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Old 08-21-2011, 10:09 PM
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Default Re: NYT article on moral relativism

Originally Posted by eeeeeeeli View Post
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.

Originally Posted by eeeeeeeli View Post
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.
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