Moral Compromises, Moral Integrity and the Indeterminacy of Value Rankings

van Willigenburg, Theo
December 2000
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Dec2000, Vol. 3 Issue 4, p385
Academic Journal
Though the art of compromise, i.e. of settling differences by mutual concessions, is part of communal living on any level, we often think that there is something wrong in compromise, especially in cases where moral convictions are involved. A first reason for distrusting compromises on moral matters refers to the idea of integrity, understood in the basic sense of 'standing for something', especially standing for the values and causes that to some extent confer identity. The second reason points out the objective nature of moral values, which seems to make them immune from negotiation and barter. If one sincerely holds some moral conviction to be true, than compromising on that belief must be a sign of serious confusion. In order to reach a better understanding of these two reasons, I analyse what is involved in personal integrity and how this relates to moral integrity. I argue that the search for moral integrity naturally brings us to the question of how one could accept moral compromises and still uphold the idea that moral values and principles have an objective authority over us. To address this question I will present a version of moral pluralism which tries to capture the enormous complexity of what should matter to us as moral persons, and which explains why value-rankings are often deeply indeterminate. The general position I defend in this paper is that compromises involving moral values and norms may be morally required and, therefore, be laudable. To sustain this position I will arrive at a view of ethical objectivity that allows the possibility to negotiate about the truth of moral beliefs.


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