Saturday, July 24, 2010

Help in Finding a Book

Does anyone out there have William Frankena's Ethics, 2nd ed.? I cannot find it among my thousands of disorganized books. I am looking for a section that deals with relativism and Eskimo ethics. But my memory may be playing tricks on me.

17 comments:

havoc said...

http://www.ditext.com/frankena/ethics.html

Paul said...

Doug:
Are you thinking of Louis Pojman's article he wrote on ethical relativism? He begins by mentioning Eskimo ethics. Let me know and I'll send you the bio info.

Doug Groothuis said...

Thanks, folks. I found the book in my stacks finally. But, it did not mention Eskimos specifically, so I am interested in the Pojman reference, Paul.

Paul said...

I have a photo copy of a Pojman article written in 1996 titled "A Critique of Ethical Relativism." He writes "The first thesis, which may be called diversity thesis, is simply a description that acknowledges the fact that moral rules differ from society to society. Eskimos allow their elderly to die by starvation, whereas we believe that this is morally wrong" (p. 39).

The only bibliographic info is "This is a revision of an article that was written for the first edition of this anthology in 1988. Copyright Louis P. Pojman, 1996."

The same article with the title "The Case Against Moral Relativism" appears in his The Moral Life: An Introduction Reader in Ethics and Literature (pp. 166-191). However, there he omits the sentence about Eskimos and uses a different example from antiquity. Odd....

Ken Lewis said...

Well, if you found it you don't need this ... online at:

http://www.ditext.com/frankena/ethics.html

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Doug,

You may be thinking of James Rachels' book The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 3rd ed. (McGraw-Hill 1999), pp. 28-29. Rachels' discussion of Inuit ethics makes reference to Peter Freuchen's Book of the Eskimos (World 1961) and E. Adamson Hoebel's The Law of Primitive Man (Atheneum 1979).

I hope this information is helpful. (I made use of some of Rachels' work on pages 102 and following in my 2004 PhD dissertation which is available here.)

Best regards,
Hendrik

Steve Cowan said...

There's a well-known article written by James Rachels that critique's moral relativism, and I think I remember him using the Eskimo example.

Doug Groothuis said...

Hendrick: I have a dim memory of Rachels also. Might you scan that ina file and send to me? Doug.Groothuis@denverseminary.edu.

Tim said...

You might be thinking of Richard Brandt's paper "Disagreement and Relativism in Ethics," which is printed in Frankena and Granrose, eds., Introductory Readings in Ethics (Prentice-Hall, 1974). He discusses Eskimo ethics on, e.g., p. 425:

We said that the Romans decidedly did not think it right to put one's parents to death. In some of the Eskimo groups, however, this is thought proper. One observer has told of an Eskimo who was getting ready to move camp, and was concerned about what to do with his blind and aged father, who was a burden to the family.... The Eskimos think it right, in general, to drown a parent who is old and a burden; the Romans, we guess, think this is wrong.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Doug,

I won't be in my office for a few days. I'll send the pages from Rachels to you as soon as I am able.

Hendrik

RkBall said...

Is this it?

"It is easy to give additional examples of the same kind. Consider the Eskimos. They are a re- mote and inaccessible people. Numbering only about 25,000, they live in small, isolated settle- ments scattered mostly along the northern fringes of North America and Greenland. Until the begin- ning of this century, the outside world knew little about them. Then explorers began to bring back strange tales. Eskimo customs turned out to be very different from our own. The men often had more than one wife, and they would share their wives with guests, lending them for the night as a sign of hospitality. Moreover, within a community, a dominant male might demand-and get regular sexual access to other men's wives. The women, however, were free to break these arrangements simply by leaving their husbands and taking up with new partners- free, that is, so long as their former husbands chose not to make trouble. All in all, the Eskimo practice was a volatile scheme that bore little resemblance to what we call marriage. But it was not only their marriage and sexual practices that were different. The Eskimos also seemed to have less regard for human life. Infanti- cide, for example, was common. Knud Rasmussen, one of the most famous early explorers, reported that he met one woman who had borne twenty children but had killed ten of them at birth. Female babies, he found, were especially liable to be destroyed, and this was permitted simply at the par- ents' discretion, with no social stigma attached to it. Old people also, when they became too feeble to contribute to the family, were left out in the snow to die. So there seemed to be, in this society, remarkably little respect for life."1

1. Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy: The Quest for Truth 6th ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 407, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=113637001.

RkBall said...

Is this it?

"It is easy to give additional examples of the same kind. Consider the Eskimos. They are a re- mote and inaccessible people. Numbering only about 25,000, they live in small, isolated settle- ments scattered mostly along the northern fringes of North America and Greenland. Until the begin- ning of this century, the outside world knew little about them. Then explorers began to bring back strange tales.

