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Moral relativism

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Terxpahseyton, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. Terxpahseyton

    Terxpahseyton Awake

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    Many times it has been claimed on these boards that moral relativism was wrong. A most recent comment labeled such an opinion as "stupid".
    As I understand it, moral relativism is about the notion that all morality is ultimately arbitrary. Or in other words - relative to the perceiver of things. Meaning, there is no rational morality can rest on in its origin - the origin is arbitrary. Just the way on from this origin can be fostered using rationals / objective truths.
    I personally do believe that a single assumption suffices to rationalize a whole universe of morality. Yet, there is still this single assumption.

    So would some opposer of moral relativism please step up and explain what is wrong with moral relativism? Because I don't get it.
     
  2. Integral

    Integral Can't you hear it?

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    I'm a moral realist!

    Specifically, I think that
    1) Moral statements purport to report facts. (i.e. murder is usually wrong is a claim about the moral status of a certain act, namely murdering.)
    2) At least some moral statements are actually true. (the above is an example of one such statement)

    I suspect what you're really looking for is a moral realist who frames all of their moral statements in all/non fashion (all murder is wrong; lying is never right) and I will be of less use to you on that front. :)
     
  3. Eat_Up_Martha

    Eat_Up_Martha Prince

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    Most of the time when I hear people criticize moral relativism, they're speaking out against the normative form of it. That is, not only are all moral judgements inherently subjective (meta-ethical moral relativism) but that, as a result, we should not judge anyone's actions as wrong and tolerate most, if not all, behaviour.

    For reference, I would consider myself a meta-ethical relativist, but not a normative relativist.
     
  4. innonimatu

    innonimatu Deity

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    Well, I think you summed it up.

    But I really don't recall seeing much opposition to moral relativism here. :confused:
     
  5. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    Those aren't really the same claim. A statement can be subjective without being arbitrary- for example, it is not arbitrary for me to say "I live in Scotland", even though that statement only makes sense within a given range of perspectives.
     
  6. Angst

    Angst Rambling and inconsistent

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    This is the same thing I thought.
     
  7. Mise

    Mise isle of lucy

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    Moral relativism is indeed not very popular among philosophers and ethicists, because there are a lot of problems with it. The SEP explains moral relativism better than I (or anyone else here) ever could: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-relativism/

    And yeah, you're probably looking for moral realists. Moral relativism is obviously anti-realist, so you will find most disagreement with moral realists. Moral realism is much less problematic than moral anti-realism, IMO, but moral relativism is a particularly problematic form of moral anti-realism.

    I'm not qualified to explain it myself, so again, I'll point you to SEP:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-realism/

    I would say that most people who have read about ethics academically end up becoming moral realists, because the arguments you read in favour of moral realism tend to destroy the preconceived arguments you might have in favour of moral relativism. This was my experience, too. I would strongly recommend reading 2ndary and 3tiary literature such as the SEP, rather than primary sources and books, if you want a decent overview of where the academic "centre" is on these things.
     
  8. Tahuti

    Tahuti Writing Deity

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    Do note that many self-declared opponents of moral relativism are better described as moral oppertunists: European Right-Wing populists often attack the Left for moral relativism regarding Islam and Non-Western countries but have no problems applying moral relativism to the actions and history of the West. Vice versa is also true to some extent.

    I'm a moral relativist myself, though I try be consistent as well. Morality isn't necessarily what is good or evil, but rather, what is considered normal.
     
  9. Mise

    Mise isle of lucy

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    Those people are using words wrong. All sides are, in fact. For example, I am a moral realist and I believe that all cultures and all people ought to be held to the same moral standards. But that doesn't mean that we should invade Iraq or assassinate Bashar Assad or bring down the Chinese state or whatever.

