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The night in which all cows are black: ethical absolutism in Plato and Hegel

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Hegel and Plato offer distinctive but related philosophical accounts of ethical absolutism, thereby suggesting that a comparative study of their ethical ideas will be valuable in clarifying their respective philosophical approaches, as well as in admitting a critical examination of the structure for and viability of two significant absolutist ethical standpoints. This paper will concentrate on evaluating their rival conceptions of the Good and related ethical doctrines as specific responses to their recognition of the need to secure ethical life against the socially divisive effects of ethical controversy. This common inspiration of their ethical theorizing confirms the validity and significance of Williams' remarks on the significance of the consciousness of ethical variation cited earlier. Plato's and Hegel's elaborations of absolutist ethical positions, however, conflict with Williams' scepticism over whether there is an objective basis for ethics which is invoked in his Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy and his paper ‘The Truth in Relativism’ to justify relativism, at least in regard to significantly divergent and diachronically distinct ethical practices. Ultimately, this paper will consider the extent to which the absolutist aspirations of Plato's and Hegel's ethical theories can be sustained in the light of the evident variation in ethical thought and practice.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Oxford Polytechnic.

Publication date: 1991-03-01

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