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apple
08-09-2011, 05:48 PM
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/the-maze-of-moral-relativism/

This is a very good article about moral relativism, and it exposes relativism for what it is at heart: nihilism.

sugarkang
08-09-2011, 08:47 PM
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/the-maze-of-moral-relativism/

This is a very good article about moral relativism, and it exposes relativism for what it is at heart: nihilism.

Okay, when are you going to print up the Apple bibles? And can we get Sabbath to be on Saturdays and Sundays?

apple
08-10-2011, 12:15 PM
Okay, when are you going to print up the Apple bibles? And can we get Sabbath to be on Saturdays and Sundays?

Those Apple Bibles can't come soon enough. An apple verse a day, keeps ignorance away.

stephanie
08-10-2011, 12:20 PM
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/the-maze-of-moral-relativism/

This is a very good article about moral relativism, and it exposes relativism for what it is at heart: nihilism.

I don't think very many people are actually relativists. This is what Fish (in the article linked in the cited article) says on that point: "If by relativism one means a cast of mind that renders you unable to prefer your own convictions to those of your adversary, then relativism could hardly end because it never began. Our convictions are by definition preferred; that's what makes them our convictions. Relativizing them is neither an option nor a danger." That seems right to me.

Beyond that, it's interesting that relativism gets associated with liberalism, when liberalism is a set of ideals that are supposed to be the best ones. The classic conservative vs. liberalism argument was put by Burke (speaking for conservativism, of course) as the rights of Englishment vs. the rights of man.

Now, clearly, there are relativistic ideas that one can get from post-modernism (although often kind of a pop take on it), and students or even others often pick up annoying ways of speaking about ideas with language that suggests relativism (who am I to judge?), but usually when people are pressed they aren't really relativists.

(My pet theory is that it's the right more than the left that has been taking advantage of "we can't know the truth" and "all information about facts are inherently political so no reason to trust one side -- evolution, for example, pushed by atheistic scientists -- more than another. This is the use of pop postmodernism against liberal ideas that Allen Bloom predicted.)

apple
08-11-2011, 02:15 PM
I don't think very many people are actually relativists. This is what Fish (in the article linked in the cited article) says on that point: "If by relativism one means a cast of mind that renders you unable to prefer your own convictions to those of your adversary, then relativism could hardly end because it never began. Our convictions are by definition preferred; that's what makes them our convictions. Relativizing them is neither an option nor a danger." That seems right to me.

Actually, it does not seem right. This infamous relativist reduces everything to mere "preference", like whether one likes blue or red better. Obviously, this is a matter of taste. One would not say, except perhaps jokingly, that someone is "wrong" to like blue. I would not say that my opinion on the color blue is "better" than yours. On the other hand, one is able, one should be able to say that someone is wrong to say that, for example, the Holocaust was morally justified. I would definitely say that my convictions would be preferable to a moral wretch who would approve of the Holocaust.

Beyond that, it's interesting that relativism gets associated with liberalism, when liberalism is a set of ideals that are supposed to be the best ones. The classic conservative vs. liberalism argument was put by Burke (speaking for conservativism, of course) as the rights of Englishment vs. the rights of man.

Yes, of course. But it's mostly liberals who defend other cultures, and say that these are just as good as our own. It's also true that conservatives are often just as bad.

Now, clearly, there are relativistic ideas that one can get from post-modernism (although often kind of a pop take on it), and students or even others often pick up annoying ways of speaking about ideas with language that suggests relativism (who am I to judge?), but usually when people are pressed they aren't really relativists.

This is also true. Even most people who defend relativism, are unwilling to take relativism to its logical conclusion. But that does not mean that relativism is not a threat, because it will be applied to all but the easiest cases. On this very board, I've been told that I have no right to tell Norwegians how they should order their society, and that me calling stoning barbaric is just my subjective opinion. And that is the problem. They won't disagree with the notion that stoning is barbaric, but they'll reduce it to a matter of taste.

(My pet theory is that it's the right more than the left that has been taking advantage of "we can't know the truth" and "all information about facts are inherently political so no reason to trust one side -- evolution, for example, pushed by atheistic scientists -- more than another. This is the use of pop postmodernism against liberal ideas that Allen Bloom predicted.)

And you are right about this, too. But mostly, the side that is right loses, because it gets equated with the side that is wrong.

stephanie
08-11-2011, 04:58 PM
Actually, it does not seem right. This infamous relativist reduces everything to mere "preference", like whether one likes blue or red better. Obviously, this is a matter of taste. One would not say, except perhaps jokingly, that someone is "wrong" to like blue. I would not say that my opinion on the color blue is "better" than yours. On the other hand, one is able, one should be able to say that someone is wrong to say that, for example, the Holocaust was morally justified. I would definitely say that my convictions would be preferable to a moral wretch who would approve of the Holocaust.

