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SAAP Annual Meeting 2018

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Alain Locke on Common-Denominator Values and Cultural Relativism

I focus on common-denominator values (CDVs) in the philosophy of Alain Locke. I will argue that Locke’s CDVs are methodological tools in understanding and assessing cultures, ideologies, or nations in order to deflate intra-and-inter-group conflict. First, I cover Locke’s motivations and reasons for arguing against what he calls “value ultimates.” Overlapping with the concept of value ultimates are absolutism, provincialism, and dogmatism. Next, I differentiate between vulgar cultural relativism, anthropological cultural relativism, and Locke’s cultural relativism. Lastly, I address one possible objection for Locke’s cultural relativism, a version of the problem of contradiction. I use my analysis on Locke’s view of cultural relativism and common-denominator values to answer Russ Shafer-Landau’s problem of contradiction. Landau’s problem of contradiction works best against how Landau characterizes cultural relativism, which is different from how Locke’s cultural relativism operates.

Reyes Espinoza
Purdue University
United States


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