    Moral relativism has sod all to do with things like non-interference in other country's states. People tend to think "we shouldn't be messing with other cultures!", and this leads them to go further and say, "other cultures have just as much right to exist as ours". Then this leads to "other cultures are just as morally right as we are!" Which then leads to "there is no such thing as objective morality!". But you needn't go that far -- you can stop at "we shouldn't be messing with other cultures!" if you want. You don't have to invent a whole new moral philosophy to defend that statement - it stands from a pragmatic POV, a policy POV, an economic POV, and yes, a moral POV, without going down the road of relativism. You can believe that we shouldn't be messing with other cultures, without having to deny that any moral statements are true. You can very happily assert that the statement "it is morally wrong to mess with other people's countries" is, in fact, a true statement, and argue for it positively. You don't have to deny the existence of morality in order to back a non-intervention policy - the two simply aren't related at all.

    Hope that makes sense.
     
  10. Tahuti

    Tahuti Writing Deity

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    I understand what you mean. I just gave an example. However, moral realism is arguably self-defeating in it 1) claims there are moral truths and 2) there is leeway for moral disagreements. Thus, the debate is then shifted towards what the moral truths are. And then, there are arguably some moral rules that face little contention and are almost universally agreed upon, but that those are seemingly being uncontended does not mean these are true. I do not kill because I think it is objectively wrong to do, but because I do not like to do so.
    Most people think this way, and so our aversion to foul murder becomes part of our morality, not because it is objectively and undisputably wrong, but because it is the norm. Most people who would otherwise be indifferent then try to conform to what's normal to fit into society, as being abnormal will likely be sanctioned (or to quote Nietzsche: "Morality is herd-comformity"). I personally believe some amount herd-conformity isn't bad, as it gives societal outcomes I find good, such as with the example of murder for instance.
     
  11. Brighteye

    Brighteye intuitively Bayesian

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    Moral relativism is the null hypothesis for morality. It declares that there is no objective, universal moral rule.
    No evidence or argument has proven otherwise. Hence moral relativism remains the sensible belief. Morality is a (human) construct, not a universal law of nature.
    I have met people who say that this undermines the whole notion of morality. If it does indeed undermine certain conceptions of morality, tough luck! You can't take your conclusion and dismiss arguments that don't lead to it because they don't lead to it.

    Having established this, it is of course entirely unnecessary to delve into the realms of cultural relativism and claim that other cultures have as much right to exist. whilst strictly true, since there are no rights to exist between cultures which have not agreed to those rights, since no-one has any special right to exist we have no moral force preventing us from interfering.

    Moral relativism is entirely separate from cultural relativism. It is used as an insult because it is conflated with cultural relativism, sometimes used as an excuse for cultural relativism, and because it conflicts with religious and philosophical dogma about objective morality, which upsets people wedded to such beliefs.
     
  12. lovett

    lovett Deity

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    Au Contraire. Moral relativism is firmly realist. Realist's hold that moral facts exist and that moral propositions can be true or false. Moral disagreement can be, and usually is, disagreement about a factual issue. But realism is a meta-ethical position; realism does not constrict one in characterizing what makes a moral proposition true or false.

    Moral relativists can accept all the commitments of realism. They believe that there are moral facts; moral propositions can be true and false. They just give an obviously false account of the truth conditions of such propositions. The relativist believes that what makes a moral proposition true or false is the beliefs of the community in which that proposition is uttered (or about, or from which the utterer heralds, something like that). The truth conditions of moral propositions are given by some facts about the context in which the proposition was uttered. Moral facts are thus relative to their contexts - usually relative to the belief of each community. In Rome around the birth of Christ slavery was genuinely morally permissible, two thousand years later in the same place it is not. Through most of human history oppressing women has been fine, now, in much of the world, it isn't. The moral facts change but, according to the relativist, they are still facts. Note that disagreement tends also to be disagreement about issues of fact; most moral disagreement happens within communities rather than between communities. This means most disagreement is a disagreement over some factual issue.

    Note that moral relativism is still obviously false. The two examples above establish that.

    I rather suspect you are confusing moral relativism with a form of moral scepticism, like that described in the OP. This is understandable; most people who proclaim themselves moral sceptics and talk about the arbitrariness of morality are philosophically unsophisticated. They tend to believe that moral relativity is just what they are claiming, when it is not. Their ethical viewpoint is often, to put it bluntly, incoherent. People believe that there is no morality, but also that morality is relative to each community.

