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1 - The question of moral relativism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2011

Sonia Sikka
Affiliation:
University of Ottawa
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Summary

In line with the view of him as a “culturalist,” Herder has often been thought to espouse a thoroughgoing moral relativism, maintaining that different societies and ages hold distinct systems of belief regarding what is good and bad, right and wrong, and that there are no objective, transhistorical, and transcultural criteria for judging between these systems. In the majority of cases, the ascription of moral relativism to Herder is intended as a criticism and refutation, and at times also as a warning of the dangers of Herder's thought. Consider, for example, the following remark by Max Rouché, in his introduction to the 1943 French translation of Yet Another Philosophy of History:

With Yet Another Philosophy of History, according to which our conception of life is a function of our nation and our age, German thought sets out on the path of relativity; our vision of the world will be presented as a function of our race by H. S. Chamberlain and then Rosenberg, and our type of civilisation by Spengler. Modern Germany is the country par excellence of relativity.

(Rouché 1943, 74)

The implication here is that Herder was the starting-point for an idea that ended in Nazism, for he asserted, as did Nazis and their racist predecessors, that peoples are divided into types whose members inescapably see the world in different ways.

Type
Chapter
Information
Herder on Humanity and Cultural Difference
Enlightened Relativism
, pp. 12 - 43
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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