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)), in a series of subsequent papers (2000b-2000e, collected in Harman 2000), and in a book co-authored with Judith Jarvis Thomson (Harman and Thomson 1996) 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 this paper I distinguish three different versions of this type of argument, and argue that two of them fails, while the third is, at best, problematic, and is only valid if one accepts some form of reasons-internalism. My paper will thus be a partial defence of moral absolutism in the sense that it will attempt to show that Harman does not succeed in showing that moral absolutism is false.
Emneord: Harman, relativism, absolutism
26 May 2005

Event (Conference)

TitleMoral absolutism defended
CityAll Souls College, Oxford University
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • Harman, relativism, absolutism

ID: 467570