I highly recommend this book as a very concise exposition of the subject in a very accessible style. It explains the origins of moral relativism in anthropology, and theories of cultural relativism that grew from it. Principally, it lays out in concise fashion the work of both those who sponsor the doctrine of moral relativism and those who criticize it. When explaining the latter, he also briefly identifies their alternative theories for a universalized moral philosophy when they are offered.
The book suggests early on that it will deliver its own independent critique of moral relativism and offer an theory of universal moral philosophy, yet in fact it underdelivers on that count. Although at the end Professor Lukes suggests some ideas drawn from Aristotle and Kant as bases for a universalized moral philosophy, he does not test those at all, and the Eurocentric roots of his proposition call into question the ability to prove their universal acceptance, yet he does not even acknowledge that issue.
So, in summary, this read to me as an excellent descriptive summary of the principal thinking on this subject, while not itself an major independent advancement of any alternative perspective.
This is a great introduction to theoretical work on relativism, multiculturalism, moral diversity, etc. Lukes creates a space for numerous thinkers to debate one another in a way that is very accessible to the uninitiated. My one reservation is that I would have liked a more thorough engagement with postmodern epistemology. While there is a brief section on Richard Rorty's neo-pragmatism, Lukes largely seems to see problems of morality as separate from problems of knowledge formation. He suggests that though morals may or may not be relative, no one "really" believes that science isn't objective. Science studies scholars, feminist theorists of the body, and Foucaultians would all likely argue that last point, as well as suggest that these and moral questions go hand in hand. Still, this is an excellent intro to a set of questions that can be argued endlessly, and I enjoyed it immensely. I should disclose that I studied with Lukes back in college and am a fan of his work. Check it out.
Steven Lukes is at his best in this little gem of a book. Any scholar will seek out a thorough and consummate exploration of a topic with a body of ideas fully rendered in the complexity and dynamism owed by real life. Sociology is hardly exhaustive when trying to give structure or read behavioral patterns; and political science is always a step behind the experiential when trying to define the ways and means that comprise the analytical enterprise. Here we have a social theorist capable of investing in a difficult topic with expertise and panache, sensitivity and a pliable academic intuition that poses questions and offers potential benefits such question are due to yield. The name dropping and concomitant quoting a reviewer has deemed inappropriate and overweening is, to the contrary, fluid, pertinent and always fitting the implied excursus. In other words when Lukes adds a quote to the discussion he is doing so to award historical incision to the ideas expressed and divulge its source and import in a way that makes the thread of the logic traceable while compellingly inscribing a tenor and a vision that are compounded by the varied social philosophers. I grant you it may be frustrating for those less acquainted with such names, however this is not necessary to its precepts, the premise or the overall arch of the moral implications therein exposed. And for those familiar with the history it will flesh out a separate dimension that is as entertaining as it is invigorating and explicitly lively. The language and the examples offered are unique in their virtue of giving relativism a statement that is concise, deep and far-reaching. Anyone with a slight interest in the subject, or a well-founded kinship to the ideas, whether by means of cross-pollination or direct correlation, should do well to consult these 160 pages and be the better for them. An excellent read and a wonderful introduction to a deceptively simple idea!
The distinguished professor's own ideas are difficult to find among all the references and quotations. So many times he begins to develop an intriguing idea but then before it is fully fleshed-out Steven Luke abruptly inserts another Kantian and Aristotelian reference or quotation.