Value, Respect, and Attachment

Value, Respect, and Attachment

Value, Respect, and Attachment

Value, Respect, and Attachment

Synopsis

Joseph Raz is one of the world's leading philosophers of law, and in his Seeley Lectures he reflects critically on one of the central tenets of ethical thought, the view that values are universal. He concludes that we should try to understand what is and what is not entailed by the universality of values, with such an understanding central to the future hopes of mankind, rather than abandoning the belief altogether. This is a concise humane account of some fundamental questions of social existence.

Excerpt

There is not much in ethical theory which is not widely disputed. One view which enjoys wide support is that values are universal. Nevertheless, it appeared to me that there are uncertainties regarding the meaning and scope of that view which could benefit from further reflection. When invited to give the Seeley lectures of 20001 decided to use the occasion for yet another, partial and incomplete, reflection on some of the contours of the view that values are universal. I wanted to understand better the significance of this view, and its limits. In particular, I wanted to improve my understanding of how it is compatible with the thought, controverted by many, but compelling to me, that evaluative properties, that is, properties which in themselves make their possessors better or worse, are historically or socially dependent. Social practices are contingent, and changes in them are contingent. If the evaluative depends on the contingent can it be universal? This seemed an appropriate theme for a series of lectures dedicated to the memory of a historian interested in theory and in philosophy, who brought theory to the study of politics and history at Cambridge.

I am aware more of what I did not manage to discuss, or discussed all too briefly and dogmatically, than of what the following pages accomplish. They are very one-sided and partial. Their focus is the tension between partiality and impartiality. Universality seems to imply impartiality. This follows, or seems to follow, once one allows that reasons for action track value.

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