Cultivating Reason & Civility - A Moral Priority

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Joseph P. Hester


Cultivating reason and civility as a moral priority requires our attention as world alliances promoting peace, security, and human dignity are breaking down revealing the often immoral underbelly of nations and of national leaders. Our world has grown closer together due to modern technology, and, in a way, further apart, as a diversity of values is spread unevenly within nations and throughout the world. Seeking common or shared values, especially moral values, is needed, requiring political and personal transparency, but remains in short supply. Experience has shown that the assumptions we bring to moral discourse are often undisclosed causing confusion and often the collapsing of open dialogue. We learn from E.A. Burtt (1965, 28 ff.) that presuppositions are the given – the intuitively given – we present to reality that in turn modify reality and become reality itself. And we tend to shape our moral views, perhaps unaware of their cultural origins, by our own cultural genealogy. Presuppositions as culture are the “there” that is “there” but not-yet fully or intentionally realized or openly stated. We know about these presuppositions through the language of discourse and argument, but ever so often they remain hidden and protected so as not to reveal their intended consequences.
Our assumptions about value have a motivational quality pushing us to discover the causal links that complete the theory our presuppositions entail. This dynamic relativity calls for discussion – a dialectic of conversation – for agreement and consistency to be sustained. When we transfer this conversation to morals and ethics we notice that the suppositions we bring to the table when answering the question “Why should I be moral?” often determine the answers we give. Thus, if we are truly interested in locating our shared values, transparency is required. As we know, hidden motives – of individuals and nations – more often than not corrupt the search for ethical and moral comity.

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Hester, J. (2019). Cultivating Reason & Civility - A Moral Priority. Humanities Bulletin, 2(1), 105-121. Retrieved from