How to Defend Humane Ideals: Substitutes for Objectivity

How to Defend Humane Ideals: Substitutes for Objectivity

How to Defend Humane Ideals: Substitutes for Objectivity

How to Defend Humane Ideals: Substitutes for Objectivity

Synopsis

One of the principal moral and psychological problems of our time is whether humane ideals can be defended. Loss of faith in the objectivity of ethics has encouraged a sense of hopelessness. The notion that no ideal is better than any other, that a humane commitment has no rational advantage over Friedrich Nietzsche's contempt for ordinary people, has been accused of leaving our civilization without self-confidence or a purpose.

Excerpt

This book was written by someone committed to humane-egalitarian ideals who thought he wanted a truth-test to defend them; now, after fifty years of reflection, he believes that there is something better. the struggle to fabricate ethical truth was abandoned not without pain: the notion of a higher court of appeal that would force antihumane people to choose between humane ideals and reason exercised a powerful attraction, and evidence of withdrawal symptoms will not be hard to find. Several perceptions about ethical truth-tests dictated their demise: that they must satisfy conditions that appear contradictory; that they have a darker side; that alternative uses of reason in moral debate are possible. the journey this book records is very much a personal odyssey, but despite that, it may have some larger significance. Ever since the sixteenth century, thinkers have been walking away from ethical truth, and the prevailing mood was captured by Max Weber when he pleaded with youth not to lose all their ideals along the way. Whether I am a good guide to an alternative defense of humane-egalitarian ideals, one that justifies them without corrupting them, is for the reader to judge.

An alternative defense depends on transcending the limitations of philosophy. I intend to argue that ethical truth-tests and proofs and so-called moral facts carry no rational conviction and, therefore, cannot justify any particular set of ideals, much less provide a defense of humane-egalitarian ideals. If that were the last word, Weber could lead us all in a chorus of despair without dissonance. But it is not the last word. Philosophy can come to its own rescue by way of an analysis that demonstrates the relevance of logic . . .

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