Agreeing to Disagree: Toward a More Capacious Conception of Tradition



Thus far I have been arguing that social criticism — moral, but also the-oretical — requires not that we transcend our practices, but that we remain within them. Contrary to what thinkers like Rorty suggest, the distinctions on which the critic relies are internal to the practices whose “relation to reality” the platonist seeks to get into view. Ironically, it is precisely in attempting to transcend these practices that the platonist risks losing the critical capacity that, it was thought, required the sought-after “external” viewpoint. Thus, in rejecting the platonist’s putative point of view as illusory, we need not relinquish the resources required for rational dissent and critique. In this sense, I have been defending the adequacy of what I called “ordinary” — as opposed to platonistic — realism.


Social Criticism Moral Argument Moral Authority Moral Position Moral Discourse 
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  1. 2.
    That such concerns about the adequacy of our moral discourse can arise after having renounced platonism is nicely brought out by James Lindemann Nelson, who writes that “it might be argued that those skeptical about ethics as a form of knowledge base their doubts on features of the language game that are plainly accessible — the prevalence and endurance of deep ethical disagreement, for example … Such observations do not require taking a ‘sideways on’ view of ethics but rely rather on the presumably laudable activity of describing differences among language games.” James Lindemann Nelson, “Review of Ethical Formation by Sabina Lovibond,” International Philosophical Quarterly 42(8) No. 168 (December 2002), 556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    MacIntyre suggests that our alleged present predicament is one “which almost nobody recognizes and which perhaps nobody at all can recognize fully.” MacIntyre, After Virtue, 4. However, it is worth noting that MacIntyre is not the first to have suggested such an “hypothesis.” Emile Durkheim, for example, suggested that “morality … is going through a real crisis.” He continues, “Our faith has been troubled; tradition has lost its sway; individual judgment has been freed from collective judgment.” Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, trans. George Simpson (New York: The Free Press, 1933), 408–409.Google Scholar
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    J. Kemp makes a similar point when he writes, “If I am asked to justify my action in refusing to give money to a beggar in the streets I might say that I could not afford to, or that the man was not really as poor as he looked, or that giving money to beggars tends to weaken the moral fibre of the community. It might be disputed whether any of these were good reasons, or just how good any one of them was, but there would be no dispute that the reasons offered were at least relevant to the question at issue. But if, when asked to defend my refusal, I say that Glasgow is west of Edinburgh nobody would accept this as in any way relevant to my lack of generosity; it is no reason at all, not even a bad one.” J. Kemp, Reason, Action and Morality (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), 106–107.Google Scholar
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© Richard Amesbury 2005

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