Cavell’s Challenge. Cynicism and Moral Realism in Light of the Later Wittgenstein

  • Cecilie Eriksen


Legitimacy challenges are part of human societies. Whenever we recognise a person, law, ideal or institution as authoritative, questions can be raised about their legitimacy. Why follow this law? Why strive to honour this moral ideal? If such questions are repeatedly raised, they pose an undermining threat to the authorities in question. This is good if the challenged law or ideal is harmful, but problematic, if it is beneficial. Where the first kind of legitimacy challenges are raised by ethical pioneers and moral critics, the last kind are posed by cynics, who disregard the demands of law and morality when they conflict with their interests. The threat to human society caused by cynicism is part of the reason why philosophers since Plato have sought to address and rid society of it.This article discusses how philosophy can deal with cynicism. It does so by firstly looking at how Anthony Holiday defends a moral realist theory and disproves ‘the theory of cynicism’ as well as tries to subvert real life cynics. Secondly, the work of the later Wittgenstein is used to discuss Holiday’s approach, finding it to some extent wanting in both its theoretical and practical aims.Lastly, inspired by Stanley Cavell’s thinking it is suggested that cynicism calls for not only problem solving and problem dissolving, but also something we might call reconciliation.


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How to Cite
Eriksen, C. (2018). Cavell’s Challenge. Cynicism and Moral Realism in Light of the Later Wittgenstein. Res Cogitans, 13(2). Retrieved from