Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lively class tonight. Something I have found ever since I started teaching the subject is that the majority of students are subjectivists. For some reason, they aren't comfortable with that label, however. They want to pick and choose moral values they support individually, but basically argue for conventionalism - ie, social norms are morally correct at the societal or cultural level, and outsiders shouldn't judge the cultural practices of other groups. Historically, that does seem appealing, I suppose. I mean, the opposite side of that debate in 1900 tended to be paternalistic, insensitive and judgmental.

When confronted with the ugliness conventionalism can entail (that moral reformers within a society are wrong, or that speaking out about atrocities elsewhere that they care about [rather than ones they do not care about] conflicts with relativism) they are uncomfortable and don't want to own it. Instead they wind up arguing for subjectivism, but realize that could be chaotic or a contradiction, so they won't own that either. Still, they chafe at the idea that there could be ethical universals. This is true for all but a handful of students, who tend to favor objectivism. So tonight I told them not to pick that question on the midterm if they can't defend their position.

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