Functionalist Conceptions of Moral Progress and the Plurality of Ways of Life

Abstract

Many prominent conceptions of moral progress implicitly assume that progress must lead to convergence in the moral domain. However, given the actual plurality of ways of life and attendant moral outlooks, there is no reason to assume improvement must lead to uniformity. Moreover, as the entanglement of the Enlightenment discourse of progress with colonialism makes evident, the assumption that progress must lead to convergence can license problematic practical conclusions. Drawing on insights from postcolonialist critique, I argue in favor of functionalist conceptions of moral progress. Functionalist conceptions of moral progress do not assume that progress must lead to convergence. By contrast, they make it possible to understand progress in a pluralistic way. Functionalist conceptions of moral progress thus offer one way to develop a conception of moral progress, which can offer practical guidance, while taking into account one important line of critique of the discourse of progress.

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