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Is relativism as flawed as dogmitism?  RSS feed

 
Amedean Messan
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Had a good discussion with somebody I would like to quote here:

Person wrote:We're not religious, we're not specific enough about ethics, we're not going to give any kind of doctrine about what is right from wrong, and that is a big problem in this country! We've raised a couple of generations on principles of moral relativism and now we have people who think that no one has the right to tell them what to do.


Open floor.
 
Dave Burton
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I think these are some good questions to address if people want to discuss this topic.

What is relativism?
What is dogmatism?

What is a religion?
What is the value of religion?
Is there a better alternative?

What makes you think ethics is an issue in this country specifically?
Aren't ethics just as much of an issue worldwide as they are here?

What is an ethic?
What is morality?
Is there a difference?

What is a basic principle upon which everyone behaves?

Here is a good video to get us started:


I think a similar thread- reality about morality- is similar enough that it addresses most of the issues that might be brought up in this discussion.
 
Amedean Messan
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The video was entertaining but I do not believe it addressed the questions (there are many in the quote to draw from) sufficiently in the nature they are employed.


What is relativism?
What is dogmatism?

What is a religion?
What is the value of religion?
Is there a better alternative?

What makes you think ethics is an issue in this country specifically?
Aren't ethics just as much of an issue worldwide as they are here?

What is an ethic?
What is morality?
Is there a difference?


Most of these questions from above can be answered with a dictionary, but observing the pattern in its usage it appears to encourage relative thinking. This is a school of thinking partly described and criticized by the quote I gave. Thank you for your comment.
 
brad millar
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If someone tells me I can't do the things I'm doing, when they don't harm another person, nor infringe upon their rights, I tell them to fuck off.
 
elle sagenev
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I think it's more that we've raised kids to be narcissists.

YOLO anyone?
 
Jennifer Richardson
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now we have people who think that no one has the right to tell them what to do


I'm not convinced that anyone does. The whole concept of authority is to me suspicious. It seems to imply that someone else's will or desire is more valid than mine, and that that somehow gives (or ought to give) them the right to control my behavior.

Now, when said behavior clearly impinges on someone else, I think the "victim" ought to be able to curtail the behavior--for instance, you're not free to murder me, or to pour gasoline in my water supply, or pollute our common atmosphere, or whatever, because it's obviously detrimental to me and/or other people; one person's freedom by necessity entails another person's unfreedom, to a degree.

But the idea that anyone has or should have "moral authority" to dictate behaviors that are not demonstrably harmful to someone else, I can't really agree with.

Of course there are all sorts of exceptions and gray areas: is it harmful to someone else if I simply choose not to do something that would help them, and it is therefore wrong--for instance, am I morally obligated to save someone who's drowning, even if I didn't push them in; what if something is harmful in an intangible way or the harm is debatable (for instance, some people believe that is is harmful to children to be raised by gay parents, or that vaccinating--or not vaccinating--children is a crime, or that CO2 is--or is not--actually contributing to climate change, etc.); what if something is harmful but in such a minor way that we instinctively feel that personal freedom or fun or pleasure is more important than the harm done (for instance, it's "harmful" in a sense to feed your kid birthday cake, but I think most people would prefer a world in which kids can indulge in junk food once a year to one where such practices are prohibited by law, etc.); what if something is harmful but we are unwilling to impose the conditions necessary to correct it, or feel that such an imposition would itself be immoral (for instance, it has been shown that children of single mothers and children who are not breast-fed are disadvantaged in many ways; still I think most of us would not be willing to abolish divorce or premarital sex or throw women who can't/don't want to breast feed in jail, etc.); what if something is not harmful but merely disliked--ought others be able to impose it on us then? What if something is harmful, but prevents a greater harm, and so on and so forth. But I'm sure my basic point is clear--"my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins," etc.

But the idea of some external authority (whether divine or governmental or philosophical or filial or whatever) which dictates morality and which some people can appeal to in order to impose their will on others...that I don't buy. To me, the "burden of proof" is on the person desiring to impose their morality on others--what's so special about them that they get to supersede the wills and judgments of others? Unless they can explain to me what exactly gives them the right to tell me what to do, and why their beliefs about how I should act are more important than my own, they can take a walk, as far as I'm concerned. For instance, I have never been convinced that just because a majority of people in my state or country voted for some jerk, that I have a moral obligation to follow whatever law he decides to pass, or that a cop or a priest or a parent has a moral (as opposed to legal or practical) right to dictate my behavior.

This is not to say that I don't instinctively feel that some things are "just wrong" despite not being actively harmful or that sometimes relativism goes "too far," but I can't really see how my personal feelings & distaste are really a justification for imposing my moral judgments on others, and I certainly can't accept than some other person's personal feelings are a justification for imposing their moral judgments on me (what if the other person happens to be Fred Phelps, for instance?), and I don't accept that certain people or categories of people ought to be elevated over others so that their judgments count and others' don't, and I know that widespread agreement on a subject is no guarantee of moral acceptability (see slavery, the historical treatment of women, the adoration of economic growth despite ecological consequences, etc.), so I am pretty much left with the conclusion that no one has the right to tell me what to do, and that I don't have the right to tell anyone else what to do, barring the "your fist, my nose" situations outlined above.

 
Amedean Messan
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Jennifer Richardson wrote:
The whole concept of authority is to me suspicious. It seems to imply that someone else's will or desire is more valid than mine, and that that somehow gives (or ought to give) them the right to control my behavior.....

But the idea that anyone has or should have "moral authority" to dictate behaviors that are not demonstrably harmful to someone else, I can't really agree with.....

