[extropy-chat] In defense of moral relativism

Samantha Atkins sjatkins at mac.com
Fri Apr 29 12:02:58 UTC 2005

On Apr 28, 2005, at 10:34 PM, Giu1i0 Pri5c0 wrote:

> I believe one should help old ladies to cross the street.
> But I don't think I can justify this in terms of any absolute,
> objective, or whatever morality.

First there is confusion about the fact that our knowledge is limited , 
contextual and then there is an often played false dichotomy between 
some non-existent missing "absolute knowledge" and, since we can't have 
that impossible thing, all our moral notions being utterly relative to 
the point of being wholly subjective and meaningless.

> The universe, as we presently know and understand it, does not seem to
> care about old ladies.

Er, since the universe is not a conscious entity capable of such things 
as caring this is a completely empty statement.

> Others may say, well the old lady is past
> reproductive age and probably has nothing left to contribute to the
> biological or memetic evolution of the human race. She is consuming or
> holding resources that should be given to younger generations. Her
> flat should be given to a younger person who can still have children
> or develop breakthrough ideas. The money of her pension should be put
> to a productive use. Ergo, the moral thing to do is NOT helping her to
> cross the street: the sooner she is killed by a car, the better.

All of those statements are certainly full of subjective opinion about 
the value of human life.  Most of them are opinions none on this list 
hold as valid.    Such opinions cannot be used to build a rational 
useful morality.

> I think this is bullshit. Can I prove that it is bullshit in terms of
> any absolute, objective, or whatever morality?

Objective is very different from "absolute".  It is possible to define 
a rational morality in terms of the nature of the entities involved to 
the extent we understand it within the domain that we can actually 
apply morality to.

>  No. Do I lose any sleep
> on not being able to prove it? Definitely no. I just don't care. I
> have chosen to help old ladies to cross the street, and to hold
> kindness to others as a basic value. It is a choice, not something
> that I can (or want to) prove.

Just not caring leaves the field to dogmatists on one hand and to those 
that make morality meaningless on the other.  Not caring is not in your 
rational interest.

> I think the same can be said of morals: don't ask what is the right
> thing to do, ask what is the best thing to do. Of course then you will
> have to accept values as a given (otherwise, best for what?), but I
> don't see anything bad with this.

Values do not have to be accepted as merely a given.

> Eliezer asks, "How do you rally people to fight for the idea that
> nothing is worth fighting for?". But moral relativism does not say
> that nothing is worth fighting for. It simply acknowledges that "worth
> fighting for" is a value judgment which depends on many factors and
> may vary according to circumstances. You still fight for your ideas,
> but acknowledging that you are fighting for your ideas and not for The
> Truth. Then perhaps you can keep things in perspective and avoid
> committing atrocities in defense of your ideas.

Fair enough.

> This is, indeed, the main reason why I don't like the very concepts of
> absolute truth, or objective morality: the "I Am The Champion Of The
> Truth" stance leads to gassing people for thinking different.

Again. these are not the same thing.

> In summary, I think Pope Benedict was right to identify moral
> relativism as the worse enemy of the Church's dogmatic, inflexible and
> intolerant approach to morality, and that we should openly support
> moral relativism.

Within your limited meaning I see your point.  But there is too much 
all-dissolving ethical slop is in  "moral relativism" for it to be 
anything to rally around.

- s

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