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Common Grounds without Foundations


A Pragmatic Approach to Ethical Disagreements Across Cultural, Philosophical, and Religious Traditions


An alternative, fallibilist model of moral reasoning rooted in the American Pragmatic tradition. Additional resources drawn from Chinese philosophy, Jain epistemology, modern philosophy of mathematics, and the Gadamerian hermeneutical tradition serve both to corroborate the argumentation and to provide examples of continuities in reasoning that cross the boundaries of disparate traditions.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-60724-042-6
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Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Mar 10,2015
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 382
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-60724-042-6
$177.00
$106.20

The current globalized nature of ethical discourse serves to heighten the perennial tension between universalism and relativism, especially as the latter emphasizes the tradition-dependence of moral reasoning. While those in the former camp point to a putative core of universal normative principles, contemporary critics such as Alasdair MacIntyre have cogently argued that even the rationality with which we judge our varied notions of justice is formed by our traditional worldviews. This can seem to lend support to those who would claim immunity from such universals as international human rights, based upon the divergent understandings of their various cultural or philosophical traditions. This traditionalist problem acquires, moreover, additional complexity when appeal is made to the distinctive character of religious moral traditions.


In Common Grounds without Foundations, David Kratz Mathies offers an alternative, fallibilist model of moral reasoning rooted in the American Pragmatic tradition. Additional resources drawn from Chinese philosophy, Jain epistemology, modern philosophy of mathematics, and the Gadamerian hermeneutical tradition serve both to corroborate the argumentation and to provide examples of continuities in reasoning that cross the boundaries of disparate traditions. Ironically, the very success of arguments for the tradition-dependent nature of rationality belies their conclusions—even religious claims make their appeal with some level of public reason—and a nonfoundationalist theory of knowledge more accurately reflects both our scientific progress and our projects of everyday enquiry. Ultimately, an analysis of our best epistemic practices provides us with prima facie biases in favor of both diversity and free speech (without the need to appeal to any tradition-dependent axioms like inherent worth, human dignity, or the possession of a soul)—to be concretized in institutions like human rights and democracy.

The current globalized nature of ethical discourse serves to heighten the perennial tension between universalism and relativism, especially as the latter emphasizes the tradition-dependence of moral reasoning. While those in the former camp point to a putative core of universal normative principles, contemporary critics such as Alasdair MacIntyre have cogently argued that even the rationality with which we judge our varied notions of justice is formed by our traditional worldviews. This can seem to lend support to those who would claim immunity from such universals as international human rights, based upon the divergent understandings of their various cultural or philosophical traditions. This traditionalist problem acquires, moreover, additional complexity when appeal is made to the distinctive character of religious moral traditions.


In Common Grounds without Foundations, David Kratz Mathies offers an alternative, fallibilist model of moral reasoning rooted in the American Pragmatic tradition. Additional resources drawn from Chinese philosophy, Jain epistemology, modern philosophy of mathematics, and the Gadamerian hermeneutical tradition serve both to corroborate the argumentation and to provide examples of continuities in reasoning that cross the boundaries of disparate traditions. Ironically, the very success of arguments for the tradition-dependent nature of rationality belies their conclusions—even religious claims make their appeal with some level of public reason—and a nonfoundationalist theory of knowledge more accurately reflects both our scientific progress and our projects of everyday enquiry. Ultimately, an analysis of our best epistemic practices provides us with prima facie biases in favor of both diversity and free speech (without the need to appeal to any tradition-dependent axioms like inherent worth, human dignity, or the possession of a soul)—to be concretized in institutions like human rights and democracy.

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Contributor Biography

David Kratz Mathies

David Kratz Mathies holds a PhD in Philosophy of Religion from Boston University and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Missouri Western State University.

