Moral Universalism, Ahistoricism False

There is no universal, ahistorical point of view from which to base moral claims because someone must be making those moral claims in the first place.

Iris Marion Young, professor of political science at University of Chicago, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton University Press, 1990

The ideal of impartiality is an idealist fiction. It is impossible to adopt an unsituated moral point of view, and if a point of view is situated, then it cannot be universal, it cannot stand apart from and understand all points of view.  It is impossible to reason about substantive moral issues without understanding their substance, which always presupposes some particular social and historical context; and one has no motive for making moral judgments and resolving moral dilemmas unless the outcome matters, unless one has a particular and passionate interest in the outcome.

Instead, ethical theories must consider the concrete social conditions – this is both necessary for them to be useful and consistent with the source of ethical claims.

Young 2:

The attempt to develop a theory of justice that both stands independent of a given social context and yet measures its justice, however, fails[.] in one of two ways. If the theory is truly universal and independent, presupposing no particular social situations, institutions, or practices, then it is simply too abstract to be useful in evaluating actual institutions[.] and practices. In order to be a useful measure of actual justice and injustice, it must contain some substantive premises about social life, which are usually derived, explicitly or implicitly, from the actual social context[.] in which the theorizing takes place. Many have argued that Rawls's theory of justice, for example, must have some substantive premises if it is to ground substantive conclusions, and these premises implicitly derive from experience of people in modern liberal capitalist societies {see Young, 1981; Simpson, 1980; Wolff, 1977, pt. IV). A theory of justice that claims universality, comprehensiveness, and necessity implicitly conflates moral reflection with scientific knowledge (Williams, 1985, chap. 6). Reflective discourse about justice, however, should not pose as knowledge in the mode of seeing or observing, where the knower is initiator and master of the known. Discourse about justice is not motivated originally by curiosity, a sense of wonder, or the desire to figure out how something works. The sense of justice arises not from looking, but as Jean-Francois Lyotard says, from listening:For us, a language is first and foremost someone talking. But there are language games in which the important thing is to listen, in which the rule deals with audition. Such a game is the game of the just. And in this game, one speaks only inasmuch as one listens, that is, one speaks as a listener, and not as an author. (Lyotard, 1985, pp. 71-72)While everyday discourse about [Second,] justice [comes from] certainly makes claims, these are not theorems to be demonstrated in a self-enclosed system. They are instead calls, pleas, claims upon some people by others. Rational reflection on justice begins in a hearing, in heeding a call, rather than in asserting and mastering a state of affairs, however ideal. [So] The call to "be just" is always situated in concrete social and political practices[.] that precede and exceed the philosopher. The traditional effort to transcend that finitude toward a universal theory yields only finite constructs which escape the appearance of contingency usually by recasting the given as necessary. Rejecting a theory of justice does not entail eschewing rational discourse about justice. Some modes of reflection, analysis, and argument aim not at building a systematic theory, but at clarifying the meaning of concepts and issues, describing and explaining social relations, and articulating and defending ideals and principles. Reflective discourse about justice makes arguments, but these are not intended as definitive demonstrations. They are addressed to others and await their response, in a situated political dialogue. In this book I engage in such situated analysis and argument in the mode of critical theory.

Graham explains that an explanation of human behavior requires looking at historical and material conditions because our species depends on having our material needs met:

Keith Graham, Karl Marx Our Contemporary: Social Theory for a Post-Leninist World, University of Toronto Press, 1992

Embedded in his Preface to A Contribution to the Critiue of Political Economy there is more general materialist conception of human life. This consists of what I shall call Marx’s basic materialism. He asserts that [L]egal relations and political forms cannot be understood on their own and originate “in the material conditions of life. The mode of production of material life, he goes on, conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life.” What is material life and why should it be thought to condition other forms of life? Marx’s adverting to a cluster of uncontroversial features of human life whose significances may not be sufficiently appreciated. Whatever else we may be, [W]e are at least physical organisms, with certain needs whose fulfillment is a precondition of any life[.] at all. Marx says: Life involves before everything else, eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. Without action of this kind, there is no social, political, or intellectual life to worry about. How much life there is of these other kinds depends on how long it takes to produce for material needs. Moreover, material needs cannot be satisfied once and for all. They must be met recurrently. The production of the means to [T]heir satisfaction is “a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life.”