The idea of moral progress is a necessary presupposition of action for beings like us. We must believe that moral progress is possible and that it might have been realized in human experience, if we are to be confident that continued human action can have any morally constructive point. I discuss the implications of this truth for moral psychology. I also show that once we understand the complex nature and the complicated social sources of moral progress, we will appreciate why (...) we cannot construct a plausible comprehensive action-guiding theory of moral progress. Yet while the nature and sources of moral progress consistently thwart many theoretical hopes, the idea of moral progress is a plausible, critically important and morally constructive principle of historical interpretation. (shrink)
This paper shows that moral progress is a substantive and plausible idea. Moral progress in belief involves deepening our grasp of existing moral concepts, while moral progress in practices involves realizing deepened moral understandings in behavior or social institutions. Moral insights could not be assimilated or widely disseminated if they involved devising and applying totally new moral concepts. Thus, it is argued, moral failures of past societies cannot be explained by appeal to ignorance of new moral ideas, but must be (...) understood as resulting from refusals to subject social practices to critical scrutiny. Moral philosophy is not the main vehicle for disseminating morally progressive insights, though it has an important role in processes that lead to moral progress. Yet we have grounds for cautious optimism, since progressive moral insights can be disseminated and can, sometimes, have constructive social effects. (shrink)
From nineteenth-century abolitionism to Black Lives Matter today, progressive social movements have been at the forefront of social change. Yet it is seldom recognized that such movements have not only engaged in political action but also posed crucial philosophical questions about the meaning of justice and about how the demands of justice can be met. -/- Michele Moody-Adams argues that anyone who is concerned with the theory or the practice of justice—or both—must ask what can be learned from social movements. (...) Drawing on a range of compelling examples, she explores what they have shown about the nature of justice as well as what it takes to create space for justice in the world. Moody-Adams considers progressive social movements as wellsprings of moral inquiry and as agents of social change, drawing out key philosophical and practical principles. Social justice demands humane regard for others, combining compassionate concern and robust respect. Successful movements have drawn on the transformative power of imagination, strengthening the motivation to pursue justice and to create the political institutions and social policies that can sustain it by inspiring political hope. -/- Making Space for Justice contends that the insights arising from social movements are critical to bridging the gap between discerning theory and effective practice—and should be transformative for political thought as well as for political activism. (shrink)
For at least two millennia, religious traditions, spiritual communities and secular moral thinkers have debated the nature and sources of forgiveness. But near the end of the twentieth century understanding forgiveness took on new urgency, as divided societies looked to forgiveness as a vehicle of reconciliation, governments sought forgiveness for past wrongs, and popular psychology explored the therapeutic effects of forgiveness. These developments have led to a remarkable increase in scholarship on forgiveness: philosophers examine its moral nature; psychologists seek to (...) measure it and determine its contribution to well-being; historians and political theorists consider its relevance to national projects of reconciliation.Earlier versions of this paper were delivered to audiences at Syracuse University and Seton Hall University. I am grateful to the journal editor and anonymous readers for suggesting helpful revisions.Yet forgiveness remains a complex and often perplexing phenomenon .. (shrink)
Comprehensive historical understanding is also a central element of the information we need to be responsible moral agents. It is also a critical support of the morality that makes political cooperation possible, especially in any society shaped by a history of ethnic or racial injustice, colonialism, imperialism, or sectarian conflict. Efforts to censor the teaching of history that makes one uncomfortable are thus ethically as well as epistemically indefensible.
This book has two principle aims. The first is to criticize moral relativism by criticizing the claim that there are deep and rationally intractable moral disagreements. The second is to develop an account of morality and moral inquiry that allows for moral objectivity of a sort that relativists would deny, without modeling moral inquiry on scientific inquiry.
