Culturalist Moral Realism

In Arto Laitinen & Nicholas H. Smith (eds.), Perspectives on the Philosophy of Charles Taylor. Acta Philosophica Fennica. pp. 115-131 (2002)

Arto Laitinen
Tampere University
In this paper I defend a ‘culturalist’ but nevertheless non-relativistic moral theory, taking Charles Taylor’s writings on this topic as my guide.1 Taylor is a realist concerning natural sciences, the ontology of persons and the ontology of goods (or meanings, significances or values). Yet, his realisms in these three areas differ significantly from one another, and therefore one has to be careful not to presuppose too rigid views of what realism must be like. Taylor’s moral realism can be called culturalist, phenomenological, hermeneutical or even ‘expressivist’.2 According to culturalist moral realism, cognitivism is the correct view of our ordinary moral and evaluative reactions and responses to situations. In the realm of evaluative judgements, genuinely correct and incorrect (and better and worse) judgements are possible. These judgements can be implicit in our moral emotions and tacit agent’s knowledge, or more explicit in different articulations (section 1). What makes evaluative judgements correct are evaluative properties or ‘imports’ of the situation, and both the evaluative features of situations and our correct responses to them can be further understood in terms of a plurality of (conflicting and incommensurable) goods, ideals or values (section 2). The evaluative realm is not accessible from a disengaged perspective, but only from within an engaged, lifeworldly perspective. Evaluative properties are not merely a matter of subjective projection nor merely a matter of objective properties independent of valuers. Evaluative properties are relational, and neither the objective nor the subjective pole has priority (Section 3). The evaluative realm is in some sense dependent on social forms (concepts and practices), which are historically changing. Yet the validity of goods is (potentially) universal, goods that are valid in our culture would be valid in other cultures as well and vice versa. The correctness of evaluative judgements is not restricted by one’s own (or one’s culture’s) evaluations, framework or orientation (i.e..
Keywords Charles Taylor  moral realism  culturalism
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