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Moral Relativism: Big Ideas/Small Books Paperback – Deckle Edge, July 22, 2008
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From School Library Journal
In this short work, Lukes (sociology, NYU; Power: A Radical View) examines moral relativism and the possible responses to its claims. He explains that there are two important parts of arguments for moral relativism: the diversity of moral views in different cultures and how our moral judgments are relative to the society in which we live. According to Lukes, moral relativism is not easily dismissed and raises issues like ethnocentrism and the clashing of cultural values; however, acknowledging that different cultures have diverse and at times conflicting values should not lead to the acceptance of moral relativism. Instead, Lukes presents an alternative that allows for a range of values and yet realizes that there are some values that are universal for all humans and there are certain standards that we can use to create moral norms. Overall, Lukes does a terrific job of presenting a brief but informative examination of moral relativism that will reward general readers and students of philosophy. Recommended for public and academic libraries.—Scott Duimstra, Capital Area Dist. Lib., Lansing, MI
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“A book on moral relativism by someone with a steely understanding of social reality? Only Steven Lukes could write it. If his insights are disturbing rather than comforting, he presents them with clarity, grace, and modesty.” ―Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman
“No sociologist alive is a sharper philosopher than Steven Lukes. He has been making mincemeat of academic distinctions for decades, bringing a razor mind and an eye for significance to all manner of vexing questions about power, individualism, rationality, human rights, identity, and now, in this masterful little volume, moral relativism. He reads like an omnivore, writes like a dream, and has both the reason and the courage to say that some positions are right and others wrong.” ―Todd Gitlin, author of Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms our Lives
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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.
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!