[extropy-chat] Re: Moral Relativism

Dirk Bruere dirk at neopax.com
Tue May 10 13:42:20 UTC 2005

John-C-Wright at sff.net wrote:

>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. 
Not really, because you have not examined why one feels 'duty bound'.


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