more from philosophy cafe on relativism

From: spacer Sent: 12/19/2002 5:20 AM

Friedrich,

1. Why Friedrich cannot read.

Spacer now says that “postulated to be true” is equivalent to “believed to be true.” There can be no equivalence between the concepts of “belief” and “truth.”
I am not attempting to make an equivalence between “belief” and “truth”. I am making an equivalence between “belief” and “postulate”. This is why they both come before the “to be true” part.

One may believe X, whether X exists or not. But one may not affirm that it “is true that X,” if X does not exist.
I agree with this, and it is why I say that there is no ethical truth, because good and bad do not exist. However, one may still believe things to be good or bad.

And now we can put my statement back into its rightful meaning, from which you have distorted it:
“Just because a relativist makes judgments of value that are postulated (believed) to be true does not require that objective ethical truths exist.

This is no different from your statement above that “One may believe X, whether X exists or not.” Or, in other words, one may believe X, but this does not require that X exists.

2. Why it is a mistake to collapse the distinction between truths of fact and truths of ethics.

I believe that we can reason with persons who do evil as follows: “Just as you would not wish to experience torture or to be murdered along with your family members or to be robbed, so you can not do these things to others. If you do such things, then morally you forego the right to be secure in your entitlement to safety from injury or robbery or murder.”
Your key statement here is: “I believe we can reason with persons who do evil…” Firstly, it is your judgment of their actions that they are “doing evil,” rather than making any appeal to the objective good or evil which you claim exists. If two people or groups hold conflicting ethical beliefs there is no such external object that we can verify our actions against so as to determine that one group is objectively on the side of good and the other on the side of evil. Secondly, for you to say “morally you forego the right to be secure in your entitlement to safety from injury”, then you must have in mind some external securer of such a right. Obviously, this is nothing but a threat on your part, that you will exact an “eye for an eye” type of punishment if one acts against what you believe is morally right. I do not wish to make a value judgment on such a threat, but I do wish to note that there is no external good or bad to which you are appealing. Good and bad only exist among our moral agreements. Therefore, they are purely subjective entities.

If you say that ethical truth depends on one’s culture; then this claim itself can only be true in one culture or another that accepts it.
I have not said ethical truth depends on one’s culture. I have said that there are no ethical truths. Ethical beliefs depend on one’s culture.

3. “There are no ethical truths” is not an assertion of ethical truth, but an assertion of objective truth. Therefore, it is not self-refuting.

To say that “there are no ethical truths” is to asert at least one ethical truth, that there are none.
Ethical truths, if they were to exist, would be a subset of all truth. On the higher level of “all truth” one can make the assertion that the lower level “ethical truths” don’t exist in objective reality. To claim that “there are no ethical truths” is not itself an ethical truth, it is an objective truth. Your collapsing of these levels, I believe, comes from your belief that there do exist ethical truths, which places the two on the same level. Therefore, when I assert that “there are no ethical truths”, you make the leap to “there are no truths at all,” which is not my position.

There is no statement about ethics that is merely descriptive, merely saying what is, nor is there such a statement that does not have ethical implications.
By “implications” you make the implicit assertion that one who believes that ethical truths don’t exist must necessarily be led to act differently from one who believes that they do. As I said to Emma, the onus is on you to show why this must be the case.

Since Nietzsche only said “there are no truths”, whether or not he was referring specifically to ethics, it is to this quote alone that Roger Scruton claims that “Logic cries out against this remark. For is it true? Well, only if it is not true.” The same could not be said if the statement were “there are no ethical truths”, due to the different levels of the two statements which I outlined above. The former refers to all truth. The latter refers to one object (ethical truth) within this entire objective truth.

By claiming that the assertion (“there are no ethical truths”) is a mere statement of fact, you make things worse for yourself, since you have been claiming precisely that there are no ethical facts.
You continue to confuse a value judgment that X is good, bad, right or wrong (ethical truth), with a statement of fact that X does or does not exist (objective truth). When I say there are no ethical facts, I am not asserting the ethical truth that something is good, bad, right or wrong, but rather, asserting the objective truth that good, bad, right and wrong have no existence in reality.