  • Table of Contents (page 7)
  • Preface (page 11)
  • Chapter One: Introduction (page 19)
  • Chapter Two: Avoiding Scylla and Charybdis (page 37)
    • 1. Problems of Universalism and Relativism (page 37)
    • 2. The Failure of Arguing From First Priinciples (page 46)
    • 3. Examples from the Chinese Context (page 58)
      • 3.1. Human Rights in the Chinese Context (page 59)
      • 3.2. Preliminary Indications of Chinese Conceptual Overlaps (page 69)
    • 4. The Initial Appeal of a Pragmatic Approach (page 73)
      • 4.1. Human Rights and Comparative Studies (page 79)
      • 4.2. Pointing to Final Conclusions and Application (page 82)
  • Chapter Three: Making Space for the Middle Ground (page 89)
    • 1. What Is Meant by a Middle Ground (page 89)
    • 2. Multiplicity of Representations from a Jain approach (page 97)
      • 2.1. Jain Metaphysics and Epistemology (page 99)
      • 2.2. The Possibility of Tolerance (page 103)
      • 2.3. Confessionality and the Doctrine of Omniscience (page 105)
      • 2.4. The Finite in the Infinite: Problems of Abstraction (page 109)
    • 3. Epistemology: Webs of Belief (page 114)
    • 4. The Middle Ground as Complementarity (page 125)
      • 4.1. Ideal Themes (page 127)
      • 4.2. The Complementarity Thesis (page 130)
      • 4.3. Concluding Comments (page 134)
  • Chapter Four: A Common Project of Enquiry (page 137)
    • 1. Traditions and Their Problems (page 137)
    • 2. Understanding Across the Boundaries of Traditions (page 144)
    • 3. Extensions and Common Enquiry (page 153)
      • 3.1. Amens and Hall on Co-Extension (page 154)
      • 3.2. Angle and Linguistic Score-Keeping (page 158)
      • 3.3. Common Moral Ends (page 163)
    • 4. Exclusivism, Pluralism, and Open-mindedness (page 168)
    • 5. A Scientific Approach? (page 185)
  • Chapter Five: The Pragmatic Metatheory (page 195)
    • 1. MacIntyre: The Failure of a Rival Theory (page 195)
      • 1.1. MacIntyre on Tradition and Progress (page 197)
      • 1.2. Relativism (page 199)
      • 1.3. Problems with MacIntyre's Theory (page 202)
      • 1.4. MacIntyre's Critique of the Relativist (page 207)
      • 1.5. MacIntyre's Plan of Argument (page 213)
      • 1.6. Lessons to be Learned from the Failure of MacIntyre's Theory (page 214)
    • 2. The Science of Moral Epistemology (page 217)
    • 3. Communication, Broader Reasoning, and Overlapping Conceptual Resources (page 225)
      • 3.1. Beyond MacIntyre (page 226)
      • 3.2. 'What Works' (page 233)
      • 3.3. Pragmatism and Overlapping Conceptual Resources (page 247)
    • 4. The Case for a Pragmatic Model (page 257)
      • 4.1. Pragmatic Agnosticism (page 261)
      • 4.2. Pointing towards Conclusions: Grounds and Constraints (page 265)
  • Chapter Six: Human Rights and Democracy (page 269)
    • 1. Tentative Guidelines and Principles (page 269)
      • 1.1. Constraints from Human Nature (page 269)
      • 1.2. Grounds for Critique from Epistemic Virtues (page 272)
      • 1.3. Epistemic Correctives and Universalizable Biases (page 278)
    • 2. The Example of Human Rights (page 284)
      • 2.1. Women in Confucian Society (page 285)
      • 2.2. Human Rights as Common Core (page 293)
      • 2.3. Dissent and Freedom of Expression (page 300)
    • 3. The Example of Democracy (page 306)
      • 3.1. Consultation Groups in Confucian Cultures (page 308)
      • 3.2. The Mechanics of Democracy (page 312)
      • 3.3. Discourse and Public Judgement (page 319)
  • Chapter Seven: My Archimedean Point (page 329)
    • 1. Responding to the Skeptic (page 329)
    • 2. Conclusions (page 336)
  • Bibliography (page 343)
  • Index (page 371)
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