I don’t know what is prompting it, but there seems to have been a recent outbreak of posters in various threads making offhanded remarks about not subscribing to moral relativism. Rather than present various arguments in these various threads, we can consolidate and revisit the topic (which I don’t feel like searching on and which would eventually point to a thread where I was against it myself).
To begin with, let’s tackle the “relativism” part of “moral relativism”. To this end I will enlist the help of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Although there are many different kinds of relativism, they all have two features in common.[ol][li]They all assert that one thing is relative to some particular framework or standpoint.They all deny that any standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.[/ol][/li][/quote]
This covers a wide range of relativism, from epistemological (truth is relative) to moral (good is relative) to aesthetic (beauty is relative).
Relativism creeps up in everyday life so often that I am amazed that it finds so much resistance. Aesthetic relativism is captured quite clearly in the bromide, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This, in fact, is a specific sort of relativism some call appraiser’s relativism. That is, the value (which, in this case is beauty) is relative to the person ascribing the value. The judgment “beautiful” is relative to the person calling it so; there is no logical contradiction reached by one person naming a statue beautiful and another saying it is repulsive.
Epistemological relativism is not so common in everyday terms, what with the idea that “truth” is objective, reality is what it is independent of our judgments. But it would state that truth is relative [to something or other].
It is perhaps this thought which leads us to the judgment that moral relativism is untenable. After all, if something is wrong, isn’t it wrong, period? Widely accepted evils are tossed out, like murder, or molestation, or slavery, and then it is said that a relativist must accept or even condone these things since their wrongness is not inherent or absolute.
This is not quite correct. Let’s go back to our two points from the IEP. The first one states that, for the case of moral relativism, a moral judgment is relative to something. Here we already run into several qualifications.
One of the more common forms combatted (though possibly not actually held) is cultural relativism. In this case, a moral judgment is relative to a culture. In the case of appraiser’s relativism, the moral judgment is relative to the culture of the person making the judgment (this is good because it is good to me). For agent’s relativism, the moral judgment would be relative to the culture of the person being judged (this is good because it is good to them). This is an important distinction. For example, suppose there is a culture that condones slavery. Agent’s relativism would have us judge the action of slavery based on the culture that condones it, while appraiser’s relativism would have us judge the action of slavery based on the culture of the person judging the action.
The form of relativism I promote is more of an individualistic system-based relativism (moral subjectivism); that is, all moral judgements are relative to a person’s moral system, or framework, which may include cultural affects as well as personal opinions and investigations into moral epistemology, or religious views. All these influences serve to create a moral system that an agent adopts, and all moral judgments this person makes are relative to that person['s system]. However, I am for appraiser’s relativism, which indicates that, primarily, moral judgments I make are relative to my system (which, again, may be affected by my parents, culture, subculture, friends, government, and so on and so forth).
The second point of the IEP’s is the one most often misunderstood if not outright disregarded by those that show disdain for moral relativism. It indicates that, for whatever standard is used for relativity (culture, system, religion, and so on), no one standard is uniquely privileged over any other. This has been interpreted to mean many things, like “Every opinion is equally valid” (incorrect), like “You can’t judge other people” (incorrect). Let’s tackle these two, as they have the same rejection.
“Every [moral] opinion is equally valid.” This forgets the first point by misinterpreting the second. The first point says that in order to make a moral judgment, one must be “inside” the framework (culture, system, religion, etc). Thus, to ascribe validity to a moral system, that is, to say that a moral system is good, one must already be acting within a system. While certainly someone might be in a strange moral system that does say “All [moral] opinions are equally valid” the vast majority of moral systems do indeed make judgments. Relativism is not a recipe for moral paralysis (that is, it does not indicate that a person is incapable of making moral judgments), it is a meta-moral system that recognizes the limits of moral justification. I am not forbidden from saying another morality is less valid than my own, I simply am compelled to recognize that part of the reason I make such a judgment comes from my moral system, the one I have adopted implicitly (via culture or parental influence) or explicitly (through my own investigations into moral epistemology).
To summarize the previous paragraph: validity of a moral system is itself a moral question (as it tells us which moral system we should [moral keyword!] choose), and as such, to make such a judgment requires one already have a moral framework in mind; obviously there exist moral frameworks that do not hold that all moral systems are equally valid, so “[Relativism absurdly holds that] all moral systems are equal/equally valid/[etc]” is not correct.
Moral relativism, as I’ve noted, is a meta- system. It is a sort of “wrapper” for ethical systems. Moral relativism is not, in itself, a moral system, though there are some things we may deduce from it.
Important points to consider:
[list=A][li]Relativism is not shown to be incorrect even if there exists a moral pronouncement that is common to all systems (cultures, religions, etc).Relativism is not itself a form of morality.Relativism focuses on the idea that there are limits to moral justification that end at the system level, whatever that system may be.Relativism recognizes the idea that there are limits to human understanding, and thus comes the notion that no system is uniquely privileged.Under moral relativism, the questions we must always ask to make a fair judgement are 1)This is “good” relative to what, and 2) relative to whom? The specific moral perspective (the actual moral system) inside a relativistic framework will be what answers these questions.[/list]…[/li]
So, with that said, I leave the floor to others. I am willing to defend[ul]My version of moral relativismAgent’s relativism,apprasier’s relativism,cultural relativism,or any other variant or subset posters choose to attack;and, I am willing to elaborate to the best of my ability on relativism or moral epistemology in general.[/ul]