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Please address all the following questions. 1. This week we are examining, “CARING: A FEMININE APPROACH TO ETHICS” as articulated by Nel Noddings in chapter 21 of our textbook (and Robert Kane, below). After reading the text, find a current ethical issue (either in your own life or on the world stage that is going on right now) and evaluate Nel Nodding’s “Ethic of Care” as applied to this ethical issue. How would she respond? What is the difference between how men are apt to respond and how she says women are wired to respond and approach the issue? What are the pros and cons of this difference? Is it fair to make this distinction? Is it helpful? Make sure you quote from our reading in giving your evaluation.2. Robert Kane Essay “Through The Moral Maze”Robert Kane (make sure you cite the text when answering the following questions):What does Kane describe as the two “consequences” of the Tower of Babel regarding conflicting views on morality? What two concepts does Kane describe as the underlying problems associated with the consequences? Can you relate to these ideas in your own life? How?How does Kane use the story of C.S. Lewis’ “Perelandra” to depict the dilemma of “Loss of Moral Innocence?” Have you ever experienced this problem/dilemma in your own life? Can you give some examples?What does Kane propose, in the end, as a way forward through the “moral maze” of our modern context? Explain his concept of “openness.”Give an example from our contemporary context where this paradigm might apply; and explain why you think Kane’s views would be helpful. Be sure to cite the source of the news story.

Through the Moral Maze
ROBERT KANE teaches philosophy at the University of Texas and has written books on ethics and free will. His
primary focus is on questions of the ethical pluralism and tolerance, and he summarizes those concerns here.
The ancient image of the Tower of Babel has been used by more than a few modern
writers to describe the current state of discourse about ethics and values. There is no one
“spirit of the times,” but many—too many in fact—too many competing voices,
philosophies, and religions, too many points of view on moral issues, too many
interpretations of even our most sacred documents, our Bibles and Constitutions. Only the
most unthinking persons can fail to be affected by this pluralism of points of view and not
wonder, as a consequence, about the truth of their own beliefs…
Among the consequences of the modern Tower of Babel is a pervasive temptation to
embrace relativism, the view that there are no objective or “absolute” values that hold for
all persons and all times. Judgments about the good and the right, it is said, can only be
correct for some persons or societies or times, but not for all persons, societies, or times. In
support of such a view, there are widespread doubts about the very possibility of making
absolute or universal judgments that transcend our always limited points of view. New
trends in the social sciences and humanities, some of them with popular names like
“postmodernism” or “post-structuralism,” make much of the fact that all our views about
the world are historically and culturally conditioned. We always see things from a
particular point of view (a “conceptual framework,” or “language game,” or “cultural
tradition”). How can we therefore show that our point of view, or any other, is the right one
and competing views wrong, when we must assume the basic presuppositions of some
particular point of view to support our claims? How can we climb out of our historically
and culturally limited perspectives to find an Archimedean point, an absolute standpoint
above the particular and competing points of view?
This problem haunts the modern intellectual landscape. One sees variations of it
everywhere in different fields of study, and everywhere it produces doubts among reflective
persons about the possibility of justifying belief in objective intellectual, cultural, and
moral standards. Many modern thinkers, to be sure, deplore the resulting drift toward
relativism or skepticism, arguing that we need to restore belief in objective truth and value.
But it is one thing to say this and another to show how it can be done. For the problem of
finding an Archimedean point above the pluralism of competing points of view is a
complex one, which thinkers have been wrestling with for centuries.
I no longer believe the older ways of solving this problem will work as they did for past
generations… If we are not to drift into relativism, therefore, some new ways of thinking
about the problem of value are needed. Alasdair MacIntyre is right, I think, to say that the
current state of moral discourse is one of grave disrepair, but I am not entirely satisfied
with his or any other contemporary suggestion for repair. Some fundamental possibilities,
it seems to me have been overlooked in all traditional and modern searches for absolute
The root of present problems about values, is the existence of a pluralism of points of
views about the right way to live, with no evident ways of settling disagreements between
them. The ancient Tower of Babel is a fitting image for this modern condition…
Mircea Eliade, the distinguished historian of religions, has said that what religions
provided for their believers through the ages was a spiritual centering. Primitive peoples
often identified a sacred mountain or some other place near their home as the center of the
universe. The axis of the world went through that point and reached directly to the
heavens. It was the spiritual center of their world and the place through which people
found access to the divine.