I agree with this, I just don't think very many people are actually relativists, nor do they confuse their convictions on different types of issues. For example, if I prefer vanilla ice cream, I know that's a matter of taste. If I am convinced that systematic oppression of women is wrong, that stems from a different reason. I may initially simply experience a sense that that is wrong, but as a human I can reason about why and connect it with more general moral and philosophical ideas that I am convinced are correct.

A lot of what gets called relativism is merely putting oneself into the shoes of others, for example, and acknowledging one's imperfect knowledge. It's not really thinking eh, I like sex, he likes stoning young girls, who's to say what's a better way to spend a Saturday night. It's also often historical -- I think Thomas Jefferson lived in a time in which plenty of people were anti-slavery, yes, and many also managed not to own slaves. I have Quaker ancestors who left South Carolina around the same period, since they didn't wish to contribute to a slave-based environment (or such is the story that came down in our family). But coming from a culture in which being pro slavery is basically impossible, does it really make sense for me to feel superior to Jefferson because my actions on that front are more righteous than him (yes, I have never been a slave owner)? Not really, but that doesn't mean I'm a relativist about slavery. Obviously, it's wrong.

Yes, of course. But it's mostly liberals who defend other cultures, and say that these are just as good as our own. It's also true that conservatives are often just as bad.

Like I said, I don't think people (even liberals) are really as live and let live about other cultures. They might be more likely to be inherently suspicious of the motivation or triumphalism of the "we are the best of all possible cultures" school and more likely to point out our own failings (and even this is just some types of liberals, I don't see a lot of worry that the average American, Dem or Republican, is hesitant to say that certain ideas and ways of life are better than others).

They won't disagree with the notion that stoning is barbaric, but they'll reduce it to a matter of taste.

If it's barbaric (which it is), then how is it just a matter of taste? I think part of this is probably just different understandings or uses of the term "subjective."

Ocean
08-11-2011, 08:34 PM
I agree with this, I just don't think very many people are actually relativists, nor do they confuse their convictions on different types of issues. For example, if I prefer vanilla ice cream, I know that's a matter of taste. If I am convinced that systematic oppression of women is wrong, that stems from a different reason. I may initially simply experience a sense that that is wrong, but as a human I can reason about why and connect it with more general moral and philosophical ideas that I am convinced are correct.

A lot of what gets called relativism is merely putting oneself into the shoes of others, for example, and acknowledging one's imperfect knowledge. It's not really thinking eh, I like sex, he likes stoning young girls, who's to say what's a better way to spend a Saturday night. It's also often historical -- I think Thomas Jefferson lived in a time in which plenty of people were anti-slavery, yes, and many also managed not to own slaves. I have Quaker ancestors who left South Carolina around the same period, since they didn't wish to contribute to a slave-based environment (or such is the story that came down in our family). But coming from a culture in which being pro slavery is basically impossible, does it really make sense for me to feel superior to Jefferson because my actions on that front are more righteous than him (yes, I have never been a slave owner)? Not really, but that doesn't mean I'm a relativist about slavery. Obviously, it's wrong.



Like I said, I don't think people (even liberals) are really as live and let live about other cultures. They might be more likely to be inherently suspicious of the motivation or triumphalism of the "we are the best of all possible cultures" school and more likely to point out our own failings (and even this is just some types of liberals, I don't see a lot of worry that the average American, Dem or Republican, is hesitant to say that certain ideas and ways of life are better than others).



If it's barbaric (which it is), then how is it just a matter of taste? I think part of this is probably just different understandings or uses of the term "subjective."

I read the article and your comments. I don't think I agree with many of the statements.

Why did Boghossian find an overarching moral principle that captures the slurping aspect, but he didn't find an overarching principle for the prohibition of eating beef?

The overarching principle would be that certain religions or beliefs articulate rules (dietary for example) about what's healthy or proper for the practice of such beliefs, and those rules should be followed by their devotees.

In this thread you're talking about very frivolous things like icecream flavors or colors which have no relevance to morality.

I consider myself a moral relativist. Our moral principles are highly dependent on our historical/cultural context. There are some principles that have changed very little over time and that are close to universal. Those are the higher order principles. But the whole range of moral principles can be arranged in hierarchies. Moral principles are in conflict with each other. We apply hierarchical rules to resolve which principle prevails. But those rules change over time and from culture to culture. Equality is very important in some cultures, while in others the submission of women is considered a (conveniently to men) virtue.

Anyhow, this is probably not a good time for me to start this topic, but since no one else here is making a case for moral relativism, I thought I had to pitch in.

apple
08-11-2011, 08:49 PM
I agree with this, I just don't think very many people are actually relativists, nor do they confuse their convictions on different types of issues. For example, if I prefer vanilla ice cream, I know that's a matter of taste. If I am convinced that systematic oppression of women is wrong, that stems from a different reason. I may initially simply experience a sense that that is wrong, but as a human I can reason about why and connect it with more general moral and philosophical ideas that I am convinced are correct.

