The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy: by Daniel Garber, Michael Ayers

By Daniel Garber, Michael Ayers

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The ultimate principles proposed by the present argument are supposed to explain why different standards are justified for different possible worlds (and actual societies). Accordingly, they must themselves hold for every possible world, that is, given any set of facts. It is hard to imagine what such principles could be. ) In any case, we don't need such principles. Moral standards at every level can be justified by background beliefs in conjunction with a moral epistemology. Given different sets of background beliefs, any given moral epistemology will generate different standards.

None of this seemed to violate the intuitions of the offenders on a wide scale. Some of these intuitions were no doubt grounded on false background theories, but it is not clear that all of them were. Indians who tortured or enslaved captives did not always think their captives were less human than themselves, and Greeks didn't think this way about other Greeks. Slaughter and enslavement were simply permitted by the rules of war: everyone was equally vulnerable. In many cultures, torture of captives was "justified" on the ground that it avenged an outrage committed by someone in the captive's group.

In fact, as I will argue at some length in chapter 6, there are sufficient differences between domains within a given society that different standards are justified for different domains. Conditions for inmates in maximum security prisons are such that standards governing truth telling, promise keeping, and justice are rightly less stringent than those appropriate to communities of Franciscan monks. Revealing certain kinds of information can be highly dangerous in the first case, and there is little probability of reciprocity.

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