One of the stories of modern civilization is a gradual undermining of this sense of
spiritual centering. When Copernicus said that the earth was not at the center of the
universe, European civilization was shocked. It was shocked even more when Giordano
Bruno suggested that there were perhaps many other worlds or galaxies. So shocked,
indeed, that Bruno—a less cautious man than Copernicus—was burned at the stake for
bringing such bad news. This reaction was crude, but not unnatural. For the spatial center
of the universe and our nearness to it had always been an image of the spiritual center and
our nearness to it. The loss of one seemed a loss of the other.
But the physical center of the universe was only an image of the spiritual center for
ancient peoples, and perhaps it was too crude an image. It is also possible to believe that,
no matter where we are in the physical universe, we can find the spiritual center if we hold
the right beliefs, those that are absolutely true, true for all persons at all times. Realizing
this, primitive peoples also thought that their beliefs were the true beliefs and their gods
the true gods, just as they thought that their mountain was the physical center of the
But this approach to the spiritual center has also been challenged by modern
civilization—in this case, not by scientific discoveries alone, but also by the existence of a
Tower of Babel of conflicting beliefs. In a modern world full of diverse and conflicting
religions, sects, cults, denominations, and spiritual movements, we can no longer afford to
think about a spiritual center as the ancients did without considerable soul searching.
Hans Küng points out that the greatest challenge for Christians in the twentieth century is
coming to grips with the diversity of the world’s religions and religious points of view
whose presence in the global community can no longer be ignored or lightly dismissed.
The same challenge exists for all religious believers. It is the threatened loss of a
spiritual center—the religious counterpart of the Tower of Babel and the spiritual
counterpart of discovering many worlds or galaxies beyond our own. As Huston Smith has
put it, using Nietzsche’s image, in the modern world we are summoned to become Cosmic
Dancers, who may “have our own perspectives, but they can no longer be cast in the hard
molds of oblivion to the rest.”
A second important consequence of the encounter with a pluralism of points of view is
that it takes away what might be called our moral innocence. How this occurs is nicely
illustrated by a scene in C. S. Lewis’s fantasy novel Perelandra. Lewis describes the journey
of a man named Ransom to the planet Venus, called “Perelandra” in the novel, an idyllic
world of islands floating on water and covered with exotic foliage (a veritable Eden, unlike
the real Venus which is the image of hell). Ransom meets only one humanlike creature
there, a green-skinned woman who tells him of her god, Maleldil, and his command that
she search for a man of her own kind who also inhabits this world. Ransom and the woman
talk until he complains that the floating islands are making his stomach queasy and
suggests they move over to the fixed land. The woman is shocked by this suggestion and
tells him that Maleldil has commanded that no one should set foot on the fixed land. This
is the one thing she is forbidden to do. Ransom’s response troubles and confuses her, for
he says that in his world, on earth, everyone lives on the fixed land and no one believes it is
wrong. Is it possible, she wonders, that there are different meanings of right and wrong
and that Maleldil commands one group of people to do one thing and others to live
differently? In her confusion she is tempted to move to the fixed land: if others can do it,
why can’t she?
As the conversation proceeds, Ransom suddenly realizes they are reenacting the story
of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and he is playing the serpent, tempting Eve
to do the one thing that G-d has commanded her not to do: eat of the fruit of the tree of
“knowledge of good and evil.” In the biblical version, Eve eats of that fruit, Adam does also,
and as a consequence of knowing good and evil, they are banished from the Garden.
According to the traditional interpretation, this coming to “know good and evil” is coming
to know sin through succumbing to temptation. But in Perelandra, Lewis is suggesting
another modern interpretation of knowing good and evil. The new knowledge that tempts
us to sin is the realization that there may be more than one right or wrong way of doing
things, and that therefore our way may not be the only “right way.” It tempts us because it
weakens commitment to our own beliefs. In the resulting confusion we say, like the
woman, “If others can do it, why can’t we?”
