[extropy-chat] Re: Moral Relativism

John-C-Wright at sff.net John-C-Wright at sff.net
Tue May 10 13:36:45 UTC 2005

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to draw you attention to a peculiarity in
this discussion. In answering the hypothetical about whether a stepfather should
prevent his underage daughter from aborting her baby, notice not what the
answers are, but notice the method of reasoning used. 

If the answerer weighs the girl's desires for a career against her desire for
the life of her child, this answer (whether yea or nay) is a subjective one. For
example, Mr. Prisco answered the girl should spare the child if she wanted, and
slay it if she wanted. His answer is entirely confined to the ambit of the
girl's fourteen-year-old emotion. 

If the answerer weighs the girl’s desires against the changing duties imposed
upon her by changing circumstances, this answer (whether yea or nay) is a
relative one. No one has answered this way, but, supposing someone said, "If the
population of her nation is too low, she must spare the child; but if the
population is too high, she must slay the child." This answer depends on the
situation; in this case, on population numbers. 

Again, no one has answered this way, but supposing someone said, "She should
obey the laws of her land and heed the opinions of her elders, whatever they
are. Only if the general society has reach a consensus that it is right to slay
the child can she slay it." This would also be a relativistic answer; because
this answer would say right or wrong depends on the values and norms of society.

A moral objectivist would weigh, not the desires, but the unchanging duties of
the various parties against each other. 

For example, the Stoic objectivist might say: "Do the duties of a stepfather in
this situation differ from the duties of a father? Does the father have a duty
to protect the life of his unborn grandson? Does the father have the duty to
govern, and the child a duty to obey, when the child is fourteen years of age?
Does a mother have a duty to protect and raise her child? Does this duty apply
to children once born, to children quickened in the womb, or does it apply from
the moment of conception? Does the unborn child have a duty to die so that his
mother may have a career, money or other pleasures?" And so on and so forth.  

But for another example, the Spartan objectivist might say: "Do the duties of
the father include that healthy Spartan children must be born to service the
state? In the case where the daughter is morally corrupt, does this corruption
bring such shame upon her family and tribe that the child cannot be allowed to
live?" And so on and so forth. 

The thing the two objectivist answers have in common is that they are weighing
duties, not desires. Once they reach an answer in their moral calculation
(either a good one or a bad one) the objectivists will hold that the stepfather
ought to do what he ought BECAUSE it is his duty, regardless of whether it is
his desire or not. The subjective component of decision, desire, falls out of
the equation. 


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