(i) Relativism claims that there are no truths in ethics because all claims must be derived from one’s cultural or historical or some other perspective;
Ethical relativism makes this assertion about all ethical claims, yes.

(ii) Relativism claims that relativism itself is not derived from anyone’s perspective or subjective point of view or cultural bias, but is simply how it is;
Now you make the leap to relativism of fact and, again, collapse the levels I have established. Since I am not a relativist about fact, I can make the objectively true assertion that ethical relativism is simply how it is, without refuting myself. Since I am an objectivist about fact, then it is the same as if I were to make the assertion that unicorns do not exist. That is, ethical truth does not encompass all truth, but is a subset of all truth.

(iii) Relativism creates an exception for itself to its own absolute claim, and therefore refutes its own assertion that there can not be a perspective-transcendent truth claim with regard to ethics.
Again, you are not merely speaking of ethical relativism here, but factual relativism. Then, you throw in “with regard to ethics” almost as an afterthought. The same argument doesn’t apply to both factual and ethical relativism, simply because they both have “relativism” in their titles.

From: Eddie Sent: 12/19/2002 1:53 PM

I gotta tell you, this is better than cable t.v. As much as some might be tired of it, I am immensely enjoying the dialogue (yes, I use that word) between Spacer and Friedrich. Friedrich, on this particular subject, is opposite of my views but he gives me a moment of pause to consider his points, and Spacer is similar to my own views and he did a smashing job of illustrating a point that I had failed to properly describe.

But, time out on the field here. It is the end of the first half and both teams move toward their locker rooms. The crowd begins to make their way to the concessions for beer and nachos. We’re going to pause for a station break and return with a first half analysis.

Okay, so we’re back, boy what a wild first half. It sure was Peter, did you think that their half-court zone man defense would stand a chance against the assault of three pointers? I sure didn’t. That point guard was simply on fire tonight. You bet he was, it was raining threes out there. Somebody get me an umbrella.

The key to both teams is that they are thinking like basketball players. But what if we put out a hockey team out there to play some b-ball with them? Oh, the personal fouls and trips to the free throw line would be immense. That is if there were any members of the opposing team still able to stand up.

A curious thing comes to mind, Peter. Last night I had gotten home late and read some of Thomas Nagel’s What is it like to be a bat?. Nagle writes about the difficulty in fully comprehending the subjective experience of another. Sounds like some heavy reading there Bob. Compared to the sports page, it was. But it got me thinking Peter. We sit here all the time and talk about the players as they go out on the court and the intensity of the game, the shot to beat the buzzer. Yeah, like the doozy of a bomb in last night’s game. Yeah, you bet. But how much do we really know about what the athlete is going through when he is standing at the free throw line? Do those little noise makers really distract him? I remember Signpost Jones saying that he loves the noise and he would always egg the crowd on from the court, waving his arms up and yelling at the crowd to give him more noise. But remember when he retired and he said that he actually hated the noise, that it disrupted him? Yeah, that was a shock, I didn’t expect that. He said that he was trying to psyche out the crowd to maybe calm down a little because he knew if they knew it bothered him they’d go nuts. He also said that it was part of his nature to attack an obstacle instead of hiding from it.

Well the teams are coming out onto the court now. Any last thoughts Peter? Yeah Bob. Both of us are former basketball players and so we have an idea of what is going on in the minds of the players out there on the court. We try to relay that info to the viewers, the Davies and Jeremeys out there who never played basketball and don’t understand not only the mechanics of the game but the mental and physical skill involved. It heightens their enjoyment to understand all of this just like one who understand music fully is able to better enjoy Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. But we are both continually surprised by the reactions and behaviors of the players, and their motives.

And there’s the buzzer Pete. Thanks for tuning in for the half time report, and now back to the game.

Cheers.

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