Just finished reading Ethics without Ontology (2004) by Harvard professor Hilary Putnam where he argues for a pragmatic pluralism, conceptual relativity, and the obligations to recognize and resist human suffering, with also the aim to promote human flourishing. Ontologies of the inflationary (e.g. realism, idealism) or deflationary (e.g. eliminationism, nominalism) strategies fail to take ethical (practical) disagreements seriously because they presuppose a theoretical reductionism that assumes to solve ethical controversies trans-contextually.
Putnam writes: “when a practical problem is successfully solved, there is still often controversy as to whether the successful solution can be generalized to the next problem that seems similar; for the degree and significance of the similarity are typically controversial as well!” (30-31, emphasis original). On this view, ontologies act as conventions that prejudice and precondition our interpretive structures. Echoing what he calls the “pragmatic enlightenment,” Putnam claims that Dewey’s methodological “democratic education” and “fallibilism,” when we investigate ethics as “problematic situations” and invite “proposals,” can avoid the absolutizing and “arrogant” tendencies of ontology's "disastrous consequences."
“Dewey stressed that problematical situations are contingent and their resolutions are likewise contingent; but there is still a difference, an all-important difference, between thinking that a claim concerning the resolution of a situation is a warranted claim and its actually being warranted” (129, emphasis original).
In the spirit of Levinas and others, is it possible or even valuable to have ethics without ontology and does this trump the quandries of objectivity and justification in ethical judgments?