Moral Epistemology, Relativism, African Cultures, and the Distinction Between Custom and Morality

This paper explores the nature of the relationship between reasonable variations in moral justifications and universal moral principles. It examines Wiredu’s distinction between custom and morality, and its implications for the issue of moral justification in African cultures. It argues that Wiredu’s distinction does not adequately articulate how universal moral principles are employed in different circumstances to justify actions and judgments. Wiredu’s distinction implies that a conceptual account of moral justification does not involve custom regarding relative facts and cultural norms. The paper defends a variant of the relativism about moral justification that does imply relativism of truth and incommensurability between two culturally relative moral perspectives. It argues that the plausibility of such relativism is contingent on the possibility of conceptual, cognitive, and epistemic universals, and the idea that moral reasoning is a kind of practical reasoning that does not necessarily depend on intellectual rationality
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DOI 10.5840/jpr_2002_23
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