A lot of what gets called relativism is merely putting oneself into the shoes of others, for example, and acknowledging one's imperfect knowledge. It's not really thinking eh, I like sex, he likes stoning young girls, who's to say what's a better way to spend a Saturday night. It's also often historical -- I think Thomas Jefferson lived in a time in which plenty of people were anti-slavery, yes, and many also managed not to own slaves. I have Quaker ancestors who left South Carolina around the same period, since they didn't wish to contribute to a slave-based environment (or such is the story that came down in our family). But coming from a culture in which being pro slavery is basically impossible, does it really make sense for me to feel superior to Jefferson because my actions on that front are more righteous than him (yes, I have never been a slave owner)? Not really, but that doesn't mean I'm a relativist about slavery. Obviously, it's wrong.

Well, look. One should be 'tolerant' of historical figures who have erred. One should not take a relativist approach, but rather, one based on reasonable expectations. You have a higher standard of living than Thomas Jefferson did, just like you have a higher moral standard than he did, because America was poorer and less moral back then. I think that is the correct approach. On the other hand, I do not think that people should be judged by the norms of their own society. If that were the case, we should praise people from an anti-Semitic culture when they kill lots of Jews. After all, they are doing what their culture approves of. Good for them!

Like I said, I don't think people (even liberals) are really as live and let live about other cultures. They might be more likely to be inherently suspicious of the motivation or triumphalism of the "we are the best of all possible cultures" school and more likely to point out our own failings (and even this is just some types of liberals, I don't see a lot of worry that the average American, Dem or Republican, is hesitant to say that certain ideas and ways of life are better than others).

Some will say that we have absolutely "no right" to criticize abuses of women's rights, until we are perfect. That, of course, will never happen. So it's basically a way to immunize other cultures from criticism. And it's mostly a problem with so called intellectuals.

If it's barbaric (which it is), then how is it just a matter of taste? I think part of this is probably just different understandings or uses of the term "subjective."

Just like 'good' may be relative. Robbing a bank may be good for me, but it's bad for the bank. So what is bank robbery REALLY? Well, neither. It's good for me, and bad for the bank, period.

And in the case of people calling something barbaric, the relativist will say: well, I think it's barbaric, but others think that it's absolutely wonderful! Both positions are right for the person holding them. For me, those practices are barbaric, and for those other people, they are wonderful. They are neither objectively barbaric or wonderful, so the person believing that these practices are barbaric has no right to impose his belief on that other person.

apple
08-11-2011, 08:53 PM
I read the article and your comments. I don't think I agree with many of the statements.

Why did Boghossian find an overarching moral principle that captures the slurping aspect, but he didn't find an overarching principle for the prohibition of eating beef?

The overarching principle would be that certain religions or beliefs articulate rules (dietary for example) about what's healthy or proper for the practice of such beliefs, and those rules should be followed by their devotees.

In this thread you're talking about very frivolous things like icecream flavors or colors which have no relevance to morality.

Actually, the only reason why you call colors frivolous, is because there is no religious commandment that "thou shalt like the color blue". Working on a particular day of the week, or eating pork, or wearing clothes made of two different fabrics also has absolutely no relevance to morality, but for some reason, you are less skeptical of these matters, because some 'religion' has decided to offer its authoritative judgments about these matters.

I consider myself a moral relativist. Our moral principles are highly dependent on our historical/cultural context. There are some principles that have changed very little over time and that are close to universal. Those are the higher order principles. But the whole range of moral principles can be arranged in hierarchies. Moral principles are in conflict with each other. We apply hierarchical rules to resolve which principle prevails. But those rules change over time and from culture to culture. Equality is very important in some cultures, while in others the submission of women is considered a (conveniently to men) virtue.

And are both equally valid or correct? Or can it be that the idea that more than half of the world's population should be disenfranchised is not 'just as good' as the idea that they should have equal rights? The relativist will say that there is no way to judge which one is better, and that both are equally valid.

Anyhow, this is probably not a good time for me to start this topic, but since no one else here is making a case for moral relativism, I thought I had to pitch in.

Moral relativism is evil. It is best left undefended.

Ocean
08-11-2011, 08:57 PM
Actually, the only reason why you call colors frivolous, is because there is no religious commandment that "thou shalt like the color blue". Working on a particular day of the week, or eating pork, or wearing clothes made of two different fabrics also has absolutely no relevance to morality, but for some reason, you are less skeptical of these matters, because some 'religion' has decided to offer its authoritative judgments about these matters.

