Moral relativism is really moral absolutism
Posted: 30 November 2010 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I wish that the term moral relativism could be changed to moral absolutism since that is where I think the problem lies.  If one culture believes that subjugating women is ok and another culture, say a western culture says it is immoral, then according to moral relativism we in the west are supposed to respect the other culture’s values.  Each culture has their own moral codes relative to their own people.  The men of this culture believe that this morality promotes well being relative to men.  So far, all this relativity I don’t see a problem with.  What I see a problem with is the absoluteness of this culture.  Their morals are not relative to the well being of women.  This is a detachment, a NON-relatedness to women.  Also, this inequality can be argued is not beneficial to the society as a whole, to the combination of men AND women.  If women are allowed to pursue their talents freely this may make the society stronger than if they are told, no you can’t do this job you are a woman.  So the morality is detached and non-related to the well being of society as a whole.  The problem is with the detachment and non relatedness of the morals to some individuals and groups that deserve to be considered. 
    Words and terms need to be clear and consistent.  Using the term “moral relativism” promotes the idea that having morals that are relative to a particular group or individual is a bad thing.  If morals are going to be based on the well being of rational, conscious minds then morals are going to be “morally relative” to those life forms with rational, conscious minds by definition.  This is not a bad thing in my opinion.  The problem is when relative morals leave out some life forms, when morals are detached and absolute from some life forms that deserve to be considered.  Defining moral relativism as a bad thing and by implication defining moral absolutism as a good thing is a left over remnant from when people used to look to moral absolutes to guide them in their moral lives.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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brightfut - 30 November 2010 09:09 AM

I wish that the term moral relativism could be changed to moral absolutism since that is where I think the problem lies.  If one culture believes that subjugating women is ok and another culture, say a western culture says it is immoral, then according to moral relativism we in the west are supposed to respect the other culture’s values.

I disagree.  Moral relativism only precludes, in this example, the west from invoking claims of objective right or wrong when expressing their disdain for subjugating women.  For relativists, this is not a show stopper.  Relativism has no prohibition on desires to be persuasive on an issue.  Nor does it include a requirement to respect other positions.

Using the term “moral relativism” promotes the idea that having morals that are relative to a particular group or individual is a bad thing.

In the minds of some critics, perhaps.

Defining moral relativism as a bad thing and by implication defining moral absolutism as a good thing is a left over remnant from when people used to look to moral absolutes to guide them in their moral lives.

I’m used to people with different opinions using terms descriptive of me as pejoratives.  (I’m a gay atheist.)  You get used to it.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 09:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t think Moral relativism requires anyone to respect another’s moral values. Only recognize morals are not tied to absolute values of right or wrong.

There is a branch call normative relativism which advocates tolerance of cultural morality differences. That’s excessive political correctness IMO.

Individually I think a person should judge for themselves what is right and wrong and take appropriate action from there. If someone can provide a reasonable argument to justify their actions one should be willing to listen. However cultural morality IMO is not a sufficient argument.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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the PC apeman - 30 November 2010 09:32 AM

I disagree.  Moral relativism only precludes, in this example, the west from invoking claims of objective right or wrong when expressing their disdain for subjugating women.  For relativists, this is not a show stopper.  Relativism has no prohibition on desires to be persuasive on an issue.  Nor does it include a requirement to respect other positions.

So you’re saying the thing to avoid is saying that “Our moral standards are moral because they are objectively right and yours are objectively wrong.”  If someone did say that it still sounds to me like a person thinking in absolutes.  They are not thinking in terms of relationships, relationships to individuals, relationships to groups, or relationships to evidence.  They are saying it’s just right because that’s the way it is.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 11:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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brightfut - 30 November 2010 10:34 AM

So you’re saying the thing to avoid is saying that “Our moral standards are moral because they are objectively right and yours are objectively wrong.”

Avoid it because it does not comport with a relativist understanding of what morality is, yes. EDIT: Be careful not to inject an “ought” into this.  That would complicate the discussion by going circular.

If someone did say that it still sounds to me like a person thinking in absolutes.  They are not thinking in terms of relationships, relationships to individuals, relationships to groups, or relationships to evidence.  They are saying it’s just right because that’s the way it is.

No, to understand why they say something is right and what they mean by something being right, you’d have to know more about their meta-ethical stance than just its relativist nature.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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the PC apeman - 30 November 2010 11:07 AM

No, to understand why they say something is right and what they mean by something being right, you’d have to know more about their meta-ethical stance than just its relativist nature.

It would be a mistake for me to claim that they believe what they believe just because “it is so.”  I actually don’t know why they believe the way they believe.  However, if the relativist nature of their meta-ethical stance is not important then why call what they are doing “moral relativism?”  It’s misleading.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 01:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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brightfut - 30 November 2010 01:06 PM
the PC apeman - 30 November 2010 11:07 AM

No, to understand why they say something is right and what they mean by something being right, you’d have to know more about their meta-ethical stance than just its relativist nature.

