Moral Relativism

Well xzc, I have to admit I don’t know what you’re getting at. Let’s say we forget about philosophy school talk for a minute and discuss what people actually mean when they talk about “moral relativism”. Firstly, it is obviously a reaction against the idea of absolute morality. The idea that it is always and in every circumstance wrong to lie for instance, seems strangely fixated - it is a lack of ability to see a bigger picture. The intention is thus seen as more fundamental than its particular expression. Secondly, it is still about morality - it is not about whatever makes us feel good in the moment. So there is a certain range of thought and behavior, distinguishable from yet not utterly divorced from other forms of thought and behavior, that is considered “moral”. It is probably best characterized as thought and behavior that recognizes the extent to which we are not merely individual, alienated, “atomized” beings that just happen to share time and space with other beings but are also fundamentally social beings. The notion that we are absolute self-contained individuals is I think a wrong one that ironically leads to opposite yet equally extreme ideas: laissez-faire morality and absolute morality. Further, the spirit of moral relativism is of tolerance (aside from necessary practical, i.e. political judgements) with regard to actions in the world because no two people (or two countries, or two cultures…) are in the same situation. It is a spirit of fullness, variety, and multiplicity. Your assertion that a moral relativist stands in judgement of all moralities as wrong is then to miss the point and mischaracterize the moral relativist completely. The moral relativist ideally does not pass moral judgement on people in real life situations, he simply recognizes the hubris of asserting that some particular moral system , which is only a formalized and politicized expression of a communal or otherwise moral sentiment, is supposedly the one correct one.

Also, I think utilitarianism has the basic problem of seeing ourselves as like billiard balls. So in making a step in the right direction, it never gets beyond seeing people as things and societies as mere collections of things. So the strict utilitarian sees himself as a whole and separate entity, and thus sees moral “problems” as somehow calculable and solvable. I’m not inclined to see morality as an exercise in problem solving.

Well as long as we are prattling on about some silly corner case to discredit utiltarianism. Let’s bring out a riddiculus example to discredit relativism. Of course, I mean Hitler. According to relativism, Hitler was a great man, because not only did he excell in his cultures values, he was able to twist the culture to meet his own mental illness. Can you think of anyone who was able to reflect the values of his time and place better? On the other hand, while we might see MLK as a great man now, he was rather out of sinc with his own time and culture. His ideas were considered sinister and dangerous. Really, any new or “progressive” idea is a disruption of the local culture.

I happen to like my example against utilitarianism. I don’t think it’s a silly corner case.

That doesn’t discredit relativism…As a matter of fact Hitler was considered a great man. We don’t think so anymore, but that doesn’t say anything for relativism as a descriptive theory. If anything, this only goes to show that relativism’s points about moral realism are probably true.

Well I did say it was a riddiculus example.

Your case is silly because last time I studied utilitarianism: 5 lives is not nessisarily greater than 1 life

According to relativism some people think/thought he was a great man. In relativism you cannot use objective speak like that. You can argue against Relativism for not taking a stand that Hitler was evil. But you cannot attribute absolute value statements to relativism.

from your article

I think this is where the article went off track…

How can “fair” be morally justified?

The scenario calls for the random killing of one healthy man in order to save 5 dying patients needing donations of blood or organs.

The contradiction pitted within utilitarianism in this scenario is that the inherent value of the trade would mean that utilitarianism justifies the murder, because the value of the 5 patients outweigh the value of the one person.

here is the question of value, which was “posed above”

The author contradicts himself, by saying that utilitarianism could not justify fairness for it could encroach on a utilitarians value system, but then pointing out that different utilitarians have different methods, but that rubbish, “it has no bearing on the core analysis”.

Utilitarians value different things. It’s needless to say that the perspective used in the example is some sort of omniscient Sheppard. The author surmises it would be good, for society, somehow, that one person should die to save 5 others.

I could get into a boggy discussion about how that doesn’t benefit society (therefore having less value respectively), but i will stick to the main guns. The healthy man does not benefit. His utility meter indicates that such an event is not positive (if he wants to live).

Now here’s a question you must answer to support your sources reasoning.

Who benefits from the operation?

If it is “the greater good” or some variant, then i ask you this, why should a member of society have to contribute to the greater good?

Who decides the greater good?

Let us descend deeper into the article…

This paragraph is a mouthful…

Beginning it brings up a tangent of deontology, so far as i know, which in my opinion arises from notions of duty to things like GOD. So right off the bat, this example is kind of in the gutter.

He keeps pace by warning you that things can easily get absurd, and then he gets absurd.

I detect the slightest hint of political agenda and perspective, do you not?

The absurdity pauses for a quick logical posit

What he is basically saying (which affirms that this is a religious example) is that deontologists can say it’s not technically murder if god is the one who justifies murder, and this god states that killing evil people is not murder.

Seriously. He just adds an insulting example to make the article a bit longer…

but the absurdity goes on

What an immensely revealing straw man.

A sentimentalist who can only think of value in terms of economic potential or his own personal agenda.

Jack Bauer has arrived.

And for the finale

Here we see the author contradict himself yet again by first admitting that “the above objection” is “possible”, but regrettably is beyond his scope “here” (I wonder how wide his scope actually is…).

So first he says the fish is too big to reel in, and then says the fish have been neutralized.

And then he begins with the funny business.

I’m not sure if he was still speaking on behalf of utilitarianism when he said that the only objections to the utilitarians claims of value come from “non-substantive psychological sources.”

He says there are practical reasons to not do the operation, yet cannot think of a utilitarianist set of values that would prohibit the killing.

How about nobody is going to live in a society where they are liable to be harvested for body parts?

Is that utilitariany enough?

