Volume 18, Issue 2, Fall 2004
Philosophical Dialogue and Ethics
Redefining the Virtues
If philosophical dialogue is broadly defined by concepts that are central to our lives and essentially contested, then philosophical dialogue is ethically valuable because it engages participants in the kind of communal and reasonable deliberation necessary for ethical life. Discourse Ethics acknowledges the instrumental value of philosophical dialogue for the making of ethical judgments. I defend the intrinsically ethical value of philosophical dialogue on the grounds that it potentially orients us towards that which transcends human subjectivity in an effort to include it (which could also be called “otherness,” “alterity,” “Thou,” or “the unthinkable”). If respect is the modality of reason, then love is the modality of the transcendent, and, as with respect, love is recognizable by the virtues that express it. These include faith, grace, naivety, irony, and genius. My observation that these qualities are more readily found in children than adults suggests that children are particularly suited to philosophical dialogue because they can engage in it with an appreciation of its value and limits.