[extropy-chat] Moral relativism
benboc at lineone.net
Sat May 7 09:36:17 UTC 2005
These discussions are getting a bit too much for me - too abstract, too
silly, too confused.
I'd like to ask the moral philosophers on this list some questions, and
hopefully clear up just what is meant by 'moral relativism'.
Here's a hypothetical situation in which decisions need to be made, that
will be guided by moral considerations:
Frank and Sue are relatively poor westerners.
Frank is Sue's stepfather. Sue is 14. She has just discovered she is
pregnant. She is reasonably intelligent, and could to to college and
have a chance to improve her life. But a baby would make that
impossible. Frank is not the father of her baby.
What should Sue decide to do? What should Frank decide to advise her
(assume that they have a good relationship, and she would listen to his
My understanding of things is that a moral absolutist might say
"abortion is wrong, period. It doesn't matter what the circumstances
are, it's just wrong. I've been told this and i believe it, and it
applies to everybody under all circumstances. Sue should have the baby,
Frank should advise her to have it, regardless of what this leads to."
A moral relativist might say "Whether or not Sue should keep or abort
the baby depends upon the circumstances. These include, but are not
limited to, Her attitude towards abortion, her future prospects with or
without a baby at her age, her social and financial circumstances, etc.
Frank should weigh factors such as the importance to him of the
happiness of his stepdaughter, the fact that the baby is not genetically
related to him, the impact of a baby on his family, his estimation of
her ability to make a responsible decision in the matter, etc. These
things cannot be decided by applying a single, rigid rule, because
different things are more important to different people, and
That is what 'moral relativism' versus 'moral absolutism' means to me.
Nothing to do with objective reality, or with 'truth'. Just about what
rules people decide to apply to their behaviour under different
So what do the people here who call themselves moral relativists and
moral absolutists think that Frank and Sue should decide?
(Note: I am equating 'objectivism' with 'absolutism' here. My impression
is that the new pope's issue is with relative moral rules as against
absolute ones, and i think that using the word 'objective' just confuses
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