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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2014

9 - On relational morality: what are its boundaries, what guides it, and how is it computed?


Defining the moral space

Virtuous violence theory is based on a scientific model of moral psychology, and in the same sense that the scientific concept of mass is not identical to the folk concept of weight, virtuous violence theory does not encompass everything that is entailed by the Western folk model of “moral,” nor is it limited to just what the everyday, folk concept denotes. Indeed, it could not do so because the folk model is different in every culture, and varies from person to person within any culture. In every culture that has a word that more or less translates as “moral,” the term has a unique scope, unique presuppositions, and unique implications. And not every culture does have one word, or a set of synonyms, that neatly corresponds to the English moral. So to understand human “moral” psychology, we need to formulate a construct that aptly captures a natural kind in the world, even if no vernacular language does so precisely. However, virtuous violence theory is intended to capture much of what is meant in lay terms by the English “moral” and congruent terms in other languages, while still maintaining the advantages of a theoretically derived, deductively coherent enterprise. If virtuous violence theory encompasses a broad domain of important psychosocial phenomena that can be clearly and simply explained in terms of morally motivated relationship regulation, it is a good theory, regardless of whether the phenomena that it encompasses correspond precisely to the fuzzy and contentious folk domain of “moral” as any particular person in any particular culture uses that term, or something more or less corresponding to it. The scientific concept of force does not map exactly onto the (polysemic and fuzzy) folk concept of “force” in any culture, but it is nonetheless an invaluable concept – indeed, much better for describing and explaining physics than the folk concept. There are no vernacular terms at all for “Higgs boson,” “carbon ring,” “insular cortex,” “sexual selection,” “analog magnitude system,” “Nash equilibrium,” or “plate tectonics” – but science wouldn’t get very far if it didn’t construct valid technical terms for these important entities. To understand the world, we need technical terms that cut nature at its joints.

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