Value Pluralism, Realism and Pessimism

Res Publica 26 (4):523-540 (2020)
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Value pluralists see themselves as philosophical grown-ups. They profess to face reality as it is and accept resultant pessimism, while criticising their monist rivals for holding on to the naïve idea that the right, the good and the beautiful are ultimately harmonisable with each other. The aim of this essay is to challenge this self-image of value pluralists. Notwithstanding its usefulness as a means of subverting monist dominance, I argue that the self-image has the downside of obscuring various theoretical positions that do not fall into either the pluralist or monist camp. Yet such positions do exist, as shown by my discussion of Albert Camus and Hannah Arendt. Near contemporaries of the pioneering value pluralist Isaiah Berlin, the pair, just like him, sought to be realistic about the lived experiences of political disasters and moral disorientation in the twentieth century. Moreover, they shared with Berlin a keen interest in real-world moral dilemmas, which seemed to them to have made traditional morality obsolete. But the three thinkers’ perspectives on ‘reality’ hardly converged, and neither Camus nor Arendt became a value pluralist as a result of their reflections on moral dilemmas. This, however, by no means indicates the pair’s immaturity. Rather, it shows that there is more than one way of observing fidelity to our actual experience and that value pluralists’ commitment to realism and resultant pessimism is not as uniquely mature as they would have us believe.

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Kei Hiruta
University of Oxford


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