Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fails to refute moral relativism

Moral Courage: Taking Action When Your Values Are Put to the Test
by Rushworth M. Kidder

While this book contains many interesting and illuminating anecedotes of personal courage (or the lack thereof), it fails on one key point.

Kidder argues against moral relativism, suggesting (based on interviews) that honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness, and compassion are universal values. These are just words, however, and they can mean very different things to different people. To people in a very communal culture, responsibility might be used to mean the individual's responsibility to the community. In more individualistic cultures (and in the philosophy of Ayn Rand) it would more likely mean responsibility to self. To some fairness means equality, while to others it can mean extreme discrimination. A refutation of moral relativism demands that different people agree upon the same meanings, not merely the same words.

With this failure, Kidder's entire case falls down. He presents moral courage as "the string" holding together the pearls (of moral values). When those very values are in question, moral courage becomes undefinable.

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