Such a realization that other points of view may be right in their own ways brings an
end to moral innocence—the secure feeling that the rights and wrongs learned in childhood
are the only correct or true ones, unchallengeable and unambiguous. It hurls persons out
of moral innocence into moral confusion, out of the Eden of childhood into the real world
of conflict and ambiguity, tempting them to think that since rules are not absolutely
unchallengeable or unambiguous, including their own, perhaps none is absolutely binding.
One form this challenge takes is the realization that traditional moral commandments
(“Thou shalt not kill, lie, steal…”) have exceptions in the real world; their absoluteness is
questioned. But once exceptions are admitted (for example, in cases of self-defense or
war), it becomes problematic where the line of exceptions is to be drawn (capital
punishment? Abortion? Euthanasia?). Disagreements proliferate and the question asked
by the woman of Perelandra returns: If others can do it, why can’t I?
Failing to grasp these possibilities is to live in moral innocence. To grasp them is to
learn something about the complexities of good and evil, but it is learning that comes with
a bitter taste. Having tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in this
conspicuously modern manner, we live, so to speak, “after the modern Fall.” Beliefs
formerly held may survive, but they can no longer be looked upon with the same certainty
and innocence. Some people have not crossed this divide, even in the modern world. But
those who have crossed it cannot easily go back; any more than they can go back to
believing that the earth is flat or situated at the center of the universe…
To lose moral innocence is in the modern sense of the Perelandra story is to be
troubled by two things: pluralism and uncertainty. Being troubled by pluralism means
recognizing the possibility that there are many correct senses of right and wrong (some
people are required to live on the fixed lands but others are not) and so there may not be
one true or absolute right or wrong this is the Tower of Babel problem.
Now we are often told that pluralism, or diversity of points of view, does not of itself
show that there are no absolute values. The mere existence of competing points of view is
compatible with the fact that one of them is right and the others mistaken. This
observation is true enough, but it does not go very far toward relieving uneasiness about
relativism, if we are also uncertain about how to show which of the competing views is
right. In other words, it is not pluralism alone that causes problems about relativism, but
pluralism plus uncertainty about how to resolve disagreements between conflicting points
of view. The two together conspire to erode convictions about the truth of one’s own
beliefs, just as they did for the woman on Perelandra. In Nietzsche’s image, recognizing a
thousand different tribes beating to a thousand different drums, we become the first
people in history who are not convinced we own the truth.
The uncertainty that conspires with pluralism is actually based on a deeper
philosophical problem. If we confront a plurality of conflicting points of view, how can we
show that any one of them is the absolute or correct one? To argue that our own view is the
right one we must present evidence. But the evidence will inevitably be collected and
interpreted from our own point of view. If the debate is about good and evil, the critical
evidence will include our views about good and evil, which are not going to be accepted by
others who have major disagreements with our point of view in the first place. For this
reason, there is a tendency to go around in circles when defending absolutes. The
circularity may not always be as evident as “The Bible is absolutely right because it says so”
or “I am absolutely right because I believe I am,” but it seems that circularity will emerge in
some form or another because we are faced with the task of defending the absolute status
of our point view from our point of view, which, it seems, is going to beg the question and
fail in principle.
This problem of circularity lies behind those popular intellectual trends… which make
much of the fact that we must always see things from a particular conceptual framework or
cultural tradition, and therefore can never climb out of our framework or tradition to see
things from an absolute or neutral perspective above the fray. How can it be shown that
our point of view, or any other, is the right one and that all competing views are wrong,
when we must assume the basic presuppositions of a particular, and therefore limited,
point of view in order to support our claims?
I want to address those who are troubled in this way by pluralism and uncertainty, but
who also have not given up the possibility of believing in absolute values or the search for
them. They have lost moral innocence in the sense of the Perelandra story, but they are
not yet willing to succumb to relativism or skepticism in ethical matters.
