recent rumblings in The Philosophy Cafe

From: Eddie Sent: 12/15/2002 1:31 AM
There is some mud slinging going on here it is true. But it is nothing compared to other groups I visit. The Philosophy Cafe is quite peaceful compared to many.

I am still pretty much a relativist. I know that there are lots of posts on here with the opinions of some that one cannot possibly be a very good philosopher and hold a relativist view.

I am reminded of times in the past couple of years, particularly while living in Houston, when a conversation turned toward environmentalism. Many times the end all be all point of the anti-environmentalist was “do you drive a car?” If I did drive a car (which in Houston it is nearly a necessity), according to their logic it ruled out any validity in my environmentalist views.

The counter by those arguing against relativism that the claiming of relativism itself supposes an absolute. It seems to me that the objectors of relativism seek to place us as cousins of nihilists.

I wonder if perhaps there isn’t a deist side to the argument. Does the debate on morality itself hold the belief of some higher power (whatever flavor it might be)? If one argues against relativism, and yet holds that there is no higher authority, from where does the absolute morality issue from?

I have been living in my new apartment for four months now. Tonight was when I finally added the last pictures and posters on one long wall. Until tonight it has been blank. I find that the entire character of the room and my relation within it has changed. Experience might be similar to that blank wall, and the paintings that we hang upon it, the heuristics we use to approach the reality of our existence, change the character of that existence.

Now I keep going through these various posts, looking at some of the arguments for and against relativism and other ideas on morality. But I am still unconvinced. One person might give me an equation of logic, something that is an irrefutable proof that relavism is foolish. But seriously, in all practicality does logic itself solve everything? Many philosophers seem to have the highest regard for logic (perhaps not because of the utility of it, but for the complete and utter illogical thoughts and actions of the vulgar society around them?). Yet it strikes me as curious that with all of the great minds throughout history, with our wonderful calculus and ordered layers of logic, that people still act in irrational ways, and the same problems and struggles that were here long ago are with us still. I cannot help but wonder if Bush would play the fiddle while Washington DC burns down.

If anyone has good arguments or can enlighten me as to why I am such a damned fool for being an existentialist relativist, I am all ears.


From: Friedrich Sent: 12/15/2002 9:34 AM

You go on believing whatever you want to believe. Belief need not be rational or logical. Relativism is philosophically highly problematic, but if an adherent of relativism says “I agree it’s not logical, but it’s what I believe,” then that’s the end of the argument. As for objectivity in ethics, those who espouse such views rely not on God but on reason as the external source of truth in ethics. This point is debatable. It is conducted, however, entirely on the merits.

From: Quatrain Sent: 12/15/2002 9:46 AM

You’ve piqued my interest; “As for objectivity in ethics, those who espouse such views rely not on God but on reason as the external source of truth in ethics.” In what way do you see reason as external? How is it possible to hold that view? I’ve never found reason as such in any external objects or events, only objects or events to reason about (although some say I reason poorly).

From: Friedrich Sent: 12/15/2002 9:57 AM

I have the opposite reaction. I cannot imagine how anyone might believe that reason is purely subjective, given the universality of both mathematical relations and the principles of logic.

From: Quatrain Sent: 12/15/2002 11:17 AM

Your response is incomprehensible. First you assert that reason is external, whatever that means, and then you fly off into some other topic entirely. I fail to see how responding that reason is not subjective, which is a difficult proposition to prove, affirms the notion that it is external. Nor do I see how citing the fruits of reason establish your case. Without reason, mathematics and logic would be terra incognita.

I really dig The Philosophy Cafe. Though nothing has yet swayed me from relativism in the world of ethics. I notice that there are some who take offense when I say that morals are relative. The key here is to say that “morals are relative”. You see, in that statement I note their existence. It would do no good for me to say that beeblebosques are obtuse, for there is no such thing as a beeblebosque. To say that morality is relative is quite a far distance from saying that there is no evil in the world, but the source and definition of that evil is understood by me to be from a different source and not an essence all its own. When a person breaks down the components of a coffee cup, the molecular structure of the compounds and elements used come into play. Add to this the manner in which the coffee cup was made. But no where is there the notion that a coffee cup has 0.0001683% evil essence in it. For good and evil to be objective it would have to be thus. This doesn’t say that evil doesn’t exist however. A painting might be said to be beautiful, but it is not beautiful in an objective manner. And so we venture into the creation of the coffee cup, perhaps its personal history, and in this imbibing of the personal into the coffee cup it retains some of our essence.

There are a million different environments, circumstances, and interactions, and all we’ve got to chalk it up to is good or bad, pass or fail. Yet as inadequate it might sound it does pass. Our brains are amazingly able to pick up on situational cues and translate sensory perceptions. When I buy coffee out of the vending machine in the break room at work and a co-worker asks me how is it, I tell him it is good. However, taking the coffee home where I have five varieties in my refridgerator the vending machine coffee is completely outclassed in taste and were I to try it at home I would not hesitate to dump it in the drain. Yet at work the inquiring co-worker is feasibly able to make the judgement on the circumstances at hand. It is a vending machine, it costs fifty cents, it is late at night, there is no hope of leaving work on time and there are two more orders to fulfill, it is cold and raining outside. Amid all of these considerations the weak, watery, and bland coffee is termed “good” by myself. What is more amazing is that when I hear the same co-worker, after buying a cup and answering another inquiring worker on its quality that it’s not Starbucks but it is good. He had not only picked up on the situational cues of my verdict (which we often do implicitly), but he did so explicitly, which was reflected in his answer to the worker concerning the coffee.

Friedrich’s claim of an objective and universal reason. I do not believe for one moment that it exists as we understand it. The closest thing that I’ve seen to this is the wonderful wheel of natural selection. If it is objective, then it can exist without humans. I was going to ask the question if whether or not good and evil would exist were there no humans around, but with the appearance of a sacred cow I cannot resist a hamburger. So I change my question. Without humans, would math exist?


Our math is a product of our invention and it is refined over the ages. Yet is is not complete. There are still much that is unknown and the predictive power of equations do not give claim to their wholeness. Because one can predict the placement of a planet in three hundred years, or figure out the operative temperature to apply glue to a malleable surface to be placed on particle board does not itself prove that math is driving what is occuring. The phenomena and the description of it are different events. Because I can talk about the mathemetics of a thunder cloud does not mean that math drives it. Math is the descriptive tool of symbols which allows me to better understand the processes at work. With man gone, there is no math, but the processes which we applied math to understand would continue to act. With man gone, good and evil would end.


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