Natural Moralities: A Defense of Pluralistic Relativism



© 2006 by Oxford University Press, Inc. All rights reserved. To be called a relativist, especially a moral relativist, is to be condemned as someone who holds that "anything goes". Frequently the term is part of a dichotomy: either accept relativism or accept universalism: the view that only one true morality exists. This book defends a new version of relativism that is both an alternative to, and fits between, universalism and relativism as usually defined. Pluralistic relativism does accord with one aspect of relativism as usually defined: there is no single true morality. Beyond that, it is argued that there can be a plurality of true moralities, moralities that exist across different traditions and cultures, all of which address facets of the same problem: how we are to live well together. A comparative and naturalistic approach is applied to the understanding of moralities, with discussion of a wide array of positions and texts within the Western canon as well as in Chinese philosophy, and drawing on not only philosophy, but also psychology, evolutionary theory, history, and literature in making a case for the importance of pluralism in moral life and in establishing the virtues of acceptance and accommodation. A central theme is that there is no single value or principle or ordering of values and principles that offers a uniquely true path for human living, but variations according to different contexts that carry within them a common core of human values. We should thus be modest about our own morality, learn from other approaches, and accommodate different practices in our pluralistic society.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Wong, DB

Published Date

  • September 1, 2006

Start / End Page

  • 1 - 304

International Standard Book Number 10 (ISBN-10)

  • 0195305396

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780195305395

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/0195305396.001.0001

Citation Source

  • Scopus