Originally published August 19, 2018
Here is an excerpt:
First, as I have been insisting, we live increasingly in multicultural, multiethnic, cosmopolitan worlds. Depending on one’s perspective these worlds are grand experiments in tolerant living, worlds in which prejudices break down; or they are fractured, wary, tense ethnic and religious cohousing projects; or they are melting pots where differences are thinned out and homogenised over time; or they are admixtures or collages of the best values, norms, and practices, the sociomoral equivalent of fine fusion cuisine or excellent world music that creates flavours or sounds from multiple fine sources; or on the other side, a blend of the worst of incommensurable value systems and practices, clunky and degenerate. It is good for ethicists to know more about people who are not from the North Atlantic (or its outposts). Or even if they are from the North Atlantic are not from elites or are not from “around here”. It matters how members of original displaced communities or people who were brought here or came here as chattel slaves or indentured workers or political refugees or for economic opportunity, have thought about virtues, values, moral psychology, normative ethics, and good human lives.
Second, most work in empirical moral psychology has been done on WEIRD people (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic) and there is every reason to think WEIRD people are unrepresentative, possibly the most unrepresentative group imaginable, less representative than our ancestors when the ice melted at the end of the Pleistocene. It may be the assumptions we make about the nature of persons and the human good in the footnotes to Plato lineage and which seem secure are in fact parochial and worth re-examining.
Third, the methods of genetics, empirical psychology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience get lots of attention recently in moral psychology, as if they can ground an entirely secular and neutral form of common life. But it would be a mistake to think that these sciences are superior to the wisdom of the ages in gaining deep knowledge about human nature and the human good or that they are robust enough to provide a picture of a good life.
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