What philosophical theory is this?

A person who believes that there are no such things as “right” and “wrong”. They also believe that everything is subjective.

There are quite a few philosophies that would argue for this point of view. A term that would encompass that theory would be “moral relativist” or just “relativist” in general. This would be used in opposition to the views of an “absolutist.”

Moral relativism is the broad broad category for the belief that “right” and “wrong” are not defined absolutely or objectively and are either dependent on person or culture.

Moral nihilism is the far rarer and fairly narrower category of beliefs that state that “right” and “wrong” are vacous statements and talking about them is as sensible as talking about glirips and volrons.

I would agree with akenett’s general point. Such a person would be a moral subjectivist, but there are quite a few broad philosophies compatible with this view.

Relativism, Moral Nihilism. Thanks guys, but in regards to Moral Nihilism, why don’t more philosophers argue for Moral Nihilism? In theory, I really don’t what is wrong with it.

As I’m not a philosopher and my interest in philosophy is mostly in formal logic and theory of mind I’m not really sure about why moral nihilism isn’t that big. It is possible that it is bigger than I realize and I just haven’t stumbled across it.

Personally I’d guess it has to do with the general tendancy for it to be hard to argue against things we intuitively “know” are true. People intuitively “know” things are right and wrong and that these things have real meaning to them. It is hard to convince people that these sorts of intuitions are wrong and in moral theory you don’t have the same kind of smoking guns that you do in other areas that can blow away intuition.


Well, not completely: Post-modernism embraces the idea that everyone can decide for himself what’s right and wrong, and that everything else can be picked over for things that fit that person’s criteria. It’s a kind of moral relativisim, I suppose, but I think it’s mainly a reaction to Modernism’s straight lines and singularity of purpose.

Post-modernism (quick link) is definitely a subjectivist philosophy. It is neither the first nor only subjectivist philosophy though. I would, however, say that the majority of people you’ll encounter today who are moral relativists are also going to have a lot of post-modern leanings.

You’re right on the money, akennett and The Tim.

With respect to the second question: why no ethical nihilism, the answer is the societal undesirability. While a believer in ethical relativism may coherently think that he must obey the local customs and laws and thereby becomes an upstanding citizen, a believer in ethical nihilism can only coherently obey out of fear for the consequences (criminal punishment, societal outcasting). An ethical nihilist must believe that there is nothing wrong in committing any of a number of gruesome crimes. If he does find that the more heinous crimes are wrong, he is not a complete ethical nihilist. I would advice against adopting ethical nihilism as a private philosophy, or at the very least not to make that fact public. :smiley: I think you probably mean to say that you find relativism more attractive.

Post-modernism, on the other hand, is a rather vague term. Most philosophers who are attributed to be post-modernist vehemently deny this (Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida). There is reason to it, as at least Foucault and Lyotard are not complete relativists. (I can go deeper in this but that would turn into a hijack, and “That would be wrong” (random BtvS quote)).

The post-modern movement in the U.S. seems to be mostly based on Derrida and all this intertextuality, there-is-no ‘hors-texte’ (=outside the text/nameplate) thing. They might be relativist, I’m not too familiar with the precise standpoints, but as I understood those Derridians they would in fact be offended if you claimed to understand their position since they claim that no position, least of all their own, can be fully understood and therefore is never understood at all (this last bit is, to my mind, representative of the form of argument that they are fond of).

You post-modernists out there are of course welcome to disprove this representation of their views.

your views, dammit, your views!

also, once you have decided that you are a nihilist, then there is nothing left to study, and you have done yourself out of a job. Far better to beleive in something intangible, and you can happily spend the rest of your days arguing how many angels would fit on a pinhead

Actually your statement is a clear example of people catching on to popular misperceptions of philosophy. See The Straight Dope on angels on a pin.

This seemingly distrustful comment (but possibly it was meant in jest) is rather uncalled for. I personally do not earn a living (yet?) practising philosophy, yet I find it inspiring to busy myself with the subject. Although I have heard stories of people becoming disenchanted with philosophy and only continuing because they have to make a living (Richard Rorty the most prominent example of this), most academic philosophers I’ve met seem quite sincere in their standpoints. And rightly so.

If you want to debate the respective merits of nihilims and relativism, you’re welcome to it, but I’m afraid that not only would that really constitute a hijack, it would be in the wrong forum as well. Of course if you really are a practical nihilist that might not matter to you. :smiley:

I’m sorry to bring back this old thread but I really don’t see a way around moral relativism, believe me, I’ve been trying. It’s sad but I have now become one and the thought of getting into any sort of philosophical or political argument with someone makes me sick.

Have you investigated Positive psychology or evolutionary psychology as non-arbitrary foundations for an absolute ethics?


No I have not. I’ll check it out though.