Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Test Case for Moral Relativism

There is, it seems, a verb in classical Japanese which means “to try out one’s new sword on a chance wayfarer.” (The word is tsujigiri, literally “crossroads-cut.”) A samurai sword had to be tried out because, if it was to work properly, it had t slice through someone at a single blow, from the shoulder to the opposite flank. Otherwise, the warrior bungled his stroke. This could injure his honour, offend his ancestors, and even let down his emperor. So tests were needed, and wayfarers had to be expended. Any wayfarer would do—provided, of course, that he was not another Samurai.

—Mary Midgley, “Trying Out One’s New Sword,” in Christina Sommers and Fred Sommers, eds. Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, 2nd ed. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1989), 163.


Aaron said...

I've been reading your blog for a few weeks and I just want to say thanks for sharing such amazing tidbits.

Please keep it coming!

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

You are welcome to them. Spread the word.

Larry Jones said...

The nature of this article is misleading and has the potential to portray samurai actions inaccurately from a historical perspective. Although it is true that Samurai did in fact engage in this practice ,without the proper framing of the events and ideologies of the timeframe involved, it would be unwise to jump to any quick moral decisions based off these actions. Great potential for heuristic debate on ethical relativism , but at what expense.
The Samurai traditions were rich with brave,compassionate,honest,warriors bound by a code of honor,many times misunderstood, that has been unmatched in all of history. Do we defame them for the sake of moral debate?
Sincerely Larry Jones