Ordinary persons in such a situation often have the following thought. They think to
themselves that since it seems impossible to demonstrate that their view is the right one
from their point of view (because of the circularity problem), and since everyone else
seems to be in the same condition, the only proper attitude for everyone to take is an
attitude of “openness” or tolerance, not passing judgment on other points of view from
one’s own. Judgments about good and evil, right and wrong, they reason, are personal
matters and should be made for ourselves only and not imposed on others without their
consent. Is it not true that many of the evils of the past—persecutions and wars, slavery
and injustice, exploitation and oppression—have come from the opposite attitude of
persons believing that they have absolute right on their side?
“Evil takes root,” Russian poet Joseph Brodsky has said, “When one man begins to
think he is superior to another.”
This line of reasoning seems natural to many persons in the face of pluralism and
uncertainty, especially those who have been brought up in free and democratic societies.
But it is often disparaged by theorists and philosophers. Allan Bloom thinks such an
attitude is perverse. “Openness,” he says, “and the relativism that makes it the only
plausible stance in the face of… various ways of life… is the great insight of our time. The
point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right
at all.” Bloom thinks such an attitude of 0penness—an “openness of indifference,” as he
calls it—is the scourge of our times, infecting society, education, and young people in
perverse ways because it creates an indifference to objective truth and absolute right.
Now if Bloom were correct about the consequences of this line of reasoning which
ordinary persons are tempted to follow—from pluralism and uncertainty to openness or
tolerance—then the results might be as perverse as he thinks they are. But I want to argue
that he is wrong about where such a line of reasoning leads. Ordinary persons who think
this way when faced with pluralism and uncertainty are on to something important. Their
reasoning does not lead to an “openness of indifference,” nor to many of the other
consequences that trouble Bloom…
Why would anyone think an attitude of openness or tolerance to other points of view
was a proper reaction to pluralism and uncertainty, if they were not interested in
defending relativism? I suggest the following answer. In the face of pluralism and
uncertainty an attitude of openness might simply be a way of finding out which is the
correct view among the competing alternatives by keeping your mind open and not
assuming from the start that yours is the right view. Rather than being a prelude to
relativism, an attitude of openness may actually be a way of searching for truths about
value beyond one’s own limited point of view.
Those who are troubled by pluralism and uncertainty, but who have not yet given up
the search for absolutes, may reason in the following way. Because of pluralism and
uncertainty, they may say, the normal way of finding absolutes is blocked: You cannot
position yourself within one point of view and demonstrate from that point of view that it
is absolutely right and every other point of view wrong. But if this normal route to
absolutes is blocked, there may be another route. Instead of taking up one point of view
and trying to prove that it is the right one, try this: assume an attitude of openness and
tolerance toward all points of view in order to find thereby some absolutes that will stand
up to critical scrutiny. Since no point of view can be proved from the start by its adherents
to be the right one for everyone, assume as an initial stance that none should be presumed
right for others who disagree with it or imposed on others who disagree with it against
their wills. Try to sustain this stance to the degree possible as an ideal of action and see
what happens.
There is no faulty argument for relativism here. Relativism is not being assumed. For
all one knows, some points of view or ways of life may be absolutely better than others.
One is simply keeping one’s mind open on the subject and assuming that anyone who
wishes to find the truth should do likewise. Nor is it assumed that this general attitude of
openness is the right attitude to take in the final analysis. As a matter of fact, it will turn
out not to be the right attitude. But one finds this out only by taking it as an initial stance,
by opening one’s mind to other points of view and seeing what happens. The idea is: “Open
your mind to all other points of view in order to find the truth.” But the idea is not: “The
truth is that you should open your mind to all other points of view.” It turns out that you
cannot open your mind to all other points of view. Openness of mind is the initial attitude
in the search for the truth, but the “openness of indifference” or relativism is not the final
Here is another way of putting the essential idea. Rather than assuming the impossible
burden of proving yourself right and everyone else wrong, assume an attitude of openness
to other points of view in order to allow others to prove themselves right or wrong. By
taking such an attitude you lift from yourself the burden of proof and distribute it to
everyone equally. You are not entirely off the hook, for you still have the burden of proving
yourself right or wrong; and we will see that this is burden enough for anyone.
Kane. Robert, “Through the Moral Maze,” from Through the Moral Maze (Paragon Books, 1994),”pp. 1-6.
Reprinted by permission of Paragon House.

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