    Nonetheless, moral scepticism itself is much more credible then moral relativism. Specifically, accounts like moral error theory are often compellingly argued. This is a theory that denies Integral's second premise; moral propositions are factual propositions, but all are false. There are no moral facts.

    I do not think error theory is correct; I am a realist. But it raises substantive point which need to be seriously engaged. Something relativism all too often fails to do.
     
  13. Mise

    Mise isle of lucy

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    Yeah, having skimmed my own links again, you're right...
     
  14. Terxpahseyton

    Terxpahseyton Awake

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    Well they are not necessarily the same thing to be sure, but I thought from the angle I am talking about they are. Which is an angle concerned with justification, not factual causation. You living in Scotland is a necessity of your existence (up to now, maybe you escape culinary barbarism or just don't like the weather anymore) and moreover a conscious choice of you since you are able to pursue alternative locations. But it follows no universal justification according to which we all ought to live in Scotland. That you live in Scotland is in the end the product of various factors which just happened to turn out the way which put you in Scotland. But you may have just as well have ended up somewhere else wouldn't it be for the universe to be - for no good reason, that is arbitrary - exactly laid out the way it is resulting in your Scottish birth and live.
    Likewise, when a moral relativist says that your moral orientation is arbitrary, he isn't saying that there are no deterministic reasons for you to have whatever moral orientation you have, but that it might just as well be a different orientation if things just went a little differently and that this different orientation was objectively not less justifiable.
    Or in short: Think of what a die-heart cosmopolitan thinks of your Scottish nationality.

    Will respond to the rest of the thread later on.
     
  15. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    I'm not much of a philosopher, but the only way I can see moral relativism being an "incorrect" view would be if there was some sort of an objective source of morality out there.

    Since we haven't found such a source, how can you argue against moral relativism? I mean, unless I'm misunderstanding what it actually is
     
  16. Terxpahseyton

    Terxpahseyton Awake

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    I think the same. There is no objective source of morality, but every morality starts with a subjective assumption. Which means that every "objective moral truth" is based on a subjective assumption. Which means that this truth is only in so far true as one uses said assumption. Which means all morality is relative to assumptions and they in turn are relative to whatever the dame hell you want to assume. Hence moral truth is a matter of whatever.
     
  17. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Deity

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    I think you misunderstand Traitorfish. "Traitorfish lives in Scotland" is a subjective statement because "Scotland" is a subjective mental construct.
    There's no reason why "Scotland" needs to be north of England anymore then it could be in Asia, or on the Moon, or nowhere at all. I could just as well call Taiwan Scotland, and Scotland Spain, and Spain the Land of Jabberwockies, and it's quite easy to imagine a world where we do just that.
    Scotland therefor, is relative. However, just because it is relative doesn't mean it's arbitrary. You would agree that "Traitorfish lives in Scotland" is a relatively true, non-arbitrary statement. If I said "I live in Scotland" or "you live in Scotland "you would say this has a weaker truth value than "Traitorfish lives in Scotland" even though other mental systems could exist that would make my statement true.

    So while relativism means that morals are relative, this does not mean they are arbitrary.
     
  18. Conspiracy Bob

    Conspiracy Bob Chieftain

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    Here is the logical proof for the invalidity of moral relativism:

    P1. Moral relativists claim that there are no absolute moral standards.
    P2. The claim "All moral standards are relative" proposes an absolute moral standard.
    P3. To propose there are no absolute moral standards using an absolute moral standard is illogical.
    C. Therefore, the relativist's claim "All moral standards are relative" is illogical.

    from: http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/10/proof-moral-relativism-is-false.html
     
  19. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    Wait, what?
     
  20. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    Sounds more like subjectivism (Stanford Encyc. Phil. link) than relativism per se.

    Maybe for Brits; in America it's more like philosophers are split down the middle.

    Actually you're much better off stopping there, if you want anyone to listen. If you say all moralities are equal, someone can invent a morality that allows them to mess with other cultures all day long. Like Mussolini:
    Be careful to whom you hand the tools of relativism!

    What is a "source" and why does objectivity require one? Is a source more than just a subject-matter? What is the "source" (if any) of objectivity in logic? In math? In epistemology? In any of the natural sciences?
     

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