And are both equally valid or correct? Or can it be that the idea that more than half of the world's population should be disenfranchised is not 'just as good' as the idea that they should have equal rights? The relativist will say that there is no way to judge which one is better, and that both are equally valid.

Moral relativism is evil. It is best left undefended.

I think I have a limited understanding of moral relativism, but yours seems to be fifth grade level.

The simplistic stuff that you're talking about is not what I'm thinking about.

I tried to put this in more polite words but really couldn't come up with anything nicer considering your statements above. Sorry.

apple
08-11-2011, 09:05 PM
I think I have a limited understanding of moral relativism, but yours seems to be fifth grade level.

The simplistic stuff that you're talking about is not what I'm thinking about.

I tried to put this in more polite words but really couldn't come up with anything nicer considering your statements above. Sorry.

No problem, I'm not very hard to offend, so just say whatever you want. However, unfortunately, my understanding of moral relativism does happen to be correct. See this: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-relativism/

There are two forms of moral relativism. One is descriptive relativism. The main proposition is basically that different cultures have different beliefs and value systems. Some actually dispute this, and say that the commonalities among cultures is so great, and the number of disagreements so small, that descriptive relativism is incorrect. I do not hold that belief, also, it is not terribly important, because objective moral standards do not depend on universal assent.

The second form of moral relativism is prescriptive relativism. It is the idea that because there are differences among cultures, all cultures and value systems are equally valid. This is what I'm talking about when I say 'moral relativism'. I oppose it because it is extremely dangerous, and leads people not to oppose evil.

stephanie
08-11-2011, 09:11 PM
On the other hand, I do not think that people should be judged by the norms of their own society. If that were the case, we should praise people from an anti-Semitic culture when they kill lots of Jews. After all, they are doing what their culture approves of. Good for them!

How is this remotely responsive to what I said?

Some will say that we have absolutely "no right" to criticize abuses of women's rights, until we are perfect.

I haven't run into that. I'd agree it's silly. (I did go to college, I live in a liberal city, blah, blah, and somehow this was not the prevailing attitude. I think it tends to be more a myth or scare story than a common problem among liberals.)

Just like 'good' may be relative. Robbing a bank may be good for me, but it's bad for the bank. So what is bank robbery REALLY? Well, neither. It's good for me, and bad for the bank, period.

Again, no one has said anything like this. It's your imagination.

And in the case of people calling something barbaric, the relativist will say: well, I think it's barbaric, but others think that it's absolutely wonderful! Both positions are right for the person holding them. For me, those practices are barbaric, and for those other people, they are wonderful. They are neither objectively barbaric or wonderful, so the person believing that these practices are barbaric has no right to impose his belief on that other person.

Saying something is subjective vs. objective (are you referring to your discussion with Florian?) does not mean what you seem to be assuming it means. It's not even my argument, but it's just so clearly being twisted. Raising the problem of grounding moral claims does not mean that you think no moral claims can be made.

Ocean
08-11-2011, 09:16 PM
I refer to it as in the metaethical moral relativism discussion.

apple
08-11-2011, 09:21 PM
How is this remotely responsive to what I said?

You raised the issue of the different times people live during. Obviously, we should not call Thomas Jefferson. But there are two approaches to that. Some people would say that people should be judged by the norms of their own society. Others (like you did) say that we should consider the time in which people lived, but still judge them by our own standards (though in a different way).

I haven't run into that. I'd agree it's silly. (I did go to college, I live in a liberal city, blah, blah, and somehow this was not the prevailing attitude. I think it tends to be more a myth or scare story than a common problem among liberals.)

I've actually encountered many people who hold such beliefs. But like you said, many of them defend moral relativism, but are loath to give up all possibility of moral judgment. Still, it's a Herculean task to take them out of the black hole of relativism, because it is a very attractive doctrine, despite its undesirable implications.

Again, no one has said anything like this. It's your imagination.

It's an example of what a relativist might say. It might sound strange, but that is because relativists do not generally opine on the matter of bank robbery. But what I said was actually correct, as far as relativist doctrine is concerned.

Saying something is subjective vs. objective (are you referring to your discussion with Florian?) does not mean what you seem to be assuming it means.

Well, here is how I understand it: objective is something that is characteristic of the object of study. Subjective is something that is reflective of the subject that is doing the studying. In other words, if I give my subjective opinion about object X, my opinion is more reflective of myself, than it is of the object X. I might say that object X is beautiful, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if you will. If moral judgments are in fact subjective, then an action like stoning is not evil in itself, it is just what I happen to think.

It's not even my argument, but it's just so clearly being twisted. Raising the problem of grounding moral claims does not mean that you think no moral claims can be made.

No, this problem troubles me deeply, I would not deny it.

apple
08-11-2011, 09:29 PM
I refer to it as in the metaethical moral relativism discussion.

