Review Of "Moral Differences: Truth, Justice And Conscience In A World Of Conflict" By R. W. Miller

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Miller's important book divides in two. The metaethical half argues that moral inquiry can provide nondogmatic access to truth as in science: we can explain our moral judgments as the exercise of our capacities for detection. Miller's moral realism is modest, however, because he believes in truth without universality and grants the coherence of moral nihilism. He provides penetrating criticisms of such anti-realists as Gilbert Harman (The Nature of Morality, CH, Sep'77) and John Mackie (Ethics, CH, May'78) and such kindred spirits as Richard Boyd (“How to Be a Moral Realist,” in Essays on Moral Realism, ed. by G. Sayre-McCord, CH, Dec'89). The normative half argues that justice is social freedom: social institutions are just if and only if they must be accepted, freely and rationally, by anyone living in the society. This broadly egalitarian conception of justice leads to Rawls's difference principle: arrangements are just if they are relevantly best for the worst-off. His provocative examination of the requirements of economic justice is worth reading on its own. Although Miller's normative arguments are consistent with his metaethics, they appear to stand independently of it. Those familiar with contemporary liberal political and moral philosophy and its critics will find Miller's arguments rigorous and worth taking seriously. Among those discussed are Rawls, Scanlon, Gauthier, Nozick, Williams, McDowell, and Nagel. This book is a “must” for all graduate libraries, but the general reader would probably find it too enmeshed in contemporary philosophical debates to be readily accessible.


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