While Richard Rorty’s general views on truth, objectivity, and relativism
continue to attract much attention from professional philosophers,
some of his contributions to ethical theory have thus far been
remarkably neglected. In other work, I have begun the task of sketching
what a Rortyan approach to traditional questions in meta-ethics
might look like.1 Here, however, I shall attempt to summarize and
evaluate some of the contributions that Rorty has made to important
debates in first-order normative theory. More specifically, my attention
will be devoted primarily to the question of what moral obligations
of respect and tolerance, if any, we have towards those who act
out of moral frameworks which are divergent from our own.
The paper proceeds in three parts. In the first section, I suggest that
one promising way of approaching ethical issues about tolerance is
through the somewhat novel strategy of first clearly differentiating the
various forms of moral relativism. With this background in place, we
can then proceed in section two to the details of Rorty’s own view.
Finally, the paper concludes with some worries about the plausibility,
coherence, and stability of Rorty’s positive proposal.