That is what I called prescriptive relativism.

sugarkang
08-11-2011, 10:46 PM
Actually, the only reason why you call colors frivolous, is because there is no religious commandment that "thou shalt like the color blue". Working on a particular day of the week, or eating pork, or wearing clothes made of two different fabrics ...

Yeah, this is absolutely correct. Some arbitrary rules are codified in customs, traditions, religious texts and law. As you say, wearing a burqa or mandating kosher meats are as arbitrary as prohibiting the color red if you belong to a street gang called the "Crips" who only wear blue. Arbitrariness notwithstanding, the colors are very meaningful for the gangs -- semiotics, in particular -- and are therefore deeply embedded into their in-group moral code.

You can just ignore whatever Ocean has to say about morality. There was another thread about the purpose of retribution in punishment. I provided her the answer from Nietzsche, to which she accused me of purposely leaving out relevant information (basically, calling me a liar).

Since anything that Ocean doesn't agree with must be wrong -- Nietzsche. Pfft. German moron! -- she and a few others took it upon themselves to discover the true purpose of punishment. And you can see this goes on tens of thousands of words, no joke. The plain arrogance is astounding. Why not look outside of oneself for the answer? Why not consult someone with some authority over the law in the United States?

But who? Who could we ask?

How about the Supreme Court of the United States?

Who?

Gregg v. Georgia (1976) (http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0428_0153_ZO.html):

The death penalty is said to serve two principal social purposes: retribution and deterrence of capital crimes by prospective offenders.

Now, from which German philosopher whose surname starts with "N" have I heard this rationale...

In part, capital punishment is an expression of society's moral outrage at particularly offensive conduct. This function may be unappealing to many, but it is essential in an ordered society that asks its citizens to rely on legal processes, rather than self-help, to vindicate their wrongs.

The instinct for retribution is part of the nature of man, and channeling that instinct in the administration of criminal justice serves an important purpose in promoting the stability of a society governed by law.

But the liberal instinct is strong. It resists. No!
When people begin to believe that organized society is unwilling or unable to impose upon criminal offenders the punishment they "deserve," then there are sown the seeds of anarchy -- of self-help, vigilante justice, and lynch law.

This is exactly what they try to resist in that thread, I kid you not. Read for yourself.

You'd think that to create order in a civilization such as ours, you'd have to be honest with yourself about man's basic human nature or else the entire house of cards collapses. But her entire foundation for how the world operates (and other liberals) is predicated on woefully mistaken premises. Yet, she is unhindered in pontificating about what morality ought to be for all of the rest of us. And get this. She's a licensed drug dealer who supports the continuation of the War on Drugs. In other words, only she's qualified to tell you what you can and can't put in your own body. After all, she's an expert on the nature of human beings. She's a psychiatrist.

Chit chat at your own peril. Here's my feedback:
Slow to ship and item not as described. Missing essential pieces. Avoid wasting time with this seller. Grade F-

badhatharry
08-12-2011, 11:45 AM
You raised the issue of the different times people live during. Obviously, we should not call Thomas Jefferson. But there are two approaches to that. Some people would say that people should be judged by the norms of their own society. Others (like you did) say that we should consider the time in which people lived, but still judge them by our own standards (though in a different way).


Can't you do both? Is there an app for that?

stephanie
08-12-2011, 12:40 PM
But there are two approaches to that. Some people would say that people should be judged by the norms of their own society. Others (like you did) say that we should consider the time in which people lived, but still judge them by our own standards (though in a different way).

Right. But my point is that when we refuse to harshly judge historical figures for thing we consider wrong, we aren't being relativists, in the sense that we think it's their morals vs. ours, all equal. We are being realistic about the extent to which people's morals are formed by their surroundings and refusing to assert our own moral superiority simply for agreeing with the views of our community.

But when I say this, I'm not suggesting that the moral values of my community on the issue in question (slavery) are not, in fact, better than those of Jefferson's community. Of course they are.

I wonder how much what you are calling relativism is really just acknowledging that we are a product of our communities, even if we are perfectly willing to assert that certain ideas are better than others.

I've actually encountered many people who hold such beliefs.

I'd like to question these people, I suppose. In any case, I have not.

It's an example of what a relativist might say.

Yeah, I understand that. It's not a reflection of what people actually believe in any great numbers. That's my point.

For example, you seem to have determined that some of the people arguing about the Norwegian punishment system are doing so from a "relativistic" point of view. With regard to at least some of them -- Wonderment and cragger, for example -- I think that's obviously wrong. Wonderment is coming from a very moralistic position, the moral principles he's arguing for are simply different than yours (and mine in some cases). Claiming the difference is one of relativism vs. not seems to me to be misunderstanding the argument.

