[extropy-chat] Re: moral relativism

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Sun May 8 14:54:31 UTC 2005

ben wrote:

> I'm just trying to understand things, same as everybody else. 
> Sometimes this means more muddle before things (hopefully) become 
> clearer. 

Thank you ben, for helping to illuminate the difficulty with the way 
these terms are applied.  It appears muddled because these concepts of 
absolute and relative are a poor match to human affairs which involve 
subjective viewpoints and incomplete knowledge of the context.  Seeing 
the muddle is a step along the way to asking questions about what really 
underlies our evaluation of "right" and "wrong" across a range of 
situations and a range of moral agents from the simple to the more complex.

> I would doubt that Guilio (or anyone in their right mind) would say 
> that people should do whatever they want. This is not what moral 
> relativism is, although many people try to portray it as such.

Of course we would all agree that people can not always do whatever they 
want.  My question to Giulio was to try to clarify what he thinks is the 
underlying principle.  So far now, I think he has said that if a moral 
decision does not involve another person, then one can do what one 
wants, and if it does involve another person then ... what?  He then 
refers to depending on laws, which is another clue to the bigger 
picture.  Laws are part of a larger process involving multiple agents.  
But do they represent a higher level of morality, since they encompass 
more than the individual?  Or might laws become dangerously out of touch 
with the subjective issues of the individual?

By the way, I agree with Giulio that if there is no other moral agent 
involved, one should do as one wants.  I question however, whether there 
is any clear dividing line between actions that do, and actions that do 
not, affect others.  Just about everything we do has indirect effects on 
others, and I think it's most practical to look at these issues in terms 
of expanding circles of context of awareness.  Simply put: actions are 
considered increasingly moral as they are seen to be effective over 
increasing context of agents and their interactions. 

 From this basis we can then proceed to discover and develop principles 
of effective interaction, essentially principles that tend to promote 
cooperative growth.

This thinking has an inherent subjective component, but it is not relative.
This thinking is based on what (increasingly) objectively works, but it 
is not absolute.

- Jef

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