Values, Virtues, and the Language of Morality

In “Values or Virtues, Nietzsche or Aristotle?” Jay Gupta outlines the way that value discourse stifles normative intention and the ethical imagination. The aim of the paper is to “suggest that the language of values disguises a deeper, normatively richer language of virtue, and . . . point[s] to the importance of recovering that language in the modern age, as well as the difficulties that must attend such a recovery.” Before exploring the merits of the article, I wish to offer a few clarificatory notes. Recently, there has been a conspicuous number of thinkers that have advocated a return to virtue ethics. Perhaps the most notable among these is Elizabeth Anscombe, who, with the paper “Modern Moral Philosophy,” uncovers the supposed banality of modern moral philosophy and points to the ways in which moral discourse has retained elements of the Christian ethical tradition.

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Culture and Values in Schmitt’s Decisionism

David Pan’s “Carl Schmitt on Culture and Violence in the Political Decision” aims at challenging the widespread view that Carl Schmitt’s decisionism is motivated by violence and pure power. Pan presents his readers to “another Schmitt” that has escaped the attention of many commentators, including Müller, Žižek, McCormick, and Agamben. For Pan, Schmitt’s decision must not be separated from spiritual ideals and cultural values.

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Hegel, MacIntyre, and the (Living) Death of Moral Relativism

A recent piece in the Atlantic by Jonathan Merritt declares the “death of moral relativism.” It echoes observations made by other pundits that there seems to have been a shift in cultural attitudes concerning morality. In the United States, subjectivist, relativist, and “postmodernist” stances are said to have been replaced by robust commitments to social justice, tolerance, and inclusion. David Brooks also, for example, discusses the rise of a veritable “shame culture,” particularly evident on American college campuses and social media, ready to condemn and ostracize those who fail to acknowledge the importance of upholding these new, powerful norms of respect and recognition for the marginalized and oppressed. Indeed, the trend is so omnipresent that there has been significant backlash—critics decry the policing efforts of “social justice warriors” and the scourge of “political correctness.”

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Terrorism Undermines the Credibility of Moral Relativism

The following paper was presented at the 2016 Telos Conference, held on January 16–17, 2016, in New York City. For additional details about upcoming conferences and events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

While the expression “moral relativism” means different things to different people, I offer the following characterization of it. By “moral relativism,” I understand a normative view that explains people’s incommensurable moral judgments based on their subjective preferences or on different action-guiding contexts. Moral relativists deny that value judgments can be universally justified. Therefore, for them, value judgments have neither objective universal truth-value nor universal moral import. That is, these judgments are neither true nor false, nor right or wrong for everyone. For some moral relativists even to raise the possibility of moral disagreement across different cultures or communities would be simply moot.

Moral relativists can assume a subjective or a contextual point of view. If they assume a subjective point of view, one might describe their theories or hypotheses as nihilistic. Nihilists recognize no transcendent moral values and no moral facts. According to them, predicates, such as right or wrong, or good or bad, have no independent reference. So nihilists recognize no significant moral difference between, for example, the deliberate killing of the objectively innocent, which is considered murder by most civilized people, and killing in self-defense. For them, even the principle of the presumption of innocence would be vacuous.

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Telos 171 (Summer 2015): Politics and Values: The Middle East and China

Telos 171 (Summer 2015) is now available for purchase in our store.

Standard accounts of American politics invoke an oscillation between idealist and realist inclinations. The idealists appeal to principles, which they identify as fundamental to the American polity, especially those enshrined in the founding documents: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, transformed into a broad democratization agenda. Of course, revisionist critics have no difficulty in pointing out the failure of that agenda, i.e., the extent to which the empirical history of the country fell far short of realizing its ideals. Yet even that critique, smugly put forward to debunk naïve idealism, in some basic ways is itself indebted to the same idealism, insofar as the complaint of insufficient democratization also implies a call for more democracy, the very core of the idealist program. This is why neo-conservatives and their left-liberal adversaries always had more in common than met the eye (as was abundantly clear to traditional conservatives).

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Russell A. Berman on Telos 168: The West: Its Past and Its Prospects

In this short video, filmed at the recent Telos Conference in L’Aquila, Editor Russell A. Berman talks about the central themes and concerns of Telos 168 (Fall 2014): The West: Its Past and Its Prospects. We have posted Russell’s full introduction here, and you can order your copy of the issue in our online store.

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