Thursday, November 17, 2011
Anyone teaching moral or political philosophy inevitably comes across some surly know-it-all student who's convinced that the entire enterprise is an obvious mistake. Typically they have incredibly bad reasons for thinking that we should just stop investigating whether it's acceptable for people to treat in each other certain kinds of ways; certainly, you can be sure they'd feel they had some kind of complaint if you told them that everytime they made some stupid remark about it 'all being relative', you'd thrash them to within an inch of their life. Unfortunately, pointing out the performative contradictions in their attitudes like this is morally unacceptable, a point you can be sure they'll make - and fail to realise the relevance of to their earlier insistence that the whole practice of making moral claims is, like, so bourgeois. On the other hand, actually engaging with them, given how deep-seated a patently contradictory form of ill-considered relativism or scepticism often seems to be, can be very frustrating, for them as well - and it's not always their fault they hold ridiculous attitudes - as well as preventing you from teaching what you're supposed to be teaching. This, designed by the wonderful Tom Porter at Manchester, then is an excellent tool: a careful and patient online guide through why most of the common and most obvious forms of scepticism about moral and political philosophy are quite straightforwardly wrong - although I should say that I don't think framing the question in terms of the ontological status of moral claims, rather than in the terms of the less contentious question of whether there are standards of correctness for them, is a good idea.