human wellbeing and
        flourishing, but that since there is no unique form that human
        wellbeing must take, there can consequently not be a theory of
    morality unified around one supreme value (see Happiness §3; Welfare).

    This is not to say that the truth of moral pluralism disqualifies any
    attempt at formulating a moral theory (see Morality and ethics §§1-2).
       Among the many moral values which human beings pursue, there are
      undoubtedly some that can be grouped together and accounted for in
      terms of some more general value relevant to the particular set of
        human interests with which they are all in one way or another
     concerned. Moral pluralism implies simply that none of these values
         could plausibly claim hegemony over the entire set of moral

       Historically, moral pluralism has been linked with controversial
     positions in moral epistemology and the ontology of value, according
       to which moral facts are real and non-natural, and are given as
    self-evident to a distinct human faculty of moral intuition (see Moral
    realism; Intuitionism in ethics). It is in fact compatible with a wide
         range of philosophical positions on these issues, including
                         anti-realism and naturalism.

    Some philosophers have argued that the diversity of our moral concepts
        is a distinctive feature of modernity. Alasdair MacIntyre, for
    example, has claimed that the plurality of conflicting considerations
       which make up the moral lexicon of the modern agent is a sign of
       cultural decay. Modern morality is for MacIntyre a congeries of
    concepts which have been inherited by modern agents from past forms of
       life, but which have been torn from the coherent concrete human
     practices within which they originated, and in the context of which
    alone they have any real meaning. Moral pluralism is therefore in his
                  view a symptom of our moral discomfiture.

      Moral pluralism has also been challenged by defenders of classical
      single-principle moral theories. Yet there have also been signs of
    theoretical rapprochements. Indeed, many modern consequentialists are
     abandoning the simple view of human wellbeing embodied in classical
         utilitarianism in favour of more multifaceted accounts (see
     Consequentialism). And many deontologists can be read as formulating
     rational priority rules ranking deontological constraints over other
      types of moral considerations, rather than as banishing the latter
      completely from the realm of the moral (see Deontological ethics).

                       2. Relativism and moral dilemmas

      It is important to distinguish moral pluralism from a thesis with
    which it has too often been confused, namely that of moral relativism.
     A relativist claims that the truth of moral judgments is relative to
     the conventions of the social group (or even to the individual whim)
      of the person issuing the judgment, and that these conventions or
    whims are not themselves subject to any further criterion of adequacy.
     There are therefore according to relativists no rational constraints
     on what can count as a moral value, and it is therefore senseless in
     their view to speak of the truth, falsity or justification of moral
     judgments (see Moral relativism). Moral pluralism in contrast holds
    that while the variety of moral principles applying to human beings is
    irreducible, it is not infinite. Rather, there are constraints on what
     can count as a moral value (and there is therefore sense in speaking
      of moral truth and falsity). These constraints might, for example,
    have to do with the (inherently diverse but not infinite) forms which
                  human wellbeing and flourishing can take.

    Moral pluralism is therefore compatible with the existence of rational
         constraints upon moral thought.But the fact that a number of
     statements to do with moral value might all be true while apparently
    recommending incompatible actions, and that real, as opposed to merely
       apparent, moral dilemmas emerge as a real possibility, has been
    thought by some philosophers to disqualify it as a theory of value by
    making it sin against basic axioms of deontic logic. These include the
    principle that 'ought implies can' and the principle of agglomeration,
    which states that if I ought to do A and I ought to do B, then I ought
    to do A and B. This troubling apparent consequence of moral pluralism
      must, however, be qualified by a number of observations. First, as
    Michael Stocker has observed (1990), the premise that statements about
     moral value are always act evaluations is an unvindicated assumption
     of much modern moral theory, yet moral pluralism only leads to moral
      dilemmas if this assumption is granted. There might be a number of
     true moral descriptions of a situation, emphasizing different moral
     considerations present in it. Any one of these might well on its own
    give rise to an ought statement, but given the presence of other moral
     considerations it may give rise only to what Ross has called a prima
    facie obligation. As the latter are not directly action-guiding, they
     need not conform to the strictures of deontic logic. Second, certain
         axioms of deontic logic might actually embody controversial
     first-order moral propositions. The fact that they conflict with the
     hypothesis of moral dilemmas does not therefore automatically place
     the burden of proof upon defenders of the latter. Third, the reality
     of moral dilemmas need not, as philosophers such as Bernard Williams
     (1965) have suggested, put paid to all attempts to rationally order
    our, at times conflicting, moral values. There are reasons supporting
     both sides of a moral dilemma, and the presence of a moral dilemma,
     rather than signalling the necessary end of moral inquiry, can point
        to the need to undertake inquiry into these reasons in a more
       fine-grained manner. Moral pluralism involves the denial of the
     existence of a supreme value from which all others might be derived;
          it does not entail incommensurability, the view that moral
    considerations cannot be compared and ranked. Thus, for example, there
      may be rational priority rules allowing us to order the claims of
                           different moral values.

                 3. Moral pluralism and political philosophy

       The plurality of moral values can manifest itself in a number of
     different ways. Most relevantly from the point of view of political
    philosophy, it can involve the existence within a society of a number
        of equally acceptable moral forms of life. This form of social
       pluralism poses a set of challenges for political philosophers,
     suggesting that there may be no simple way of adjudicating conflicts
      between adherents of equally admirable moral forms of life, or of
       engaging in the interpersonal welfare comparisons often seen as
      necessary for the formulation of theories of distributive justice.
      Moral pluralism has been seen by many philosophers, including John
    Rawls (1971), Thomas Nagel and Charles Larmore (1987), as calling for
      the liberal doctrine of state neutrality, the view that particular
    conceptions of the good ought not to be invoked in the formulation of
                                public policy.

      See also: Axiology; Duty; Ideals; Pluralism; Religious Pluralism;
                          Values; Virtues and vices

                        References and further reading

     Berlin, I. (1969) Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford: Oxford University
     Press. (The classic twentieth-century statement of moral pluralism.)

     Larmore, C. (1987) Patterns of Moral Compexity, Cambridge: Cambridge
       University Press. (Argues that a purely political conception of
       liberalism flows from the plurality of moral forms of life in a

        MacIntyre, A. (1984) After Virtue, Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame
     University Press, 2nd edn. (Argues that moral pluralism and conflict
    result from moral concepts no longer being embedded in concrete social

    Nagel, T. (1977) 'The Fragmentation of Value', in H.T. Englehardt, Jr.
    and D. Callahan (eds) Knowledge, Value and Belief, Hastings-on-Hudson,
    NY: Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences; repr. in Moral
       Questions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. (A clear
             statement of the different sources of moral value.)

         Rawls, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, MA: Harvard
    University Press, 34-40. (A standard modern argument against a form of
                moral pluralism identified as 'intuitionism'.)

     Ross, W.D. (1930) The Right and the Good, Oxford: Oxford University
    Press, 21. (The classic statement of an intuitionist moral pluralism.)

       Stocker, M. (1990) Plural and Conflicting Values, Oxford: Oxford
     University Press. (Argues that value pluralism does not threaten the
                   possibility of sound practical reason.)

        Williams, B. (1965) 'Ethical Consistency', Proceedings of the
    Aristotelian Society, supplementary vol. 39; repr. in Problems of the
     Self: Philosophical Papers 1956-72, Cambridge: Cambridge University
       Press, 1973. (Raises problems for moral reasoning caused by the
                            plurality of values.)

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