Moral Absolutism Defended: A critique of Harman’s arguments against moral absolutism

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution

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Carsten Fogh Nielsen - Lecturer

  • Department of Philosophy
In a famous article from 1975 (“Moral Relativism Defended” (Harman 2000a)), and in a series of subsequent papers (2000b-2000e, collected in Harman 2000), Gilbert Harman has argued against moral absolutism, and for a certain form of moral relativism. In this paper I shall put to one side the latter project, which through the years has attracted quite a lot of attention, and instead focus on Harman’s arguments against moral absolutism which to the best of my knowledge has not yet been systematically discussed. Harman’s general argument against moral absolutism takes the following form: Moral absolutism claims that everybody has some reason to follow the demands of morality. Certain people do not seem to have reason to follow the demands of morality. Therefore moral absolutism must be false. In a longer version of this paper I distinguish three different versions of this type of argument. Here I will only discuss the problems I see with the first two versions of the argument, both of which you will find at the handout. If people are interested in hearing my objections to the third version of Harman’s argument (some of which are also on the handout) we can take this up in the discussion. My paper will thus be a partial defence of moral absolutism; in the sense that it will show that Harman does not succeed in establishing that moral absolutism is false.
Emneord: Harman, relativism, absolutism
10 May 2005

Event (Conference)

TitleMoral Absolutism Defended
CityDepartment of Philosophy, Oxford University
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • Harman, relativism, absolutism

ID: 467617