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Moral Universalism and Pluralism


Henry Richardson, Melissa Williams

Publication Year: 2008

Moral universalism, or the idea that some system of ethics applies to all people regardless of race, color, nationality, religion, or culture, must have a plurality over which to range — a plurality of diverse persons, nations, jurisdictions, or localities over which morality asserts a universal authority. The contributors to Moral Universalism and Pluralism, the latest volume in the NOMOS series, investigate the idea that, far from denying the existence of such pluralities, moral universalism presupposes it. At the same time, the search for universally valid principles of morality is deeply challenged by diversity. The fact of pluralism presses us to explore how universalist principles interact with ethical, political, and social particularisms. These important essays refuse the answer that particularisms should simply be made to conform to universal principles, as if morality were a mold into which the diverse matter of human society and culture could be pressed. Rather, the authors bring philosophical, legal and political perspectives to bear on the core questions: Which forms of pluralism are conceptually compatible with moral universalism, and which ones can be accommodated in a politically stable way? Can pluralism generate innovations in understandings of moral duty? How is convergence on the validity of legal and moral authority possible in circumstances of pluralism? As the contributors to the book demonstrate in a wide variety of ways, these normative, conceptual, and political questions deeply intertwine.

Contributors: Kenneth Baynes, William A. Galston, Barbara Herman, F. M. Kamm, Benedict Kingsbury, Frank I. Michelman, William E. Scheuerman, Gopal Sreenivasan, Daniel Weinstock, and Robin West.

Published by: NYU Press

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pp. 1-16

Taking first the simple idea of plurality, before coming to the pluralisms that emphasize or celebrate it, I note that moral universalism is hardly opposed to plurality; indeed, moral universalism is . . .

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1 Contingency in Obligation

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pp. 17-53

This paper begins with an exploration of a set of tensions that arise between some ambitions of moral theory and the role of morality in the regulation and construction of ordinary life. It ends with . . .

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2 Moral Improvisation, MoralChange, and Political Institutions

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pp. 54-63

On grounds that look strong to me, Professor Herman argues that morality and moral theory must allow for contingency and change in moral norms.1 And, yet, as Herman observes, “No one has . . .

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3 Moral Improvisation and New Obligations

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pp. 64-80

After the end of a conflict between states or within a state where one side wins, how should one deal with those on the losing side accused of crimes either in the conflict or in conditions that led . . .

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4 Contingency at Ground Level

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pp. 81-94

Morality as the subject of philosophical study is often only indirectly related to the morality that persons live.1 Theory to practice is pretty much a one-way street. From the side of theory, we could . . .

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5 The Idea of Political Pluralism

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pp. 95-124

We often use the phrase “liberal democracy,” but we don’t always think about it very carefully. The noun points to a particular structure of politics in which decisions are made, directly or . . .

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6 Value Pluralism, Autonomy,and Toleration

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pp. 125-148

A number of political theorists have in the past few years argued that once the truth of value pluralism is established, the rejection of autonomy liberalism (AL) follows almost . . .

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7 The Limits of Liberal Pluralism

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pp. 149-166

Professor Galston means by “liberal pluralism” a sort of midcourse correction of political liberalism, the central idea being that the liberal state and its constitutional actors all ought to . . .

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8 International Law as Inter-Public Law

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pp. 167-204

In this essay, I seek to take some steps toward the development of a theory of international law that is an alternative—I hope a better alternative—to the standard account of international law . . .

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9“ The Center Cannot Hold”

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pp. 205-218

Benedict Kingsbury tackles one of the most significant issues facing normatively minded international lawyers today. In the face of a proliferation of legal developments (e.g., new forms of security . . .

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10 Cosmopolitanism andInternational Law

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pp. 219-239

In the past decade or so there have been various calls for “global” or “cosmopolitan” democracy—most notably, perhaps, by David Held.2 Sometimes these calls are based on empirical and . . .

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11 Democracy and International Law

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pp. 240-250

In his stimulating and instructive paper, Benedict Kingsbury aims to develop a theory of international law that can stand as an alternative to the orthodox model of jus inter gentes. Of the various . . .


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pp. 251-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780814769119
E-ISBN-10: 081476911X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814794487
Print-ISBN-10: 0814794483

Page Count: 350
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • International law -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • International law -- Political aspects.
  • International law -- Philosophy.
  • Universalism.
  • Pluralism.
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