IB EXTENDED ESSAY: How Moral Pluralism Contributes to Diversity and Social Cohesion

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Transcript of IB EXTENDED ESSAY: How Moral Pluralism Contributes to Diversity and Social Cohesion

IB Extended EssayPhilosophy

How Moral Pluralism Contributes to Diversity and Social Cohesion

Name: Pinnapa Phetcharatana School: Vienna International School Candidate Number: 00014-082 Supervisor: Madame Fella Hacini Date: November 23, 2010 Word Count: 3,718


The concept of moral pluralism emerged as result of a shift from modernist to post-modernist beliefs. Attempts to establish common universal laws in order to seek rational order were abandoned since the impact of globalization in the past few centuries has resulted in more liberal views and a more differentiated community. Post-modernists have moved away from classical absolutist beliefs towards a more open-minded approach to defining morality. However, it is important to consider the degree of reality of this ethical pluralistic concept when applied to an evolving and diverse world. To what extent is the meta-ethical theory of pluralism reasonable to guarantee moral cohesion in society? This essay discusses several aspects of moral pluralism, including the plurality and conditionality of values that encourage the use of moral intuition, which promotes a wider definition of what is good; the incommensurability and incompatibility of values that hinders the creation of a rational moral ranking; and the acknowledgement of social and cultural differences that may result in a more tolerant and flourishing society. Flaws and limitations of the theory are also taken into consideration in order to provide an unbiased outcome. Pluralism promotes freethinking in the ethical sense since it does not attempt to provide a fixed definition for morality. It further dismisses dogmatism as individuals are encouraged to make use of moral intuition while taking into account appropriate limits. Upon the demonstration that moral pluralism will lead to stronger social cohesion, there is still the danger of the fracturing of morality and increased skepticism resulting from the plurality of views, which may lead to a state of anomie. It is important that society defines and establishes clear limits in regard to human rights in order to prevent the dangers that threaten morality.

Word count: 290

Table of Contents

How Moral Pluralism Contributes to Diversity and Social Cohesion Introduction Essay Body Conclusion Works Cited Appendix 1 2-13 14 15 16-19

IB Extended Essay Philosophy

Pinnapa Phetcharatana 23/11/10 Candidate #: 00014-082

IntroductionThe emergence of the postmodernist era has brought about a strong skepticism towards universal morals. Critics claim that universal morality is disintegrating. Among the majority of them were modernists who conformed to the grand narrative- a historical story of ideologies and principles in different cultures and traditions that communicate themes and values. However, the grand narratives were gradually dismissed as ideologists, philosophers and social scientists realized the futility of seeking a common universal ground in the moral sense. Deep differences in cultures and social structures call for a more contingent and non-absolutist narrative, and this awareness ultimately gave birth to the concept of moral pluralism. Bearing this in mind, it is important to consider the extent to which the monistic view of morality should be dismissed, and more importantly, the extent to which pluralism should be adapted effectively to ensure a flourishing society. To what extent is the meta-ethical theory of pluralism reasonable to guarantee moral cohesion in society? This essay will discuss and analyze different aspects of moral pluralism in regard to how it may contribute to higher social tolerance and diversity. Certain limitations of the theory will also be addressed in order to achieve an equitable conclusion.

As a result of societys confusion about its own values, moral dilemmas occur since there is no longer a rational foundation for moral convictions.1 What used to be the solid core of morality is now uncertain, and everything concerning ethics suddenly1

Kekes, The Morality of Pluralism, pg. 7


IB Extended Essay Philosophy

Pinnapa Phetcharatana 23/11/10 Candidate #: 00014-082

becomes questionable.2 Should moral value be defined through deontology, where duty and obligation are prioritized and rightness and wrongness are determined within an act itself? Or would it be more appropriate to consider the ethical value in the actual outcome of an action? Deontology and consequentialism are two clashing concepts that both appear to serve as epitomes of morality; they are the basis for making moral decisions. However, the theories should not be binding since different types of ethical situations require different approaches. Perhaps what is right may not always be good. In light of the extremes, the thesis has paved way for moral pluralism- an alternative that allows for openminded judgment in ethical situations. Pluralism asserts that there are no objective truths and encourage the acceptance of a multitude of beliefs and values.3 It further leads to the awareness of the fact that there exists no such rational system of ranking for these values.4 The inevitability of conflicting moral values that result due to the subjectivity serve to bring about greater social tolerance for different ideas and conceptions of life, while ensuring that limits exist in order to avoid abusing the contingency of values.

