I was wondering if we could have a discussion about the following topic (sorry if you have discussed this already). I teach global justice and political philosophy, and the complaint I often hear from students is "well, we agree that X would be fair (X could be something like world equality, the application of Rawls's Difference Principle, or any other moral ideal that students like), but the problem is that it will not happen in real world because agents act according to their self interest and do not care about fairness". Notice that this is different from the typical relativistic objection. They are not saying that there are no objective or universal moral standards. They agree that such standards exist, but believe that it does not make sense to justify them because the world will never be shaped in accordance with them anyway. How should philosophy professors deal with kinds of skeptic objections? Any clue?I'd love to know others' thoughts, but here are mine: The student in question is not an egoist, but suspects that other people are. So perhaps some traction can be gained by exposing the student to the philosophical arguments against egoism.
Second, the student is not a skeptic per se — more like a pessimist. Now one thing I should say is that I respect pessimism of this sort and don't think it's the sort of position that we should gang up on, with an aim of eradicating it in our students. A healthy respect for the limitations of human nature and of our capacity to act collectively are not bad things. But if we are at least trying to to put this pessimism under a critical lens, then we can point to historical examples where it seems like large numbers of people acted for the common good against their apparent self-interest: the anti-fascist volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, Civil Rights protestors in the U.S. (particularly the non-African-American ones), etc.
Any other ideas in response to CD's query?