"Open" and "Closed" Relativism (2)

Ko Hasegawa (Hokkaido University)

[3] Now, the other point I should consider as a basis of "closed" relativism is that persons tend to have a "positivistic" attitude in talking about moral problems. Some persons can express and discuss their moral views if they are in some urgent practical context. But when they get sober in considering a variety of moral problems, they tend to observe the circumstances. If the pros and cons about moral problems are shown to them, and they are asked to think about those, these people tend to just make a summary of both arguments,and, when asked to evaluate each argument, they have the three-type responses which I described earlier. Of course, there are some persons who can judge those arguments from their viewpoints. But, sometimes, even these persons do not want to examine their views as an public enterprise. Of course, I can understand that there are persons with this "positivistic" attitude because their main concerns is just the observation of what is going on in the world. But, the nature of discussing those moral problems should be very different. In other words, those "positivistic" persons take external viewpoints for internal viewpoint problems,and they do not seem to think it inadequate.
I know these people can be "internal skeptics". But this type of skepticism was included in the problem I discussed already. The problem here is, they will ask, why must I not take an external viewpoint only because the problems discussed are internal ones? This is a serious question. I thinkwe are playing a certain game, an internal discussion game. If one is skeptical about the basic rules of this game, should he/she just resign fromthis game? I might say he/she should, if I did nottake the rules of game seriously. But I would not say so, though I am not quite sure why. Probably this kind of talking is a very basic mode of life,even if it could be regarded as a game. It is the game of life which we live through in any situation.

[4] Furthermore, some person might argue the following, which I think adds another dimension to ourtopic. According to this person, a value judgment is just the product of human skill. When one says something is important, good, or right, it is not backed by some theories of value, but is just an expression of his/her own virtuous condition. Let us think of this as riding a bicycle. We can just ride a bicycle without knowing any kind of theory concerning physics, mechanical engineering, geography, or the like. It is possible to develop a certain scientific theory for riding a bicycle, but it is not relevantfor the riding itself. Thus the true basis for our value judgments is our skills made possible by our implicit moral habits throughthe long process of learning,and not a certain set of theories. So, that person concludes, one makes some value judgment and another person makes adifferent one; that is all. If the former feels the latter's judgment is convincing, the former will adopt the latter's judgment. But all of this is just a process of contingent conversion without any examination of theories.
This contention reminds us of Stanley Fish's radical understanding of interpretive activity. In the field of philosophy of law, or constitutional theory, there has been a big debate on Law and Interpretation since the 1980's.
Some important figures in this debate are Stanley Fish and Ronald Dworkin. Fish has persistently contended that interpretive activity is itself something like a skill bounded by the context of an interpretive game within an interpretive community. In this context, any interpretation is possible and in itself adequate. Thus the theorizing of interpretation, especially analyzing the criteria for which interpretation method is right or better, cannot have any sense and is redundant. For Fish, we are just doing a variety of interpretations; that is all. An important problem here is the significance(if any) of articulating some theories of our (interpretive) communication. The very "raison d'etre" of theory is questioned. For our topic, the problem is how we can convince one who does not believe in the relevance of moral theories.
Although Fish's contentions are very clear and strong, I believe, like Ronald Dworkin who has beenmaking arguments against Fish and emphasizing the important functions of moral theories, that our activity is so complex that theoretical reflections are worthwhile. However, to the extent that I can understand Fish's claim, I am not sure whether we can convince one who makes Fishian claims. We have to prove that behind our activities there really works a complex set of theories. But how can we prove it? We need some meta-theory to show that some complex theories are working. But where do we get that meta-theory? There seems to be a vicious circle.
But, this Fishian claim does not necessarily lead to "closed" relativism. Rather this claim can support "open" relativism, and in the extremecase, even confirm a form of value objectivity that Fish himself seems to develop. If we are all doing bounded activities with tacit understandingsin a certain context,it already shows that we can communicate with each other.

[5] Therefore, we need a certain convention to fill the gap in "closed" relativism and carry out our public moral discussion. I guess this convention is a certain type of morality; the morality of openness. This will be a certain complex of conversational directives, which is public and open for a pursuit of truth in our morals. This is of course congenial to Popper's insightful claim for rational discussion without any common frame of reference. But there is more in the morality of openness, because it aims at the guarantee of the fruitful performance of public discussion, in particular for moral problems.
Here I recall that John Stuart Mill tried to articulate this kind of morality in his celebrated "On Liberty", Ch.2. Throughout this chapter, Mill suggested that we need "the real morality of public discussion" for truth and justice. The contentof this morality is scattered in his passages: perfect freedom to express any kind of opinion; not to suppress opinions; not to assume infallibility;open mind to any opinion; equal chance to claim; rely on one's reason; put in other's shoes; respect minority opinion; make serious arguments; not to make intemperate discussion, and so on. These are really important common-sense aspects of morality for discussion. We all should hear Mill's voice carefully if we would like to realize the ideal ofan open society.
Even so, I would like to distinguish deeper conversational demands from the others in Mill's suggestions. For public moral discussion, we do not have to share even the proper problem to be discussed, let alone the solution, because we often do not know what we are disagreeing with before wecarry out the discussion. What we have to share first is the attitude of transcending ourselves under the objective ideal of pursuing truth and justice. Sharing this objective ideal, we can erase our partiality and arrogance which naturally leads to the problems Mill is concerned with. And this awareness is itself a critical attitude not towards others, in order to examine their opinions,but rather to ourselves, to keep an interpretive respect and concern for diverse thinking.
This self-restraint is made possible by a delicate balance between pursuing objective truth and justice, and recognizing one's ignorance. We mightkeep this balance as a result of reflecting the distance between ourseleves and objective truth and justice. "Open" relativists know of this balance and quest for fruitful understanding of ourselves, but "closed" relativists and other dogmatists cannot.
I believe that if one says something, it necessarily implies to make some objective claim which can be examined publicly. Or more accurately, if one says something, there should be a certain theory which makes possible the significance of saying something which already includes a certain meta-theory of objectivity of statements. Thus "closed" relativists who try to escape from any kind of substantive commitments are self-defeating.They might say "I might accept such an objectivityclaim as a matter of fact, but I do not believe so." But this is impossible. The operation of the morality of openness makes so.

[Postscript]: I would like to thank Dr. Ronald Surine at the Faculty of Law in Hokkaido University and Prof. Mark Levin at the W.S.Richardson School of Law in University of Hawaii for their supports and advices.