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Race, Ethnicity, Multiculturalism and Ethical Theory


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A Bibliographical Survey of Philosophical Literature on Diversity and Ethical Theory Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory

Biliographical essays are drawn from Lawrence M. Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory, 3rd Edition [Wadsworth, 2002] © 2002

Ethnic and Cultural Diversity

Recently philosophers have become increasingly concerned with the issue of ethnic and cultural diversity, although much of traditional ethics—with its emphasis on universality and its ‘thin’ notion of a moral agent—has minimized the value of such diversity. The Philosophical Forum took the lead in this area. See the double issue on "Philosophy and the Black Experience," Philosophical Forum, Vol. IX, Nos. 2-3 (Winter-Spring, 1977-78) and the triple issue on "African-American Perspectives and Philosophical Traditions," Philosophical Forum, Vol. XXIV, Nos. 1-3 (Fall-Spring, 1992-93). Also see the papers by Anthony Appiah, Maria C. Lugones and Thomas Wartenberg presented at an APA Symposium on Gender, Race, Ethnicity: Anthony Appiah, "‘But Would That Still Be Me?’ Notes on Gender, ‘Race,’ Ethnicity, as Sources of ‘Identity’," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 10 (October, 1990), pp. 493-99 and the commentaries by Lugones and Wartenberg. Also see the papers on multiculturalism and philosophy in Teaching Philosophy, Vol. 14, No. 2 (June, 1991), especially Larry Blum's "Philosophy and the Values of a Multicultural Community," pp. 127-34. For a recent discussion of some of these issues from a sociological standpoint, see Anthony J. Cortese, Ethnic Ethics: The Restructuring of Moral Theory (Albany: State University of New York, 1990). Also see Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father’s House (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); Social Theory and the Politics of Identity, edited by Craig Calhoun (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1994); Cornel West’s work, especially Race Matters (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993); and, most recently, Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race, by Amy Gutmann and K. Anthony Appiah (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). For a good, short overview of philosophical work on the issue of race, see Bernard B. Boxill, "Racism and Related Issues," Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), Vol. II, pp. 1056-59. Discussions of the multiculturalism abound, but one of the philosophically most sophisticated is Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and ‘The Politics of Recognition’ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

Minority Rights

On the question of minority rights, see especially Will Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), Multicultural Citizenship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), and The Rights of Minority Cultures, edited by Will Kymlicka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). For a critique of Kymlicka, see John Tomasi, "Kymlicka, Liberalism, and Respect for Cultural Minorities," Ethics, Vol. 105, No. 3 (April, 1995), pp. 580-603.

Moral Conflict

A number of works have recently appeared on moral conflict. For two influential arguments in favor of the plurality of moral values and the consequent unavoidability of moral conflict, see Bernard Williams, "Conflicts of Values," Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 71-82 and Thomas Nagel, "The Fragmentation of Value," Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 128-41. Also see Stuart Hampshire, "Morality and Conflict," Morality and Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 140-70. For a discussion of the problems that moral conflict poses for liberalism, see Steven Lukes, "Making Sense of Moral Conflict," Liberalism and the Moral Life, edited by Nancy L. Rosenblum (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 127-42. John Kekes, "Pluralism and Conflict in Morality," The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 26 (1992), pp. 37-50 argues in favor of pluralism but against the claim that our everyday moral lives are characterized by fundamental moral conflicts. For a contextualist account of the resolution of moral conflicts, see James D. Wallace, Moral Relevance and Moral Conflict (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988). Richard W. Miller’s Moral Differences: Truth, Justice and Conscience in a World of Conflict (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992) is a well-argued defense of a limited version of moral realism. For a nuanced treatment of the issue of fundamental moral disagreements in a democratic society, see Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996)

Ethical Pluralism

There also has been an increase in work on ethical pluralism lately. The Symposium on Pluralism and Ethical Theory in Ethics, Vol. 102, No. 4 (July, 1992) contains a number of important papers on pluralism. The issue of Social Philosophy & Policy, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Winter, 1994) is devoted to "Cultural Pluralism and Moral Knowledge," and contains a number of important papers. On the benefits of moral diversity, see Amélie O. Rorty, "The Advantages of Moral Diversity," Social Philosophy & Policy, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Summer, 1992), pp. 38-62. Also see the works on pluralism discussed in the bibliographical essay at the end of Chapter Two. The most interesting, and perhaps also the most difficult, philosophical treatment of this issue is Michael Stocker’s Plural and Conflicting Values (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).

Pluralism and the Limits of the Liberal State

The issue of pluralism raises important questions about pluralism and the limits of the liberal state. For a provocative position on this issue, see Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition," with a commentary by Amy Gutmann, Steven C. Rockefeller, Michael Walzer, and Susan Wolf (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992); John Kekes, "The Incompatibility of Liberalism and Pluralism," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2 (April, 1992) and John Kekes, The Morality of Pluralism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993). Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1983) defends a pluralistic account of the demands of justice; also see the excellent collection of essays in Pluralism, Justice, and Equality, edited by David Miller and Michael Walzer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). James Davison Hunter’s Culture Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1991) contains an interesting chapter on "Ethical pluralism and the Democratic Ideal." For a general defense of pluralism, see Nicholas Rescher, Pluralism. Against the Demand for Consensus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Moral Compromise

On the notion of moral compromise, see Martin Benjamin, Splitting the Difference: Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1990) and David Wong’s "Coping with Moral Conflict and Ambiguity," Ethics, Vol. 102, No. 4 (July, 1992), pp. 763-84 for a related discussion of moral accommodation.





Discussion Questions

  1. The movie "Rosewood" depicts racial hatred at its most extreme. What does it tell you about the nature of racism? In what ways does this movie contribute to our understanding of the invisibility of the oppression of the powerless?