Does Philosophy Matter?

Stanley Fish in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_09 Aug. 02 18.18 In a recent essay about moral relativism in The Times’s philosophy series The Stone, Paul Boghossian cites a 2001 op-ed of mine as an example of the contradictions relativists fall into. At one moment, he says, I declare the unavailability of “independent standards” for deciding between rival accounts of a matter, and in the next moment I am offering counsel that is “perfectly consistent with the endorsement of moral absolutes.” I don’t regard that as a contradiction, and I would say that to think of it as one is to fail to distinguish between relativism as a philosophical position — respectable, if controversial — and relativism as a way of life, something no one recommends and no one practices.

Boghossian defines relativism (and I’ll go along with his definition for the purposes of this column) as the denial of moral absolutes. But the definition is insufficiently nuanced because there are (at least) two ways of denying moral absolutes. You can say “I don’t believe there are any” or you can say “I believe there are moral absolutes, but (a) there are too many candidates for membership in that category and (b) there is no device, mechanical test, algorithm or knock-down argument for determining which candidates are the true ones.”

More here.