"I don’t mean the following in any dismissive way but simply to articulate my understanding. Daniel seems to be making three statements to me
- Secular Ethics is Pluralistic Cultural Politics
- Hurrah for Pluralistic Cultural Politics!
- I am not interested in playing ethics-game
I am understand that pull of this approach. I find this unsatisfying because, like Daniel I assume, I see limits to coexistence. As a contemporary practical matter for example, are we willing to accept, acceptance of human trafficking as a within-community ethical standard that should be tolerated, without even protest or disapprobation?
And, if you do think that we should attempt to morally press a community which accepts human trafficking, not to do so, are you not at minimum initiating a neutron-bomb moral assault. Where in this case you hope to leave the actual human participants unharmed, but to obliterate the underlying ethical standard."
Jonathan Catalan, in the comment section to my original post, suggested I was being Rawlsian which seemed fair enough to me, although that was not my original intent. Originally I had a more Rortian liberalism in mind. Rawls works too I suppose, but Karl's comment here shows exactly where Rawls and coexisting communities gets strained and where Rorty shines a little brighter. Needless to say, I would press communities who find it morally acceptable to engage in human trafficking. My concern is not at all with taking ethical stands. My concern is with chasing the phantom that is a foundationalist ethics. This is the sense in which I agreed that Karl and Douthat are both right: secular ethics is very hard to justify. My point is that theistic ethics is no better.
And my approach to this problem is that we should not hold good ethics hostage to obsessions over justification, particularly because justifications seem to be so specific to particular communities. The problem facing modern, cosmopolitan humans is the coexistence of very different populations. Since ethics governs human relations, it seems to me that our ethics should facilitate this coexistence the best it can, right? That's the extent to which you can call me "Rawlsian". Indeed, if a secular ethics can facilitate this coexistence such that micro-ethics are practiced in separate communities, then all the better - we're all happy.
This seems like a good route to me, and it seems to me we have lots of ethical standards accessible to us as secular animals (see the Sam Harris stuff on the moral landscape... there's quite a bit of naturally available ethical intuition out there). The great thing is, maintaining and respecting this secular ethic rarely impinges on religious ethics people may also want to adopt. And when it does, it's usually indicative of something wrong with the religious ethic (human sacrifice, honor killings, what have you).
So that's all why a secular ethic is appealing on a practical level. My point is that to embrace all this it seems to me you really have to stop worrying about justification and foundations (which Karl and Douthat initially seemed too caught up in). This is where Rorty trumps Rawls. Rawls risks being a least common denominator ethics. Rorty doesn't because if you reject the justificationist project you're quite comfortable saying "I have no foundational justification for this ethics, but I'm asserting it because we seem to live much better together when we adopt it". If you're enraptured by justification, that sounds inadequate. If you're concerned with getting along in the real world, it's one of the best defenses of an ethical position I can come up with.
And again, the great thing about this approach is that it tends towards a minimalist cosmopolitanism, right? So the Douthat's of the world have the opportunity to articulate and construct communities around their own ethics. The only ones who are really left out in the cold are the Wahhibists and those types. And the Rortians are quite comfortable saying "I don't really care if those sorts are left out in the cold".
Life becomes a matter of arbitration and discussion - not justification and ethical calculus. That seems nice to me, and very workable.