Were the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks courageous freedom fighters or despicable terrorist murderers? These opposing characterizations reveal in extreme form the incompatibility between different moral visions that underlie many conflicts in the world today, conflicts that challenge us to consider how moral disputes may be resolved. Eschewing the resort to universal moral principles favored by traditional Anglo-American analytic philosophy, Joseph Margolis sets out to sketch an alternative approach that accepts the lack of any neutral ground or privileged rmative perspective for deciding moral disputes. This second-best morality, nevertheless, aspires to achieve an objectively valid resolution through a dialectical procedure of reasoning toward a modus vivendi, an accommodation of prudential interests that are rooted in the customs and practices of the societies in conflict. In working out this approach, Margolis engages with a wide range of thinkers, from Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel through Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas, Rawls, Habermas, Macintyre, Rorty, and Nussbaum, and his argument is enlivened by reference to many specific moral issues such as abortion, female circumcision, the control of Kashmir, and the continuing struggle between the Muslim world and the West.
Joseph Margolis is Laura H. Carnell Professor of Philosophy at Temple University. With Penn State Press he has also published What, After All, Is a Work of Art? (1999), Selves and Other Texts: The Case for Cultural Realism (2001), and the co-edited volume The Quarrel Between Invariance and Flux (2001).