Arts & International Affairs: Volume 3, Issue 1, Spring 2018 - Page 79

ARTS & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS The paper starts by considering Wittgenstein’s account of difference, whether people can have different values, and whether they have a common vocabulary to discuss these values. The paper then considers the implications of this plurality, and of the potential for relativism to, in effect, destroy any possibility of making valid judgments about the values of others. It concludes by returning to Wittgenstein’s view that we can live our lives neither without our values, nor without understanding that our values are relative to those of others. Differences Wittgenstein argues that people exist and acquire meaning through their participation in different “Forms of Life.” 1 He intended both a singular and a plural use of the concept, with “a single human form of life characterised by innumerable forms of human life” (Moyal-Sharrock 2015:21). The concept pre-dates Wittgenstein, and it was not central to his work, but it can indicate a way of living (a culture) (see Hacker 2015). If we extend this analysis to include normative as well as descriptive language, we can argue that people from different “forms of life” may have radically different values or moral beliefs, and that they may lack a common vocabulary with which to argue and attempt to persuade each other. On this reading, moral values can be plural, precisely because they float free of any objective, universal standard, or criterion against which to evaluate and rank them. If that is truly the case, political cooperation appears to become much more difficult, since we have no reasonable expectation that all the citizens of a polity will (or can be brought to) endorse the same values or institutions. That kind of plurality among citizens threatens either chaos (the inability to achieve stable social cooperation) or oppression (the achievement of cooperation only by the suppression of principled dissent). Words (such as “values”) get their meaning from how they are used, from their place in a form of life. In that sense, they are “conventional.” A good example of this tendency is the Russian approach to “soft power.” On the one hand, there is no doubt that Russian culture has made a profound contribution to the world and that on the face of it, there should be no difficulty for Russia to achieve a prominent standing through soft power. Russian foreign policy, however, is shaped by Russia’s specific experience, and by the often-negative aspects of Russian history. Soft power means something different to Russia than it means in the West. Of course, the term soft power is highly contested everywhere, but it is clear that for Russia, it has come to be seen as part of “hybrid war” or economic 1 Form of life (German: Lebensform) is a technical term used by Ludwig Wittgenstein and others in the continental philosophy and philosophy of science traditions. Wittgenstein used the term consistently in his works Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty. It can be summarised as: “We do what we do because we assume a given form of life, which gives our actions, ourselves, and the world meaning. Form of life is what makes meaning itself possible.” 78