Moral Philosophy After 9/11

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Were the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks courageous "freedom fighters" or despicable terrorist murderers? These opposing characterizations reveal in extreme form the incompatibility between different moral visions that underlie many conflicts in the world today, conflicts that challenge us to consider how moral disputes may be resolved. Eschewing the resort to universal moral principles favored by traditional Anglo-American analytic philosophy, Joseph Margolis sets out to sketch an alternative approach that accepts the lack of any neutral ground or privileged normative perspective for deciding moral disputes.This "second-best" morality nevertheless aspires to achieve an "objectively" valid resolution through a dialectical procedure of reasoning toward a modus vivendi, an accommodation of prudential interests that are rooted in the customs and practices of the societies in conflict.

In working out this approach, Margolis engages with a wide range of thinkers, from Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel through Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas, Rawls, Habermas, MacIntyre, Rorty, and Nussbaum, and his argument is enlivened by reference to many specific moral issues, such as abortion, the control of Kashmir, and the continuing struggle between the Muslim world and the West.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Margolis's book is a serious contribution to a new and valuable approach to moral philosophy. Rightly suspicious of approaches that attempt to ground morality in ultimate principles, Margolis seeks a way of understanding morality that heeds the data of the moral experience of individuals and groups of individuals. Focusing on intractable moral disputes, such as the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, Margolis provides a conceptual framework for a mode of moral reasoning that can move toward a modus vivendi, as opposed to a final moral judgment.”
—J. Kellenberger, California State University, Northridge

“The few details of his account reconstructed here are extracted from a rather more diffuse and free-ranging discussion, which alludes to the success of the argument more often than specifying it. This is perhaps a feature of Margolis’s intention to preserve the freshness with which the argument initially came to him, as he remarks in his preface. Still, there is more genuine freshness here, philosophically speaking, than merely in the lack of labored explication, and for this, the book deserves a recommendation.”
—George Williamson, Philosophy in Review

“This is a major contribution on many counts to the extant literature on morality and the ethical issues raised by globalization and the subsequent conflict of cultures. Although Margolis may be criticized for formulating a "second-best" morality that embraces values associated with the West's Enlightenment tradition, on his own account he has no alternative starting point. Those whose tradition provides them with a different starting point may balk, but Margolis counts on the fact that the desire to end conflict, violence, death, and destruction may prompt them to engage at least in dialectical discussion. Let us hope that this book will also be read by those most in need of it: those who hold positions of power, privilege, and influence in the West yet fail to see that their very own tradition commits them to the second-best morality that Margolis is formulating.”
—Joanne Waugh, University of South Florida

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271024479
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/2004
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Margolis is Laura H. Carnell Professor of Philosophy at Temple University. With Penn State Press he has also published What, After All, Is a Work of Art? (1999), Selves and Other Texts: The Case for Cultural Realism (2001), and the co-edited volume The Quarrel Between Invariance and Flux (2001).

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Table of Contents




1. A Reasonable Morality for Partisans and Ideologues

2. Second-Best Moralities

3. The Moral and the Legal

4. Human Selves and Moral Agents

5. Humanity and Moral Diversity



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