Well, here is how I understand it: objective is something that is characteristic of the object of study. Subjective is something that is reflective of the subject that is doing the studying. In other words, if I give my subjective opinion about object X, my opinion is more reflective of myself, than it is of the object X. I might say that object X is beautiful, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if you will.

Okay, I think this is a valid use of the terms and somewhat similar to how I tend to use them. I'd say that "subjective" is not purely reflective of the subject doing the studying, though -- it would refer to those things that aren't inherent in the object, that also require some sort of perception. But there's an interaction between the objection and the perception -- it's not simply a form of solipsism.

Take arguments about beauty. Are there qualities that are inherently beautiful? Or is beauty something that only exists through perception? Can someone be wrong in not appreciating beauty?

I think a lot of people tend to use objective and subjective differently, to refer to how we can prove something. Is it subject to objective proof? By this I think people often mean empirical evidence, but it's something that you have to clear up whenever people start using these terms, IME.

With Florian, I'm sure he could talk about these things far more intelligently than me, but he's a Kantian, and Kant, of course, talked about how we can't prove that which is outside ourself. Descartes and others tried and failed. We just have to assume it.

If moral judgments are in fact subjective, then an action like stoning is not evil in itself, it is just what I happen to think.

The interesting question to me is how we get there. It's that process that I think people are referring to when the question whether they are able or willing to claim that it's objectively wrong. It doesn't mean that they don't think it's wrong or that they are less firm in their convictions about how wrong it is than you are.

No, this problem troubles me deeply, I would not deny it.

Yeah, me too.

apple
08-14-2011, 08:13 PM
You went beyond the call of duty there. When you deny that retribution is, and has always been, a part of the raison d'etre of punishment, you are simply not a serious person.

apple
08-14-2011, 08:13 PM
Can't you do both? Is there an app for that?

No, because judging people by their own standards is immoral. It suggests that morality is up to the whims and tastes of individuals.

apple
08-14-2011, 08:25 PM
Right. But my point is that when we refuse to harshly judge historical figures for thing we consider wrong, we aren't being relativists, in the sense that we think it's their morals vs. ours, all equal. We are being realistic about the extent to which people's morals are formed by their surroundings and refusing to assert our own moral superiority simply for agreeing with the views of our community.

But when I say this, I'm not suggesting that the moral values of my community on the issue in question (slavery) are not, in fact, better than those of Jefferson's community. Of course they are.

I wonder how much what you are calling relativism is really just acknowledging that we are a product of our communities, even if we are perfectly willing to assert that certain ideas are better than others.

I'll elaborate more on this later, but if I wasn't clear enough, I do not object at all at the way you judge historical figures. In fact, I think it's the only way we can judge historical figures.


I'd like to question these people, I suppose. In any case, I have not.

What kind of questions would you ask them?

Yeah, I understand that. It's not a reflection of what people actually believe in any great numbers. That's my point.

For example, you seem to have determined that some of the people arguing about the Norwegian punishment system are doing so from a "relativistic" point of view. With regard to at least some of them -- Wonderment and cragger, for example -- I think that's obviously wrong. Wonderment is coming from a very moralistic position, the moral principles he's arguing for are simply different than yours (and mine in some cases). Claiming the difference is one of relativism vs. not seems to me to be misunderstanding the argument.

Absolutely not. I would never call Wonderment a relativist, he's a bigger moralist than I am. (Although Ocean, who held the exact same opinions on crime and punishment, is a self-proclaimed relativist.) I was referring to Hume's Bastard, who said that I had absolutely no right to lecture Norwegians on how they should organize their society, and in fact, compared me to Breivik for doing that anyway.

Okay, I think this is a valid use of the terms and somewhat similar to how I tend to use them. I'd say that "subjective" is not purely reflective of the subject doing the studying, though -- it would refer to those things that aren't inherent in the object, that also require some sort of perception. But there's an interaction between the objection and the perception -- it's not simply a form of solipsism.

Take arguments about beauty. Are there qualities that are inherently beautiful? Or is beauty something that only exists through perception? Can someone be wrong in not appreciating beauty?

I think a lot of people tend to use objective and subjective differently, to refer to how we can prove something. Is it subject to objective proof? By this I think people often mean empirical evidence, but it's something that you have to clear up whenever people start using these terms, IME.

With Florian, I'm sure he could talk about these things far more intelligently than me, but he's a Kantian, and Kant, of course, talked about how we can't prove that which is outside ourself. Descartes and others tried and failed. We just have to assume it.

But Kant was also a rather rigid moralist. I would not think that he would say that people calling a particular practice barbaric is only a reflection of their subjective feelings, and nothing more. So even though Kant's system of morality was rather flawed, it's preferable to the relativism of followers of Foucault.

The interesting question to me is how we get there. It's that process that I think people are referring to when the question whether they are able or willing to claim that it's objectively wrong. It doesn't mean that they don't think it's wrong or that they are less firm in their convictions about how wrong it is than you are.

