Review Of "Moral Relativism And Moral Objectivity" By G. Harman And J. J. Thomson

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This fine book features a debate over the relative merits/demerits of moral relativism and moral objectivism. Harman (Princeton Univ.), whose The Nature of Morality (CH, Sep'77) continues to influence American "realists" who react to his "anti-realism," defends relativism. Thomson (MIT), whose analysis of moral dilemmas in Rights, Restitution, and Risk (CH, Jan'87) and of rights in The Realm of Rights (CH, May'91) are widely read, defends objectivism. Each presents his or her respective case, and then each has "a go" at the other. Both offer clear, subtle versions of their positions, show great respect for each other, and write so that the argument is accessible to professional philosophers and upper-division undergraduates alike. The book could easily serve as the centerpiece for a course or seminar on contemporary metaethics, because it addresses most of the major issues. What makes the book especially unusual is that it actually advances the argument in an open-ended, illuminating way. It will, this reviewer believes, have an influence similar to that of J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams's Utilitarianism: For and Against (CH, Apr'74), which for many years framed the debate about utilitarianism. Highly recommended for all undergraduate and graduate collections and for larger public libraries.


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