The Morality of Pluralism

Princeton University Press
Free sample

Controversies about abortion, the environment, pornography, AIDS, and similar issues naturally lead to the question of whether there are any values that can be ultimately justified, or whether values are simply conventional. John Kekes argues that the present moral and political uncertainties are due to a deep change in our society from a dogmatic to a pluralistic view of values. Dogmatism is committed to there being only one justifiable system of values. Pluralism recognizes many such systems, and yet it avoids a chaotic relativism according to which all values are in the end arbitrary. Maintaining that good lives must be reasonable, but denying that they must conform to one true pattern, Kekes develops and justifies a pluralistic account of good lives and values, and works out its political, moral, and personal implications.
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About the author

John Kekes is Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the State University of New York, Albany. He is author of Moral Tradition and Individuality (Princeton) and Facing Evil (Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 4, 1996
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Pages
238
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ISBN
9781400821105
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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What is your highest ideal? What code do you live by? We all know that these differ from person to person. Artists, scientists, social activists, farmers, executives, and athletes are guided by very different ideals. Nonetheless for hundreds of years philosophers have sought a single, overriding ideal that should guide everyone, always, everywhere, and after centuries of debate we’re no closer to an answer. In How Should We Live?, John Kekes offers a refreshing alternative, one in which we eschew absolute ideals and instead consider our lives as they really are, day by day, subject to countless vicissitudes and unforeseen obstacles.

Kekes argues that ideal theories are abstractions from the realities of everyday life and its problems. The well-known arenas where absolute ideals conflict—dramatic moral controversies about complex problems involved in abortion, euthanasia, plea bargaining, privacy, and other hotly debated topics—should not be the primary concerns of moral thinking. Instead, he focuses on the simpler problems of ordinary lives in ordinary circumstances. In each chapter he presents the conflicts that a real person—a schoolteacher, lawyer, father, or nurse, for example—is likely to face. He then uses their situations to shed light on the mundane issues we all must deal with in everyday life, such as how we use our limited time, energy, or money; how we balance short- and long-term satisfactions; how we deal with conflicting loyalties; how we control our emotions; how we deal with people we dislike; and so on. Along the way he engages some of our most important theorists, including Donald Davidson, Thomas Nagel, Christine Korsgaard, Harry Frankfurt, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Bernard Williams, ultimately showing that no ideal—whether autonomy, love, duty, happiness, or truthfulness—trumps any other. No single ideal can always guide how we overcome the many different problems that stand in the way of living as we should. Rather than rejecting such ideals, How Should We Live? offers a way of balancing them by a practical and pluralistic approach—rather than a theory—that helps us cope with our problems and come closer to what our lives should be.
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