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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Realism, not relativism : a critique of Gilbert Harman Rawlings, Adam D.H.

Abstract

This thesis will critique Gilbert Harman's moral relativism. Harman argues for a form of moral relativism he calls a "conventionalist" account of morality. He supports this by defending a view of explanations, a view of simplicity, and a view of the moral "ought." However, the anthropological literature contains strong evidence against his drawing of this relativist conclusion — and in support of a contrary one. According to anthropologists, there is a universal belief in the moral wrongness of incest, the "incest taboo": its existence suggests that Harman may have better supported a form of moral realism than the relativism he endorses. Thus, at the very least, Harman's argument does not prove that relativism is true; more strongly, it may prove that relativism is false, and realism true.

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