Morality, Michael Walzer contends, is plural, subjective, and concrete, a multitude of moralities or moral ways of life created over time by the members of distinct historically situated communities. This entails that we must abandon the familiar notion of moral truth, according to which at least some claims of the form ‘it is wrong to ϕ’ are true in virtue of their tracking or reflecting objective and universal moral principles binding on all moral agents as such. Many of Walzer’s critics take this implication to constitute a reductio ad absurdum refutation of Walzer’s relativist meta-ethics. But what precisely do we lose if we give up on moral truth so conceived? Not a criterion to use in comparing different moralities or moral ways of life, I argue, nor a standard for assessing or selecting among competing moral arguments, i.e. answers to questions regarding how we ought to live posed at varying levels of specificity. Rather, if we give up on the idea of universal and objective moral truth, and so the possibility of justifying the coercive imposition of our moral norms on other moral communities on the grounds that they would accept them if they were rational, impartially benevolent, open to God’s wisdom, etc., we will be disposed to tolerate the different ways of life they seek to lead. While my defence of this last claim differs from Walzer’s, I argue that it better coheres with his meta-ethics than does his own.

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Copyright © 2015 Cairn International. Article first published online: 2015.

DOI: 10.3917/rip.274.0385

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‘Giving Up on Moral Truth Shall Set You Free: Walzer on Relativism, Criticism, and Toleration,’ Revue Internationale de Philosophie 274, no. 4, (2015): 385-398. DOI: 10.3917/rip.274.0385