From the Philosophy Cafe, notes on Relativist Morality

From: brokenportal (Original Message) Sent: 10/28/2002 4:35 PM
Hitler wanted to clear Europe of the people he didnt want around to make room for his people.
Our founding fathers wanted to clear America of the people they didnt want around to make room for their people.
Hitler slaughtered jews poles etc..
The U.S. slaughtered cherokee navajo etc..
If this comparison is true and we are forced to hate or admire them equally then can you think of any other comparisons where there is a mass contradiction in beleifs like this? I would love to make a list to help myself and other people alleviate their contradictory thoughts with.

From: Eddie Sent: 11/7/2002 8:54 PM
Hmm… a prof of mine said that a gang in south central L.A. that goes and shoots a member of a rival gang for invading their territory is acting in a moral manner. The morals are not “ours” (implying us so-called normal peoples in the classroom drinking Starbucks coffee and going home to watch the tele), but that in the social order of the gangs the behavior was moral. He said that morality was an understanding of rules of behavior within a given social context. Okay, so he didn’t say those exact words but hey… its been over three years since I took the class.

Anyhoo, the point was made that to these guys the shooting of a rival gang member is moral, but to us it is immoral. A relativistic approach (which I understand is unpopular in this neck of the woods) but doesn’t this hold true. Truth may not be relativistic, but isn’t morality entirely a social phenomenon? If it were just one poor dope on the planet, could he act immorally?

So to the national socialists in Germany, Hitler may have been moral, but to the Brits he was immoral. One culture’s hero is another cultures villain.

From: hawk Sent: 11/7/2002 9:45 PM
Depends on your definition.
When I use the word “moral” the concept includes; yes, it is poeeible to behave morally or imorrally even if entirely isolated, and; no, morality is not srtictly a social phenomenon.
[ If you use a different definition, we can flip a coin to see whose gets “morality-sub-1” and who “morality-sub-2”. ]

To argue that there is not an “absolute morality” is to argue that there exists a correct answer to the question of whether there exists an “absolute morality”. And that argument, itself, is an appeal to an “absolute” correctness of the answer to a question which is inherently and inescapable a “moral” question- and so any argument against absotute morality anhiallates itself.


From: Eddie Sent: 11/8/2002 12:09 AM
I’ve heard that argument before, but I don’t buy it as the end.

A baseball is thrown across the plate. It is neither a ball or a strike until the umpire calls the pitch. The pitch is both an objective event and a subjective judgment. Different umpires call different pitches differently. The “giving up” of the outside corner was the topic of lots of airtimes after a Braves/Astros game.

I am not going to paint myself into the corner that everything is relative. Perhaps that is what appears to be the case, but I’ve not seen anything purely objective. Whether my belief that everything is relative fails to the proof that you supplied as to being null and void seems problematic. Regardless, the pitch is a judgment based upon the perception and experience of the umpire. If you disagree with the umpire’s catch you are not comparing his subjective judgment with an objective one, but with your own subjective one. The call is deemed fair by the manager of one team and unfair by the manager of the other team. Fans in the stands each have their own beliefs and biased perceptions (and perception is very biased is it not?).

A hockey fan sits in the stands and doesn’t bother trying to call the pitch. But he recognizes that all the calls that people are yelling out are relative. The big bald headed guy is furious that the pitch was called a strike because he is rooting for the team that the batter is on. The troop of scouts is happy because the pitcher is a former scout and they are rooting for him.

Now does the hockey player’s viewpoint that all arguments are relative become null and void because of your proof? We know that there is a definite block in space that should the pitch cross it would be deemed a strike, and so it does have absolute definitions. But that definition does not lend itself into reality by itself, but must be interpretted by an umpire. There are acts that are against the species/community (whatever) and might be deemed wrong or evil, or whatever… but they are not such by themselves and must be interpretted by a human.

Another thought. The proof, as far as I understand it, assumes that a relativist accepts no absolute. Why cannot I accept only one absolute, the absolute of the relativity of human judgment? Is this so flawed? It is like you are flipping coins, you know objectively that it will either be heads or tails, but you must admit that things will be random. Does your acceptance of randomness void your belief in the overarching order?

To go back to the baseball analogy, suppose we hook up a machine that projects laserbeams into the batter’s box. Whenever the baseball crossed this area in space it registered a strike. Is this truly objective? Would it be the same with tall batters as opposed to short batters, each with a different strike zone? We’d have to tweak the machine to change for each batter. But with all the advances in calling strikes there is still that element of a possibly wrong pitch call.

Back to the randomness. If you covered every square foot of the earth with data transmitters, there would still exist a random element that would not allow for a completely 100% prediction in the weather. I’m sure you heard this argument before. The amount of seperation between the phenomenon and the observer is the amount of possibile errors in perception. There are debates now on binding in cognition and whether or not we see the same color red as another brain does. I’m not of that camp of thought, but I do appreciate their basis. Now if it can be argued about whether or not you and I see the same shade of red, our perception of an event, the emotional, cognitive, experiential triggers that it affects within you and I are different. Add culture, personal political views, religious influences, family influences… and more and how is it possible that we see the same event in the same manner with the same clarity of judgment (if any). Does debating that all of human perception is relative dismiss from the objective ability to measure that relative perception? No. People recant the now famous “quantum physics has shown that the observer does impact the observed” bit all the time. Fine, I wont becaue that is something that is perhaps waaaay deeper than is meant to be implied here.

The proof that you give uses only absolutes. But what if objectivism didn’t exist at all but was a matter of levels. In a fight with my girlfriend both of us are not objective at all. We are caught up in the emotional turmoil. My co-worker sees everything going on and offers much more objective advice. The further removed we get from the circle of friends, the more objective the advice. The reason why you’d want out of town umpires for the baseball game, they don’t care who wins the game.

I am no math wiz, I never took any in high school. But it seems to me that the proof is ultimately too much like arithmatic, A + B = C kinda stuff, wheras everything that I’ve seen in life thus far resembles some amazingly complex calculus problems where different values can be plugged in different spots at different times.

I stick to my point, that all human judgment concerning morality is relative


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