The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World

The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World

The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World

The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World

Excerpt

We are placed into various life-spheres, each of which is governed by
different laws.

—Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation

The war on terrorism, say America’s leaders, is a war of good versus evil. But in the minds of the perpetrators, the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon appear to have been justified as ethically good acts required by Islam against American evil. How can different ethical systems become so polarized that, to paraphrase the great German sociologist Max Weber, one person’s God is another person’s devil? In the world today, is such polarization leading inevitably to a violent “clash of civilizations”? Or can differences between ethical systems be reconciled through rational dialogue rather than political struggle? When this book was begun, the issues posed by ethical pluralism in the modern world were of considerable academic interest. Since the 11 September attacks, they have become matters of the most urgent public interest.

Taken as a whole, this book provides resources for thinking more clearly about the range of different ways in which humans understand the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, the universal and the parochial, as well as the tension between ecumenical and flexible versus fundamentalist and rigid responses to such difference. It contains nine major essays about how the problem of ethical pluralism can be understood by different philosophical and religious traditions: classical liberalism, liberal egalitarianism, critical theory, feminism, natural law, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Each of the principal essays is paired with a shorter “response essay” that helps to highlight the range of understandings possible within each tradition. Unlike most works in ethical theory, this book juxtaposes modern secular philosophical traditions with older religious traditions. A concluding chapter summarizes the themes that emerge from these juxtapositions. In this introduction, we explore some of the philosophical considerations that can bring these juxtaposed traditions into genuine dialogue with one another.

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