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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Moral development in the context of pluralism Peters, Leslie Wayne


Moral development is a topic that has consistently elicited contention because of the difficulties, vaguenesses and uncertainties of the moral life. Combine this with the contemporary pluralistic milieu and the problems of communicating unambiguously about moral development are only exacerbated for a commitment to pluralism involves not only recognition of the fact of diversity itself but the adoption of a normative position commending diversity as a means of enriching our lives. In both descriptive and prescriptive senses, pluralism poses significant problems for any discussion of moral development not least of which is the challenge of ethical relativism. In this thesis I seek to articulate an orientation toward moral development sensitive to the context of pluralism. Along the way I address the themes of universal principles, traditions, ethical relativism and moral languages—all with an eye toward relating them to moral progress. I argue that universal principles understood as culture-transcendent arbiters of moral disagreement are impossible to access, that our inescapable starting point within a tradition precludes gazing directly into the Moral Law but that this need not lead to relativism. In addition, I discuss moral languages in depth and conclude that they not only provide the framework for expressing moral concerns but significantly determine our form of life. Picking up on these themes, I harmonize a carefully delineated conception of universalism-rejecting problematic senses-with cultural embeddedness and elaborate on the notion of progress from "within." It is within a tradition that we develop habits of affection and behaviour and exercise virtues we need in order to become virtuous. We can then reflect upon, analyze and criticize the efficacy of customs and conventions and this implies a conception of the good life that transcends the particularities of the moral language(s) we speak. The result is a stereoscopic view of moral progress in which we revise our understanding of the good in light of our experience and develop our conception of the good and the habit of right judgment and action in tandem, each being corrected in the light of the other as we move dialectically between them.

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