Well, I don't doubt that most relativists personally oppose the atrocities that I keep trying to hang around their necks. However, it isn't enough to say that such atrocities are not according to one's taste. To say that it is a matter of taste, suggests that another person may have a different taste, and that this other person would not be wrong for having a different taste. After all, we do not denounce other people for liking different colors, music, clothes, etc. So why should we denounce them for holding other opinions about morality, if it is merely a matter of taste, and nothing more?

My point is that by relativizing issues of morality, relativists devalue their own condemnation, by reducing it to something comparable to them not liking the color blue. The relativist does not like the Holocaust, fine. But he also does not like the color blue, and he thinks that both things are comparable, and that it is perfectly legitimate to like the Holocaust, or to like the color blue.

stephanie
08-15-2011, 09:30 PM
What kind of questions would you ask them?

It depends on the claim made, but I would try to find out how far the claim when and what it was based on. However, even if based on the grounding problem, I'd be surprised if they'd really refuse to assume certain things as a basis for moral claims.

One thing that I think is conflated in how you've been talking about this, though, is why we think things are wrong. Take the example of stoning, which you've been using. There are various reasons one might think stoning is wrong, and pushing at the claim tells us more. If someone says "I think stoning is wrong, but that's because of my culture," I think the follow up question is "why -- what makes it wrong in your view?"

Someone could just say "it feels wrong" or "I was taught it was wrong," but you can push at that too. Do you believe everything you are taught is wrong actually is? What makes this different? So on.

But it's also interesting to consider the various answers that even people not claiming it's just taste might give. I could give a few -- well, I'm Christian, and Jesus said let him without sin cast the first stone. Not the best Christian objection, IMO, but a possible Bible-based one, obviously. Ultimately that then comes down to a claim that what Jesus says has authority.

But you could also go with torture is wrong and it's a form of torture. Ultimately there's a more general principle underlying that. Or it's cruel and unusual punishment. It's not so clear that either of these say stoning is always wrong, probably. They say that stoning is wrong within the context of a culture. But you could probably make a claim for it being a form of torture and torture being always wrong (or always wrong as punishment if you wanted to limit it).

You could also focus on what the stoning is for and say it's wrong to punish someone or punish someone in such a harsh way for whatever it is, but that fails to make a firm statement about stoning in and of itself.

Absolutely not. I would never call Wonderment a relativist, he's a bigger moralist than I am.

Okay, we agree.

I'm not convinced that saying one doesn't have the right to lecture those in a society like Norway on how they should work their government necessarily means that one is a relativist. In fact, I'd argue it usually does not mean that (true relativism being rare and other reasons being present). Even if one believes in objective rights and wrongs, that doesn't mean there aren't multiple possible approaches that would be right and that it wouldn't depend to some degree on factors that vary. If pragmatic concerns such as deterrence are considerations for a criminal justice system, it matters what actually works, which may differ based on culture.

But Kant was also a rather rigid moralist. I would not think that he would say that people calling a particular practice barbaric is only a reflection of their subjective feelings, and nothing more.

This is where I think we have to be nitpicky about the subjective/objective discussion. Kant declared that it was impossible to know the world in itself, independent of our senses. So we can't really know things objectively. At least this is what I recall.

However, it isn't enough to say that such atrocities are not according to one's taste. To say that it is a matter of taste, suggests that another person may have a different taste, and that this other person would not be wrong for having a different taste.

Yeah, this is what I'm saying I don't think most people will actually say, not if pushed.

apple
08-16-2011, 10:04 PM
It depends on the claim made, but I would try to find out how far the claim when and what it was based on. However, even if based on the grounding problem, I'd be surprised if they'd really refuse to assume certain things as a basis for moral claims.

They probably would not, unless they are open nihilism, but they would simultaneously argue that these are just very subjective assumptions, and that any other set of assumptions for making moral claims is just as good. Unfortunately, this does end in nihilism, as you are validating mutually exclusive propositions for different people. It's like saying that heliocentrism is true for Galileo, and geocentrism for Urban VIII. I know you'd argue that no one would say this, and in this case, you'd be right. But if someone did say it, this would imply nihilism: as there is no real truth. The same is true for doing something similar with moral claims.

I'm not convinced that saying one doesn't have the right to lecture those in a society like Norway on how they should work their government necessarily means that one is a relativist. In fact, I'd argue it usually does not mean that (true relativism being rare and other reasons being present). Even if one believes in objective rights and wrongs, that doesn't mean there aren't multiple possible approaches that would be right and that it wouldn't depend to some degree on factors that vary. If pragmatic concerns such as deterrence are considerations for a criminal justice system, it matters what actually works, which may differ based on culture.