But the idea of some external authority (whether divine or governmental or philosophical or filial or whatever) which dictates morality and which some people can appeal to in order to impose their will on others...that I don't buy.....

but I can't really see how my personal feelings & distaste are really a justification for imposing my moral judgments on others....



Good perspectives and that pretty much is a good pitch of that philosophy. I think it evades an evident truth however that we are all interconnected. My individual actions affect the livelihood of others without choice. Not only is the action of imposing our beliefs controlling, it is also an action to protecting our immediate interests and we ALL do this.

For example, I don't think anyone here can truthfully say they don't impose their beliefs to others when they challenge people to recycle waste, conserve the forests, go vegan, build natural, etc....

A similar discussion I have heard in a previous discussion, I will try to quote from memory here:

anonymous person wrote:
Why should I have a say how people should have sex you asked? Well, when we get rid of all welfare in this country then we can seriously have this discussion because in one way or another I as a tax payer will have to subsidize their mistakes because personal irresponsibility is subsidized here!

 
Jennifer Richardson
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I think it evades an evident truth however that we are all interconnected. My individual actions affect the livelihood of others without choice. Not only is the action of imposing our beliefs controlling, it is also an action to protecting our immediate interests and we ALL do this.


True. But I think most people would agree, practically speaking, that there's a limit to how much control others should have over our behavior (or we should have over theirs), despite the fact that we are all connected. For instance, maybe the way Joe (random guy I just made up) treats his kids affects how his kids treat Shigeru's kids at school (another dude I made up). Nonetheless, I think virtually no one believes that Shigeru therefore has the right to go over to Joe's house whenever he wants to perform random inspections and tell Joe how he can and cannot interact with his own kids, what he can feed them, how much exercise they get, etc. Or say that I am a fruitarian and believe that it is wrong to kills plants for food, and it is deeply distressing to me to see my next door neighbor harvest his carrots. Again, virtually no one, however, really believes that he should have to stop growing carrots because it causes me emotional pain. On the other hand, if my next door neighbor were killing my pets to make sausage out of them, or Joe was encouraging his children to attack Shigeru's kids with baseball bats every day, most people would believe that the offended parties had a right to curtail that behavior. But then we're left with a morality that's determined by "what most people think," which as I said before, I don't really view as inherently more valid than "what one person thinks" (you're less likely to be held hostage to the whims of one nutball, but on the other hand, entire societies are perfectly capable of reaching moral consensus in favor of completely egregious things, so I don't view it as any guarantee of morality).

It is convenient if you can instead go by "what God thinks," if you have a sufficiently stable and homogenous and (some would say) superstitious society that most everyone who lives there can agree on what God thinks. The problem with this is that 1) a lot of people don't believe in God(s); 2) those that do believe often still don't agree on how He thinks they ought to behave; 3) those that do believe tend to think that believers in different Gods or even in the same God with a different twist are not only wrong, but possibly ought to die, and it often leads them to do things that would be considered morally wrong if it weren't for the fact that they were doing them in the name of God; 4) some of the things that people decide God does/doesn't want us to do are either outright trivial, have nothing to do with "morality" as most people would understand it, are actively wrong going by any other moral standard, or seem to be oppressive toward particular groups (gays, women, other ethnic/religious groups, etc.)

The only way people will willingly submit to a moral code that they dislike or disagree with or find incoherent is if they genuinely believe that God exists and that He made up these rules. Without belief in a superior being, I cannot see how an absolute moral code can exist. Things like government (bureaucrats & politicians) or elders or an elite of some sort can stand in as "superior beings" of a sort, but I don't think they actually are, and most people recognize this on some level, and so I don't see how moral absolutism can function in today's world, and especially not comparatively between cultures or even generations.

Before, I proposed "demonstrable harm" as a standard to apply in determining whether I ought to have the right to impose my beliefs on others and to what degree. That doesn't really solve the problem--as I said before, some harm can be demonstrated but is so trivial or so indirect that we don't think it gives someone a right to interfere. But I can't think of a better litmus test, really, certainly not an absolute one.

There are also practical limits--the quote you mentioned about controlling how people have sex is one example. It's often true that people's irresponsible behavior gets subsidized in a society in which risk is socialized to a degree (a "welfare state"). On the other hand, what are we going to do, have a penis inspector who goes around and makes sure everyone is suited up before they get it on? Medical costs are also spread out, to a degree, but is someone out there going to tally up the donuts I buy at every check out counter in town and attach trackers to my body in order to ensure I spend sufficient time each day exercising at a moderate pace because other people might end up contributing to my eventual treatment for diabetes? Should I have to undergo genetic testing, along with any potential partners, in order to determine that our future children are unlikely to possess any heritable disorders that might cost future taxpayers money? I am also frankly suspicious of the motives of most people who make these kinds of arguments--I think mostly they feel an impulse of disgust or judgment or superiority, and then rationalize it with such arguments. Of course not in all cases, but often.

For example, I don't think anyone here can truthfully say they don't impose their beliefs to others when they challenge people to recycle waste, conserve the forests, go vegan, build natural, etc....


Hmm, I think there is a big difference between a moral judgment being encoded in law and punishable thereby, versus it being enforced by widespread social shunning and discrimination (or even cold/hostile behavior on an individual basis), versus it just being something that you are simply asked to do/not to do. I don't think that asking someone to recycle is imposing my beliefs on them. If I get together with the whole town and refuse to speak to them until they start recycling, yeah, that would be a form of enforcement. If I fine them, throw them in jail, or summarily execute them, that's definitely imposing my beliefs on them! Human beings will always naturally try to get others to behave as we want them to behave, but we do have a choice about the means we use to do so.

 
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