It would be a mistake for me to claim that they believe what they believe just because “it is so.”  I actually don’t know why they believe the way they believe.  However, if the relativist nature of their meta-ethical stance is not important then why call what they are doing “moral relativism?”  It’s misleading.

I did not say it was not important.  I said it was insufficient to answer your question.

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Posted: 03 December 2010 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I don’t know of any sophisticated moral relativists who claim, as you put it in your OP, that “If one culture believes that subjugating women is ok and another culture, say a western culture says it is immoral, then according to moral relativism we in the west are supposed to respect the other culture’s values.”

Most sophisticated moral relativists will say something like that since in my culture we think that subjugating women is wrong, we in fact won’t respect the values of those who disagree, and there’s no higher sort of morality that says we should.

Our Mod Brennen (mckenzievmd) should really answer this question since he’s a moral relativist who seems to me pretty sophisticated in his reasoning.

Also, nobody I’m aware of defines moral relativism or moral absolutism as good or bad. People may argue that one or the other is more reasonable or otherwise preferable, but those aren’t arguments that turn on the definitions you suggest.

And third, I’m not really sure what you’re arguing. If you say that subjugating women is bad for everyone, because it’s beneficial to “society as a whole”, then you’re arguing for a form of moral absolutism, one that goes beyond our knee-jerk social preferences.

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Posted: 03 December 2010 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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dougsmith - 03 December 2010 11:03 AM

I don’t know of any sophisticated moral relativists who claim, as you put it in your OP, that “If one culture believes that subjugating women is ok and another culture, say a western culture says it is immoral, then according to moral relativism we in the west are supposed to respect the other culture’s values.” Most sophisticated moral relativists will say something like that since in my culture we think that subjugating women is wrong, we in fact won’t respect the values of those who disagree, and there’s no higher sort of morality that says we should.

Also, nobody I’m aware of defines moral relativism or moral absolutism as good or bad. People may argue that one or the other is more reasonable or otherwise preferable, but those aren’t arguments that turn on the definitions you suggest.

I didn’t know that some people openly identify with and use the term “moral relativism” to describe themselves.  Whenever I’ve heard that term thrown around it is usually referring to the fallacy I described at the beginning of my OP.  The intent of my post was to argue about that the terms used to define the “moral relativism fallacy” are misleading.  The term “moral absolutism fallacy” would be a more accurate term for the fallacy.

And third, I’m not really sure what you’re arguing. If you say that subjugating women is bad for everyone, because it’s beneficial to “society as a whole”, then you’re arguing for a form of moral absolutism, one that goes beyond our knee-jerk social preferences.

I guess I don’t use the word absolute the way other people do.  If something is beneficial to society as a whole I would still call that moral relativism because I would be claiming that this form of morality is beneficial relative to a group called “society.”  I would have the “burden of definition” to define who belongs in this “society” and who or what does not belong.  Maybe if I did not define my group called “society” then it would be moral absolutism because the term “society” has no relationship to anyone or any group specifically.

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Posted: 03 December 2010 02:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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brightfut - 03 December 2010 02:27 PM

I didn’t know that some people openly identify with and use the term “moral relativism” to describe themselves.  Whenever I’ve heard that term thrown around it is usually referring to the fallacy I described at the beginning of my OP.  The intent of my post was to argue about that the terms used to define the “moral relativism fallacy” are misleading.  The term “moral absolutism fallacy” would be a more accurate term for the fallacy.

Well, if there’s a fallacy there, it might be called something like the ‘fallacy of universal respect’, or the ‘fallacy of anything goes’.

While it’s strictly true (from my POV as a moral realist) that on a relativist picture, anything goes, the relativist himself need not assert any such thing.  The problem for the relativist is that there is no overarching moral rule that decides that one form of life is any better than any other. All there are are opinions, and they’re all equally valid seen from outside the system. But within the system, each person will have his viewpoint that he asserts as valid.  The Nazi thinks it’s OK to kill the Jews and we don’t. From our POV the Nazi is wrong.

brightfut - 03 December 2010 02:27 PM

And third, I’m not really sure what you’re arguing. If you say that subjugating women is bad for everyone, because it’s beneficial to “society as a whole”, then you’re arguing for a form of moral absolutism, one that goes beyond our knee-jerk social preferences.

I guess I don’t use the word absolute the way other people do.  If something is beneficial to society as a whole I would still call that moral relativism because I would be claiming that this form of morality is beneficial relative to a group called “society.”  I would have the “burden of definition” to define who belongs in this “society” and who or what does not belong.  Maybe if I did not define my group called “society” then it would be moral absolutism because the term “society” has no relationship to anyone or any group specifically.

Well, it depends how you define “society”. I thought that by the locution “society as a whole” you meant all of humanity.  In that case, it doesn’t matter (e.g) that the Taliban believe it’s OK to mistreat women. They’re wrong, because in fact mistreating women is bad for society as a whole.