If you are exclusively concerned with deterrence (as Ocean apparently is), you are not concerned with what others would call 'justice'. Deterrence has nothing to do with morality, justice does. If justice is your objective, then objective standards apply. And even if deterrence is your objective, then there are still objective standards, as some approaches are better at deterring crime than others. You are correct that cultural differences may make some difference, so there might not be a universal standard for deterrence, but a conditional one. I.e., "in cultures where honor is important, shaming people deters crime".

This is where I think we have to be nitpicky about the subjective/objective discussion. Kant declared that it was impossible to know the world in itself, independent of our senses. So we can't really know things objectively. At least this is what I recall.

As far as I know (which is not very far), he did think that his categorical imperative was a guide to objective morality. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Yeah, this is what I'm saying I don't think most people will actually say, not if pushed.

They won't take it all the way, but relativism can do enough damage without being taken to its logical conclusion. So I combat even the annoying speech patterns that you mentioned earlier. When someone asks me who I am to say X, I might say: excuse me, it does not depend on *who* I am, but on the strength of my arguments, and if they are not that strong, me being the Emperor of the Universe would not make them right.

eeeeeeeli
08-21-2011, 07:08 PM
You went beyond the call of duty there. When you deny that retribution is, and has always been, a part of the raison d'etre of punishment, you are simply not a serious person.
The reason d'etre? Now you're not being serious.

It's difficult to separate out what different functions a particular form of justice is fulfilling. For instance, a parking ticker seems pretty non-retributive, however I imagine someone, somewhere is deriving satisfaction from someone, somewhere getting a parking ticket.

It is probably mostly a deterrence. Hopefully it has some rehabilitative effect, in that it trains people to share parking spaces.

As to your main post, I've never met a moral relativist. I've met a lot of people (myself included) whose descriptive moral relativism sometimes bleeds into a kind of moral relativism simply because you often can't get deep enough into another person's shoes and understand their situation well enough to say what you would do in their situation - simply because you don't know what it would really be like to be in their situation. I think it might be more fair to consider this a sort of agnostic moral relativism.

I do agree that relativism is dangerous. But it seems no more dangerous than what would be its opposite, blind devotion to moral authority you are afraid of being critical of. I think you could argue that this has actually done a lot more damage historically. Although it's hard to compare, because it's probably fair to say that 99.9% of humans throughout human history have generally acted according to fairly rigid and unquestioned moral codes.

apple
08-21-2011, 11:09 PM
It's difficult to separate out what different functions a particular form of justice is fulfilling. For instance, a parking ticker seems pretty non-retributive, however I imagine someone, somewhere is deriving satisfaction from someone, somewhere getting a parking ticket.

It is probably mostly a deterrence. Hopefully it has some rehabilitative effect, in that it trains people to share parking spaces.

If your argument is limited to parking tickets, then I would agree. However, I would point out that this has not much to do with justice, and thus, retribution is not called for. On the other hand, if someone murders you, then my first concern is not deterring other people from murdering, it is to get justice for you. And justice involves retribution, giving to that person what he has done to another (innocent) person. Deterrence is only a secondary concern.

As to your main post, I've never met a moral relativist. I've met a lot of people (myself included) whose descriptive moral relativism sometimes bleeds into a kind of moral relativism simply because you often can't get deep enough into another person's shoes and understand their situation well enough to say what you would do in their situation - simply because you don't know what it would really be like to be in their situation. I think it might be more fair to consider this a sort of agnostic moral relativism.

I do agree that relativism is dangerous. But it seems no more dangerous than what would be its opposite, blind devotion to moral authority you are afraid of being critical of. I think you could argue that this has actually done a lot more damage historically. Although it's hard to compare, because it's probably fair to say that 99.9% of humans throughout human history have generally acted according to fairly rigid and unquestioned moral codes.

No, you are completely correct. Nearly all crimes in history have been committed by non-relativists. I can understand that people might think that: you know, this absolutism thing is really dangerous, let's just treat everyone equally, let's say that no one has the truth. But the problem is that you don't just undercut the basis of absolutism, you undercut the basis on which we judge and scorn the atrocities committed by absolutists. After all, Hitler thought that what he was doing was right, who are we to say that he was wrong? Sure, it was wrong for you, but it was right for him. It was unpleasant for the Jews who died, but it was pleasant for him to kill all those people. Relativism ends up justifying these atrocities, not preventing them.

I would also not say that blind obedience to an appointed authority it the opposite of relativism. Relativism is the position that all judgments are equal. Objectivism and absolutism would simply have to mean that some judgments are better than others (and these two systems would disagree on how much we can know right now), they say absolutely nothing about whether one should be blindly and uncritically obedient to some authority. The cure for blind and uncritical obedience to some authority is critical thinking, but not jettisoning absolutism and objectivism altogether.