Unlike primary values that are universally known and predetermined (such as love being regarded as a benefit or humiliation as harmful), secondary values differ depending on societies, traditions and historical periods.5 Individuals prioritize their values in regard to their social roles and personal beliefs. For example, a doctor is required to save lives, so he places life above all other values. On the other hand, a soldiers duty is to fight for his

2 3

Kekes, The Morality of Pluralism, pg. 7 McGrath, Understanding and Responding to Moral Pluralism 4 McGrath, Understanding and Responding to Moral Pluralism 5 Kekes, The Morality of Pluralism, pg. 18


IB Extended Essay Philosophy

Pinnapa Phetcharatana 23/11/10 Candidate #: 00014-082

nation, even if this means killing. One sees life as a higher priority, while another dedicates oneself to patriotism. Different roles call for different rankings of values, and often, the values come into conflict. What is regarded as beneficial to one may be considered harmful to another. Moral pluralism brings awareness to the vast individual differences that emerge above the level of the values we are bound to hold in common [primary values].6 Tolerance towards various culture and social groups may be encouraged by openmindedness towards new behaviors and opinions.

Values are conditional since they depend on social roles, individual preferences, religious beliefs and many other factors that have affected ones upbringing. However, moral absolutists deny this, arguing that this extreme conditionality will lead to the disintegration of morality as a result of a lack of norms. Kants deontological theory, for example, defines morality through the intentions of the agent rather than the consequences of actions. The will or motive of these actions must correspond to a particular given set of ethical codes that determine the rightness of a certain act. This means that one is always required to obey a certain moral rule despite how absurd it may seem given the circumstances. If a murderer were to ask a man where his wife and children are, Kantian ethics would suggest that it is the mans duty to speak the truth. Lying, in this case, is considered to be intrinsically immoral, despite that by doing so may save lives. This example serves to highlight the idealism in the absolutism-based Kantian deontology in the sense that it attempts to bring an outright, rational order upon a situation that calls for a


Kekes, The Morality of Pluralism, pg. 19


IB Extended Essay Philosophy

Pinnapa Phetcharatana 23/11/10 Candidate #: 00014-082

deeper examination. It is important to consider that maybe what is morally right may not always be the best choice. In order to prevent growing moral conflicts, absolutists believe that there should be one overriding value in which all other values become automatically subordinate to. This overriding value ultimately rules over other values in all moral situations regardless of circumstances. If justice were an overriding value, for example, then in conflicts between justice versus life, freedom or any other positive value, the value of justice would preside over all- meaning that lives and liberties must be sacrificed for justice. This notion brings convenience when resolving moral dilemmas; the overriding value automatically takes precedence over the value it conflicts with. In Kants case, this is shown through the universalization of moral codes: Always act in such a way that you can also will that the maxim of your action should become a universal law.7 This can be drawn back to the concept of the grand narrative introduced previously where there is an attempt to provide a logical justification for the ranking of values. Nevertheless, the absurdity of this absolutist theory lies in the fact that it does not provide a justification for why all other values must be positioned subordinate to the overriding value. Why are some values placed below other values, when they all seem equally moral? What determines the overriding value? These questions have been left unanswered.

Perhaps there can be no fixed, rational ranking of values, since differences in social roles, religious beliefs, desires, and environments allow for the existence of equally moral values, in spite of how they may all conflict with each other. Moral pluralism, on one hand,