That doesn’t sound like relativism.

If, OTOH, you’re saying that it’s good for Taliban society to mistreat women but bad for American society to do so, then it is sounding like something closer to moral relativism. (Or at least a moral picture that involves societal relativism).

Generally, though, if you’re defining morality in terms of benefits or drawbacks to society it sounds like you’re suggesting some sort of quasi-utilitarian picture. Utilitarianism isn’t moral relativism, it’s a variety of moral realism: there is a real moral standard out there that can be judged independently of human beliefs about it.

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Posted: 07 December 2010 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 03 December 2010 02:46 PM

If, OTOH, you’re saying that it’s good for Taliban society to mistreat women but bad for American society to do so, then it is sounding like something closer to moral relativism. (Or at least a moral picture that involves societal relativism).

Generally, though, if you’re defining morality in terms of benefits or drawbacks to society it sounds like you’re suggesting some sort of quasi-utilitarian picture. Utilitarianism isn’t moral relativism, it’s a variety of moral realism: there is a real moral standard out there that can be judged independently of human beliefs about it.

    I had to think about this for awhile lol. If the Taliban treat women one way and it’s ok for them, but American society treats women another way which ok for American society, this would not be problematic if the two systems did not directly contradict each other or some other overriding principle.  However, if the two systems directly contradict each other then it’s possible that one or both of the systems is morally flawed.  If one culture says it’s wrong to eat meat on Friday (Catholics used to believe this) and another culture says it’s ok to eat meat on Friday but it’s wrong to do so on Saturday (direct contradiction), no overriding principle could be discovered that could say that one system was any better than the other.  They just have different traditions.  Neither moral system appears to have much basis in anything that can be tested.  This could be a problem, but this is a problem of detachment or absoluteness to anything testable.
    However, if some overriding principle, in the Taliban vs American society conflict, could be found to discredit one or both of these systems, such as societies prosper more when they allow women to pursue careers freely just as men are allowed to do, then this could show that the discredited system is out of touch (detached) from this overriding principle.  This overriding principle might not have been considered by the “morally suspect” culture or cultures.  Back to my OP, the discredited system or systems are detached or absolute to the overriding principle.  A better system would have more of a relationship with, or is more relative to the overriding principle.  The problem was detached absolutism and not attached relativism.  Maybe “overriding principle” is a type of “moral realism.”

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Posted: 08 December 2010 08:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Morality is a human contrivance, thus being contingent on the human experience, it follows that ethical absolutism possibly necessarily exists insofar as its claims are RELATIVE in human societies ONLY. Imagine that all sentient life perished: in this universe, what place does morality hold? Does it exist at all? This holds true for Objectivism as well, because human existence is entirely supervenient to any axiological truths.

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Posted: 10 December 2010 04:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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brightfut - 30 November 2010 01:06 PM
the PC apeman - 30 November 2010 11:07 AM

No, to understand why they say something is right and what they mean by something being right, you’d have to know more about their meta-ethical stance than just its relativist nature.

It would be a mistake for me to claim that they believe what they believe just because “it is so.”  I actually don’t know why they believe the way they believe.  However, if the relativist nature of their meta-ethical stance is not important then why call what they are doing “moral relativism?”  It’s misleading.

Most cultures are influenced by their environment. If we looked back far enough, there probably is evidence why a male dominated culture was the most efficient survival tool for that time. Interesting note that more females are born in times of high population mortality than during high population fertility rates.

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Posted: 10 December 2010 07:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Write4U - 10 December 2010 04:31 PM

Most cultures are influenced by their environment. If we looked back far enough, there probably is evidence why a male dominated culture was the most efficient survival tool for that time. Interesting note that more females are born in times of high population mortality than during high population fertility rates.

In other words, morals are also relative to environment and the situation.  Any test that tries to determine what best promotes well being for the target group would have to take environment into consideration.  The outcome for the test might be radically different in another environment.

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Posted: 10 December 2010 07:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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brightfut - 10 December 2010 07:28 PM
Write4U - 10 December 2010 04:31 PM

Most cultures are influenced by their environment. If we looked back far enough, there probably is evidence why a male dominated culture was the most efficient survival tool for that time. Interesting note that more females are born in times of high population mortality than during high population fertility rates.

In other words, morals are also relative to environment and the situation.  Any test that tries to determine what best promotes well being for the target group would have to take environment into consideration.  The outcome for the test might be radically different in another environment.

I think so. However, with the advance of technology, environment is becoming less relevant. The need for any particular survival strategy is no longer dependent on environment. Unfortunately, a culture that has been in place for many thousands of years is not easily changed, but many heretofore “primitive” cultures are showing internal conflict about morality and human rights.

[ Edited: 10 December 2010 07:43 PM by Write4U ]
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