Oldrac the Chitinous wrote:
I call myself a relativist, but I think there are plenty of relativists wouldn't be too happy about my use of the term.
The biggest thing I'm claiming is that morality doesn't exist in a vacuum, but that it's made by people and civilizations. Functionally, what I believe isn't much different from an absolute moral code. A relative moral framework can have implications for other people, just like any other kind. So I'd say "I have determined that burglin' people is wrong," end of sentence, as opposed to "I have determined that burglin' people is wrong, so I will not personally burgle anybody." And it doesn't always
preclude me from interfering with other people; If I saw somebody getting beaten up with a pipe wrench
, I would be under a moral obligation to intervene that supercedes any obligation I have to let people follow their own moral compass. (I also think that, if you're adjusting your principles so that you don't feel guilty, you're doing something wrong.) The taking-of-seats example is a little different, I guess. In that case, I'm assuming that we are both operating under similar moral codes that we get from living in the same society. So it's this presumed shared morality that I'm appealing to, not some kind of universal absolute.
Is it a little solipsistic of me to claim that I can decide what's right and wrong for the whole world? Sure. But ultimately, I'm the only person I'm making decisions for, so it works out okay.
Okay, well here's another point. There are a lot of ideas about what is moral. It is true that each individual tends to come up with their own idea of what is right and wrong. One person may be at one extreme, calling things like smoking or thinking mean thoughts unethical. Another person has decided on the other extreme, and decided that mass killing, rape, et cetera, are no big deal. Most people are somewhere in between, but they all think their moral code is pretty good. They might not think their morality is the best, but they think it's better than most. They look at what another person considers moral, judge that it is not, and so decide that their morality is better.
I propound that any time you judge one morality to be better than another, you are comparing both to some standard absolute morality. In order for there to be a better morality there must ultimately be a best morality. Think of it this way. If you and I went out and found some isolated jungle society that valued murder, rape, and cannibalism, then we would immediately judge their morality to be wrong. We wouldn't think, oh well their general populace agrees on it and it's working fine for them so it's no big deal. I think we would be right in judging their morality to be worse than ours. Now suppose that we were brave enough to introduce ourselves, learn their language, and begin teaching them. Imagine we were successful at completely stopping them from murdering. That would be an improvement in their morality. Then we stop them from rape. That is another improvement. Then we stop them from eating their dead. We have again improved their morality. Then we could move on to smaller things. We could teach them not to steal, cheat, or lie. Again, their morality would be improved. We could go on doing that for a long time, just picking out the worst aspect of their morality and fixing it. Eventually though, we would run out of things to fix. You could not go on improving their morality indefinitely because eventually you would run out of things to fix. Their morality would become perfect. It would conform exactly to the absolute true morality.
If you admit that one morality is better than another, you necessarily admit that there is a best morality. If you admit that, by recognizing human cockfights as immoral, a person has improved their morality, then you necessarily admit that it has become more closely conformed to a standard. If there is no standard, then there is no sense in comparing moralities to each other. Therefore, any arbitrarily chosen morality is exactly as "good" as every previously defined morality. Or rather, no morality is good at all. All of them just are
, because you cannot compare them. If there is no absolute morality, then every human defined morality can be neither good nor bad. They are all just arbitrarily chosen lists of rules that mean nothing. Either there is an absolute standard morality that is true for everyone, or there is no morality at all.
Oldrac the Chitinous wrote:In practice, though, the relativist's laws are just as real as the absolutist's. So, if I say, "I decree that it's wrong to go around stabbing people," it's just as good at informing my actions as if God had said it. Either way, people don't get stabbed. By me.
In this case, your personal morality defines stabbing as unethical, so you don't stab people. That's great. I think we both agree that not stabbing people is good. Wait, but what do we mean by "good?" We have agreed that your morality is right on this point, but how? If there is no absolute morality that says it is good not to stab people, then what sense is there in making a judgment about your morality in this case? What are we judging it against? You and I, without saying anything about it, have same common idea about a standard morality. Without really thinking about it, we judge each person's morality against it. When we agree that it's good not to stab people, we are agreeing on that action's conformance to a common idea, the absolute morality. When we disagree on the ethics of some action, and argue whether it is right or wrong, we are trying to decide whether that action conforms to the absolute morality, but somehow neither of us questions its existence. All of humanity has this nagging voice in its head telling it what is right and wrong. We can't ignore it, yet we can't successfully conform to it either. As Edminster summarized it, we know what is right and wrong, but we're just being dicks. We can't help it.
Edit: expanded paragraph 3 a bit.
Edit2: added paragraph 4 and the preceding quote. I always think I'm satisfied with a post when I hit submit, but then I can't help but sit, reread it, and think about things I want to add.
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." -Oscar Wilde