Towards a postmodern ethics: Sir Isaiah Berlin and John Caputo [Book Review]

Journal of Value Inquiry 26 (3):395-407 (1992)
Abstract
It may seem to their opponents that they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. Postmodernists admit that their own paradigm must be and will be placed into question by future thinkers. But if they can anticipate an eventual reaffirmation of their paradoxical stand in an ongoing oscillating debate, then cannot it be said that they have arrived at a truth that transcends their time and place in history? And, if so, is not their fallibilist stance in fact self-referentially inconsistent? The response of postmodernists is the claim that each reaffirmation of a fallibilist epistemology and ethics throughout history is in fact sui generis. And this is the case because each reaffirmation has its own unique context within which it is made. Modernists will of course argue that these contextual differences are nonessential and irrelevant. And the debate over the problem of the One and the Many is once again launched in a new context. Thus far from running away from the paradoxical position that what they assert is both true and false, postmodernists revel in such inconsistencies.But does not such an ethical stance resemble the Sisyphean nightmare of being condemned to roll a heavy stone up a cliff only to have it keep falling back to the bottom ad infinitum? If no decision is innocent of doing some harm in the world, why should we bother to play the moral game at all? Indeed, what possible help is a postmodernist ethics when it comes to making some of the complex and crucial decisions we face today if it refuses to say anything substantial beyond the recommendations that we be cautious and balanced?And the postmodernist can only reply that we are letting our neurotic need for solid foundations frighten us. For ethics is an art not a science. There are no absolute rules. If we do not like the way the game is set up, then we are simply revealing our ultimate hubris in the face of a mystery requiring deep humility
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Jason Ferrell (2008). The Alleged Relativism of Isaiah Berlin. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 11 (1):41-56.
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