Democratic politics is always identity politics and there are some varieties of identity politics without which full and genuine democratic cooperation would not be possible. Indeed, the very existence of a democratic people involves mobilization of political concern and action around a democratic national identity. But a genuinely democratic national identity must be an open identity that can accommodate internal complexity and acknowledge external responsibilities. Moreover, in democracies characterized by a history of discrimination and oppression, there must also be political (...) space for a revitalizing identity politics that initially mobilizes political concern and action around the identities of those groups that have been subject to discrimination and oppression. Yet a revitalizing identity politics is likely to go awry if it is hostile to the possibility of reconciliation between the oppressed and former oppressors, or intrinsically resistant to political collaborations that might transcend the boundaries of familiar social groups. (shrink)
The “happiness agenda” is a worldwide movement that claims that happiness is the highest good, happiness can be measured, and public policy should promote happiness. Against Happiness is a thorough and powerful critique of this program, revealing the flaws of its concept of happiness and advocating a renewed focus on equality and justice. Written by an interdisciplinary team of authors, this book provides both theoretical and empirical analysis of the limitations of the happiness agenda. The authors emphasize that this movement (...) draws on a parochial, Western-centric philosophical basis and demographic sample. They show that happiness defined as subjective satisfaction or a surplus of positive emotions bears little resemblance to the richer and more nuanced concepts of the good life found in many world traditions. Cross-cultural philosophy, comparative theology, and social and cultural psychology all teach that cultures and subcultures vary in how much value they place on life satisfaction or feeling happy. Furthermore, the ideas promoted by the happiness agenda can compete with rights, justice, sustainability, and equality—and even conceal racial and gender injustice. Against Happiness argues that a better way forward requires integration of cross-cultural philosophical, ethical, and political thought with critical social science. Ultimately, the authors contend, happiness should be a secondary goal—worth pursuing only if it is contingent on the demands of justice. (shrink)
Virginia Held's Feminist Morality defends the idea that it is possible to transform the "public" sphere by remaking it on the model of existing "private" relationships such as families. This paper challenges Held's optimism. It is argued that feminist moral inquiry can aid in transforming the public sphere only by showing just how much the allegedly "private" realms of families and personal relationships are shaped-and often misshapen-by public demands and concerns.
This paper replies to the account of forgiveness developed in Griswold’s Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration. It defends the idea that “unilateral” forgiveness is the paradigm case of the virtue of forgiveness, rejecting Griswold’s claims that forgiveness is essentially a “dyadic” virtue, and that reconciliation of the wronged party with the wrongdoer is a defining element of forgiveness. Forgiveness is fundamentally a matter of being reconciled to the persistence of human wrongdoing, as expressed in particular instances. Reconciliation may well be essential (...) to some attempts at “political apology” for wide-scale wrongdoing. But then, contrary to some of Griswold’s claims, forgiveness will be central to many national projects of bringing about civic reconciliation. The paper also distinguishes between the project of seeking moral reconciliation from the project of seeking and granting political recognition for those who have been denied civic status. Contrary to Griswold’s view, the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial is best understood as a project of seeking and granting recognition, not as an attempt to produce civic reconciliation in response to the Vietnam War. (shrink)
This paper shows that Nussbaum's Aristotelian essentialism effectively combines resources for constructive social criticism (even in “traditional” societies) with concern for the concrete particulars of realized ways of life. Many critics of Nussbaum’s views have failed to appreciate its many virtues in this regard. Yet Nussbaum's confidence in the broad possibilities of internal social criticism demands a better account of the moral openness of human cultures than anything Nussbaum has herself provided. Even Nussbaum's reading of Aristotle – as well as (...) the ethical antirelativism on which it depends – demands a richer account than Nussbaum has so far offered of the essential openness of human world interpretations. (shrink)
Virginia Held's Feminist Morality defends the idea that it is possible to transform the “public” sphere by remaking it on the model of existing “private” relationships such as families. This paper challenges Held's optimism. It is argued that feminist moral inquiry can aid in transforming the public sphere only by showing just how much the allegedly “private” realms of families and personal relationships are shaped—and often misshapen—by public demands and concerns.