Arts & International Affairs: Volume 3, Issue 1, Spring 2018 - Page 82

VALUES AND PLURALISM IN INTERNATIONAL CULTURAL RELATIONS “When, however, this levelling out, this relativism, is articulated in terms of entire cultures, it then places a cognitively cumulative culture on the very same level as stagnant and self-revering ones” (1984:251). So, does the idea that acknowledging the relativity of one’s beliefs makes judgement logically impossible or incoherent? On this view, if I accept that my normative beliefs are the product of my culture, and if I accept that other, different beliefs are the products of other, different cultures, then I have no logical basis for claiming that my beliefs are either superior (or inferior) to anyone else’s. The lack of a universal standard of evaluation makes judgement impossible. This is a nihilistic position. So is the idea of Nietzsche and others that recognising the relativity of our moral beliefs will slowly sap our willingness to act in accordance with them. If that is true, once we lose the idea that certain moral duties are universal obligations, and instead come to believe that they are merely contingent and context-relative ways of life, some combination of selfishness, ignorance, and apathy will lead us either into brutality or into a numb mediocrity. Discouraging. Practical Cooperation Practically, I have no choice but to proceed with my existing normative beliefs, whatever they are. However, the recognition that our beliefs are relative, does not do away with the human and social needs that those beliefs addressed. Forms of life are never logically consistent systems, but are accretions of habits, practices, games, mistakes, misunderstandings, and so on. Just as recognising our inability to know whether our perceptions are accurate, or our knowledge true, does not make it either necessary or possible for us to do away with them, so, too, recognising that our beliefs are contingent does not make it necessary or possible for us to discard them. I cannot pursue what I recognise as a decent life without having some beliefs about the subjects of morality, and I am not free to jettison or replace wholesale my existing conception of a decent human life. My acknowledgement of the relativity of my beliefs or values may inspire me to reflect on their content, but it may not. What it will not, and cannot, do is to cast me loose from all beliefs. And since judgement is comparing my beliefs against my experience, if I have beliefs, I will continue to make judgements, including moral judgements. Wittgenstein called upon us to be awake to the normative dimensions of our forms of life, to pay attention to the language-games that we actually play, to refuse to be unconsciously captured by any particular picture of how things “must be.” The goal is to strike the difficult balance between the inescapable necessity of having and acting on values and beliefs, and the intellectual rigour and flexibility that come from never believing that things must be as we currently think they are. Wittgenstein calls upon us to actually live our ethical and political lives, whatever their content, and to do so with our eyes open. 81