It follows that the entire article, which mentioned the interests of the man once or twice, but failed to object to it, thereby ignoring any kind of relativist claims (the author actually reconstructed the example so that the “donor” is now a criminal, and he has to donate by not living a good quality of life, thereby saving the state money… in privately owned jails)

Again this is the greater good crap the author is shoveling. In my opinion the author knows that killing the man to save 5 lives is wrong, but they cannot reason why.

The author destroys the context of the parallel prisoner example by changing the man from innocent to to guilty of something. The author says we lock them up for the good it will cause, but does not really go into detail. The only observation they make, which is inaccurate, is that the agreed utility of the act is to help society, the greater good.

The author does not explain this in context at all, not how imprisonment helps society (beyond saying crimes decrease), nor does the author endeavor to explain the context and circumstances of the means to imprisonment.

I could make an argument that in any good capitalist society, thieves would be put to death, because you cannot let them go free and steal again, and you cannot pay for their food by putting them in jail… Walk them off cliffs…

Utilitarianism isn’t actually an ethical system, it’s just a way of evaluating options. It can be useful in any activity that requires planning or choices. It’s a thinking tool used when people have trouble deciding the best option.

Why? Why can’t intuition be wrong?

That’s not what I’m saying at all. Right and wrong has nothing to do with people’s motives or intentions (not according to the brand of utilitarianism I’m partial to - which, again, I’m not taking a formal stance on anyway); it has squarely to do with the experiential qualities of pains and pleasures themselves (physical, emotional, whatever). ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are descriptions of how pain and pleasure feel, and over time we learn to attribute these terms to things other than pain and pleasure (such as acts, people, motives, etc.) - which is why I’m not too hung up on utilitarianism. But insofar as I would defend it, I’d have to make it clear that I’m ascribing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to the experiences of pain and pleasure themselves - not to acts, not to motives, not to people - the latter are good and bad only insofar as they bring about pain or pleasure (i.e they are good/bad indirectly).

Actually, I consider myself a moral relativist and I think Hitler appears to have had no moral compass at all, or if he did it was a fairly deluded one. He seems to have lacked compassion, love, kindness, etc. to a radically high degree. Those are qualities that are of a moral character. Hate, aggression, etc. are qualities that are of an immoral character. Otherwise, what defines anything as “moral” at all? I think you are equating moral relativism with lack of morality. My inability to judge Hitler is simply a reflection of our situatedness in the world - I can judge him for important practical and political reasons, but I can’t pass some sort of ultimate judgement. Even Christians are often moral relativists in some sense - they say that moral rules aren’t in fact set in stone but that each person will be judged before God.

Moral relativism is, to me anyway, simply the idea that there are no absolute, fixed rules of moral behavior as morality is essentially about relationship and context. Context is always changing, and values always manifest in relation to a moving target. I don’t think moral relativism is sloppier than moral absolutism, I think it is more precise.

In a certain sense, Hitler was a “great man”: he looms large over our history and defines our present.

No doubt. Didn’t Time Magazine agree?

A LOT of people here are grossly confused about what this means. A google search and post would have been useful.

In academia, moral relativism refers to the belief that (1) there are moral truths and (2) moral truths are determined solely by others’ beliefs (usually it’s a culture or society’s collective belief).

Briefly, moral relativism is the belief that MORAL TRUTHS ARE RELATIVE (to what people happen to believe). It is correct to say that this is opposed to objectivism, but it is also opposed to subjectivism (which says there are no moral truths; all moral or “ought to” sentences are false) and noncognitivism (which says there are no moral truths OR falsehoods; all moral or “ought to” sentences are literally meaningless!). I’m a noncognitivist and find that moral relativism, as defined above and how ethicists use the term, is an irrational ethical theory. For one, it violates the more sensible and well-established theory of truth that says if a sentence is true, then it is not false, regardless of the fact that one may or may not believe it to be so. We can settle for a more conservative moral theory that is empiricistic (at least as much as moral relativism is): noncognitivism.

Correct me if I’m wrong but to claim that morality is relative is the same as saying there are no absolutes in regards to morality.

Claiming no moral absolutes exist is a self defeating statement.

Relativism is false.

Moral absolutes do exist despite your individual moral or cultures perspective on morality.

Relativism is a statement of what is and what is available, not a statement of what doesn’t exist or is impossible

So to sum up, noncognitivists say there are no moral truths or falsehoods, yet you are a noncognitivist who believes that a sentence must be either true or false?

That sounds right to me.

How so? I would claim the opposite. Morality is essentially about relationships. Positing an absolute is positing the obliteration of relationship. So moral absolutism is self defeating.

The rest of this doesn’t apply for me, given my previous response.

Moral relativism cannot deny absolute morals just as absolutism cannot affirm absolute morals.

There’s an equivocation there, I think. I’ll get to it sometimes this weekend.

just tell me what word i equivocated… it’s not hard…

i see no equivocations…

(if you are referring to my last comment.

this is what i had in mind. Or, if not an equivocation, then a missing of the point of relativism as a species of non-cognitivism. moral absolutes are said to exist because moral values are thought to be intrinsic in the fabric of somethingess. relativism’s general claim about morality is justified insofar as it shows that there’s no good reason to believe values are intrinsic. er…or something. No time to think…midterm…tomorrow…And if there’s no good reason to beleive that values are intrinsic, then there would be no good reason to say that all who act in a certain way are bad, or good, or beautiful, or just, etc. The relatvisists general claim that no morality can pronounce absolutely what is good and what is bad is justified…HASJFLK

or, if you think that absolute proclaiments about moral matters can exist just as long as there’s a god who commands them, and hence regardless of whether they’re intrinsic, then as long as there’s no good reason to believe in god, the relativists conclusion is justifiedf.asdjfa.sdjfa