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On Morality, Part 3

November 3, 2009

There’s something really stupid about the meta-ethical arguments about whether or not legitimations for ethics are absolute or not, and, if not, whether people can still be ethical. Here’s what’s stupid: all cultures have legitimations for ethical behavior, and people abide by them independently of whether they have a meta-ethical account of whether or not those legitimations are legitimate.

On the one hand, one group seems to think that if the lie gets out—“there’s no absolute legitimation for the legitimations most of us believe”—then chaos will reign, so they think they need to prop up morality by demonstrating that morality has sound foundations. But that’s certainly false. Most people just don’t give a shit about meta-ethics.

On the other hand, the other group (including people like Simon Blackburn and Jeffrey Stout) seem to partially agree with the first group. They seem to think that if the truth gets out—“there’s no absolute legitimation for the legitimations most of us believe”—then chaos will reign, so they think they need to prop up morality by offering anti-foundationalist foundations for ethics. But that seems misguided too, and for the same reason: most people just don’t give a shit about meta-ethics.

To put it another way, both of these groups seem to think we’re having a meta-ethics legitimation crisis. But we’re not—only they are.

Both groups are trying to prop up something that is not, in reality, falling over.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Morris permalink
    November 4, 2009 10:30 am

    Good points. It seem to call for a much more agonistic framework, and not just a matter of one shared ethical practice that might be at risk of toppling if the lie gets out. So there is more than one ethical pattern or practice, and they are at odds (Wall street comes to mind…). One group wants to propagate their ethical practice and so argues for its legitimation, another other group counters that these attempts at legitimation are not absolute, need not apply to them, etc. …then we’re into meta-ethics. And it is a topic that’s mostly just relevant for those who are engaged in this kind of argument that has reached this level.

    Of course, it may be that one side does not even engage in the debate, but just goes about their (un?)ethical practice, leaving the other side to resort to meta-ethics in order to try and convince and reform them…

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    November 4, 2009 2:17 pm

    Right on. Many people don’t even bother to legitimate their actions—the fact that they’re taken-for-granted habits does the work for them …

  3. March 12, 2010 2:56 am

    Oh, I agree with everything except for the last part.

    There is indeed something falling over, and it’s their Ego, and their Control.
    (I’m in a bit of an anti-whitey mood/mode at the moment.)

    This is a bit related to something I’m interested in: Post-Colonialism. What the hell is it? Okay, it’s thought/stuff after some colonized countries gain independence, etc. But it’s also become a bit of a commodity in Western academia (and by commodity I mean removed from those countries and their cultures). Studying African-American thought in the 1900s, I’ve taken a very critical stance towards “postcolonialism” as it’s discussed in western academics, because black Americans have been ANTI-colonial for a long time. (See David Walker’s Appeal)

    Anyway, I’m making a big fuss over a little thing, but I don’t like the semi-prevalent idea that “postcolonialism” is new. It’s just new for whitey.

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    March 12, 2010 10:59 am

    “I don’t like the semi-prevalent idea that “postcolonialism” is new. It’s just new for whitey”

    Nice; very nice.

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