Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* Philosophical Approaches to Pornography, Free Speech, and CMC, by Charles Ess

What does Philosophy have to do with it?

For ethical relativists, the resolution of any debate is ultimately a matter of power--i.e., which individual, group, or culture is capable of overwhelming and imposing their own particular system of values and beliefs on those who disagree. If the ethical relativists are right about this, then our arguments and debates are simply a matter of who can marshall the most persuasive rhetoric.

However persuasive the arguments for ethical relativism may seem, especially in a post-modern age predisposed towards such relativism, the essays collected here presume that relativism is not the whole story: rather, we assume that in addition to moves of power and sophistic rhetoric, philosophical argument is capable of sorting out the weaker arguments from the stronger-- and thereby, of helping us approach greater clarity and possible consensus on important issues.

In particular, I hope that readers will find that the philosophical approaches of these essays help in at least -- three ways.

By no means do these three sorts of philosophical aid promise quick and easy, universally agreed upon answers. But they do help us to avoid fruitless argument over illusory conflicts and false dilemmas--and they help us to better understand, and perhaps even better tolerate and accept, the positions of those with whom we disagree. Such understanding and tolerance take us a long way towards a more cooperative, shared search for commonly agreed-upon ethics of communication. Such understanding and tolerance would surely be valuable steps forward in resolving our disagreements. Movement towards resolution, in turn, will contribute to the loftiest goals and promises we make for ourselves in this environment--promises of greater freedom, democracy, and equality.

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