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Value Pluralism

Organizing institution
Utrecht University, Faculty of Humanities (UU)
Course code
Course fee (incl. housing)
€ 500
Advanced bachelor level

This Summer School is about value pluralism; (i) what is it, (ii) is it plausible, and (iii) what are the consequences for moral theory and ethics more generally if value pluralism is true? Much of what we will discuss has broader implications for other normative domains such as epistemology and aesthetics, but our focus will be on value pluralism in the ethical and metaethical sense.

Imagine a dispute between a woman of faith and an atheist about the moral permissibility or otherwise of abortion. Who is right? Our woman of faith appeals to the value of life and her promise to God. Our atheist appeals to the values of choice and autonomy. What determines what ought to be done?

Value pluralism provides one answer to this question: it is the thesis that there exist two or more fundamental moral values. What we ought to do, morally speaking, is a function of the various moral values that bear upon the issue at hand, such as the permissibility of abortion. It contrasts with value monism, according to which there exists only one fundamental moral value. According to monism, what we ought to do, morally speaking, is determined by a single moral value. An example of a monist moral theory is utilitarianism, according to which the only moral value is happiness (impartially conceived). Another example is Kantian deontology: there is only one overarching moral principle and all the other principles, if there are any, are derived from it. An example of a pluralist moral theory is W.D. Rossís deontology, according to which there is a plurality of moral principles that cannot be reduced to each other or to one fundamental value.

Value pluralism is intuitively plausible because it seems that friendship, love, health, and honesty are all important moral values in their own right. The difficult question for value pluralists, however, concerns the number of values that moral theory must deal with, and which of these, if any, takes priority in a particular case. Consider William Styronís 1979 novel Sophieís Choice, in which Sophie is ordered by a concentration camp manager to choose between either letting the manager take both of her children to the gas chambers or deciding which of the two she wants to save. What is the relation between the value of showing equal concern for your children and that of doing the best you can for each of them individually in the circumstances? Monists donít have to answer this question, but they must come up with a plausible story about the nature of moral deliberation. In ordinary practice we seem to make use of at least both of these values; why think that thereís only one relevant value in play here? And which one is it?

In this summer school we will study value pluralism; (i) what is it, (ii) is it plausible, and (ii) what are its consequences for ethical theory and for ethical theory in moral practice?

The philosophy programme at Utrecht University hosts a number of experts on the debate about value pluralism. In this summer school they collaborate to offer an exciting and advanced introduction into value pluralism.

Tags: value pluralism, ethics, practical philosophy,

» Download the day-to-day programme (PDF)

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Dr. Wouter Floris Kalf


This course aims at advanced undergraduates with substantial training in philosophy. It offers 2 ECTS after successful completion of the course (active participation required, plus a graded research presentation on Friday).


We aim to enable students to formulate their own position in the various debates about value pluralism through critical engagement with the various types of answers that have been proposed in the value pluralism debate.


Lectures in morning (2 hours, Monday to Thursday); Seminars in the afternoon (2 hours, Monday to Thursday). Graded research presentations on Friday.


• € 500 - Course + course materials + housing
• € 300 - Course + course materials

» Overview of all available discounts


Utrecht Summer School doesn't offer scholarships for this course.


Dr. Wouter F. Kalf
Janskerkhof 13a, room 0.05


00 31 30 253 3900

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Deadline for registration: 14 July 2017

Application closed