RkBall said...

Eskimo customs turned out to be very different from our own. The men often had more than one wife, and they would share their wives with guests, lending them for the night as a sign of hospitality. Moreover, within a community, a dominant male might demand-and get regular sexual access to other men's wives. The women, however, were free to break these arrangements simply by leaving their husbands and taking up with new partners- free, that is, so long as their former husbands chose not to make trouble. All in all, the Eskimo practice was a volatile scheme that bore little resemblance to what we call marriage. But it was not only their marriage and sexual practices that were different. The Eskimos also seemed to have less regard for human life. Infanti- cide, for example, was common. Knud Rasmussen, one of the most famous early explorers, reported that he met one woman who had borne twenty children but had killed ten of them at birth. Female babies, he found, were especially liable to be destroyed, and this was permitted simply at the par- ents' discretion, with no social stigma attached to it. Old people also, when they became too feeble to contribute to the family, were left out in the snow to die. So there seemed to be, in this society, remarkably little respect for life."1

1. Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy: The Quest for Truth 6th ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 407, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=113637001.

RkBall said...

To the general public, these were disturbing revelations. Our own way of living seems so natu- ral and right that for many of us it is hard to con- ceive of others living so differently. And when we do hear of such things, we tend immediately to categorize those other peoples as ʻbackwardʻ or ʻprimitive.ʻ But to anthropologists and sociolo- gists, there was nothing particularly surprising about the Eskimos. Since the time of Herodotus, enlightened observers have been accustomed to the idea that conceptions of right and wrong dif- fer from culture to culture. If we assume that out ideas of right and wrong will be shared by all peo- ples at all times, we are merely naive.

1. Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy: The Quest for Truth 6th ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 407, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=113637001.

RkBall said...

Also, pg 411 - killing of infant girls

Micha said...

Hello

I just happened to hit this conversation ... I found the link on Greg Laughery's blog Living Spirituality.
Intersting discussion. I remember this topic being brought up in one of my classes. The specific example was the one being mentioned here already: lending women to guests. I remember the paradoxical feelings of anger and understanding.
Understanding because how could you blame them? They are thrown into a tradition and thrown into specific climatic, geographic circumstances where some actions make sense, maybe even force themselves upon them. This example might be hard to understand or to explain but for instance the seperation of old people reminds me of what I read about in a book about native Americans some years ago: they said that in some tribes old people used to leave intentionally the tribe at some point because they did not want to be a burden for the others. If the essentials for surviving like food are very limited there is not much of an option sometimes. Us not having to struggle with survival those customs sometimes seem to be incomprehensible and even evil but in similar circumstances we might act similarly.
I didnt explain the power-structures which are forced upon women in the examples mentioned here but there might be reasons for that too, although I cant imagine any at all.
I also mentioned the other feeling: anger, not understanding how women are treated in those cultures which probably was related to the fear of relativism. When our core values are challenged by such practices, I guess we see the face of relativism because if everything makes sense in light of their circumstances what is the worth of our values then?
I think we have to tread the path in between: understanding and questioning - understanding ourselves and understanding them and questioning ourselves and questioning them and hope for a deeper understanding of ethics and values. It is a path of tension but one of the most significant propositions I heard so far about tension is: "The more you are in tension, the closer you might be to truth."

Micha said...

Hello

I just happened to hit this conversation ... I found the link on Greg Laughery's blog Living Spirituality.
Intersting discussion. I remember this topic being brought up in one of my classes. The specific example was the one being mentioned here already: lending women to guests. I remember the paradoxical feelings of anger and understanding.
Understanding because how could you blame them? They are thrown into a tradition and thrown into specific climatic, geographic circumstances where some actions make sense, maybe even force themselves upon them. This example might be hard to understand or to explain but for instance the seperation of old people reminds me of what I read about in a book about native Americans some years ago: they said that in some tribes old people used to leave intentionally the tribe at some point because they did not want to be a burden for the others. If the essentials for surviving like food are very limited there is not much of an option sometimes. Us not having to struggle with survival those customs sometimes seem to be incomprehensible and even evil but in similar circumstances we might act similarly.
I didnt explain the power-structures which are forced upon women in the examples mentioned here but there might be reasons for that too, although I cant imagine any at all.
I also mentioned the other feeling: anger, not understanding how women are treated in those cultures which probably was related to the fear of relativism. When our core values are challenged by such practices, I guess we see the face of relativism because if everything makes sense in light of their circumstances what is the worth of our values then?
I think we have to tread the path in between: understanding and questioning - understanding ourselves and understanding them and questioning ourselves and questioning them and hope for a deeper understanding of ethics and values. It is a path of tension but one of the most significant propositions I heard so far about tension is: "The more you are in tension, the closer you might be to truth."