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September 14, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

Ethical Relativism is an Utter Cop Out: A Critique of Creeping Amorality

Ethical Relativism is an Utter Cop Out:

Moral relativism is an absolute ruse. Human dignity, fairness, and justice are fundamentals of the human experience. There is even moderate agreement across cultures on these issues (ie Universal Rights of Man). We all sit mouth agape or shudder in horror when genuine atrocities occur.

Moral relativism is a cop out. Its a cop out sold to us by academia and corporations. An acceptance of relativism would make human life unlivable & makes human relationships and values (ie love) pretty meaningless. Its represents the decay of what it means to be connected and human.

Moral relativism is giving into the status quo. Without the language of rights and humanity and dignity–we don’t have any way to speak truth to power. Calling on the shared experiences of humans against the powers that be is an important act of resistance.

What if your parents said there is no objective Ethics or justice for you between you and your older brother who beats you up, we’d be making both a normative claim and an ethical judgement if we took sides in this affair, therefore we will turn a silent ear to your pleas for fairness, accountability, and justice? Similarly when the stakes are multiplied by 100x in the case of extreme forms of humanitarian abuse and torture, the issue of accountability for injustice only escalates.

Not a Forced Choice between Absolute Objectivity & Radical Subjectivity (or Radical Individualism):

Humans need standards and shared reasons for acting. Most all societies have ideas of “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad” based on shared meaning. These often overlap, in the form of respect for the individual, family, and community (as well as basic moral precepts like its wrong to kill). Ultimately, lack of an objective standard is not mutually exclusive with meaningful value systems and judgments.

The Real vs. the Ideal
Our inability to map or describe a concept, ideal, or principle with 100% precision is not a reason to:

Give up on the principle or idea or concept
Deny its existence
Say its equivalent to its opposite (morality & immorality are the same, character and evilness are the same)

Lack of Ethics Destroys the Range of Human Values :
To give up on ethics is to give up on the general welfare.
To give up on ethics is to give up on the right to free speech.
To give up on ethics is to give up on the Constitution.
To give up on ethics is to give up on community.
To give up on ethics is to give up on defense of the individual.
To give up on ethics is to give up on defense of the innocent.
To give up on ethics is to give up on the indefensibility of slavery, genocide, and terrorism.
To give up on ethics is to give up on character.
To give up on ethics is to give up on love.
To give up on ethics is to give up on community.
To give up on ethics is to give up on progress.
To give up on ethics is to give up the meaning of progress.
To give up on ethics is to give up on complexity.
To give up on ethics is to give up on human rights.
To give up on ethics is to give up on solving any problems. (hunger, poverty, peace, disease, ad infinitum)
To give up on ethics is to give up on every cause on earth.
To give up on ethics is to give up on excellence.
To give up on ethics is to give up on justice and fairness.
To give up on ethics is to give up on social justice.
To give up on ethics is to give up on shared value.
To give up on ethics is to give up on freedom, liberty, and autonomy.
To give up on ethics it to give up on holding authority and power accountable.
To give up on ethics is to turn the clock back on all the rights reform since to the 1700’s (and beyond to be honest).
In short, to give up on ethics is to give up……on everything we really value most as humans.

Leaps in Logic: Dissecting the Argument from Subjectivity to Amorality:
If the argument from differences in opinion is correct, the following premises seem to follow logically:
There isn’t agreement or a precise definition of what it means to be courageousness so Abraham Lincoln wasn’t courageous.
There isn’t agreement or a precise definition of what it means to be courageousness so the purple heart winner isn’t courageous.
There isn’t agreement or a precise definition of champion, so Michael Jordan wasn’t a champion.
There isn’t agreement or a precise definition of the common good, so nothing is good and there isn’t any common good.
However, I’m not sure any of the former really follow to the later conclusion. Moreover, the same principle allied to conversation and human relations simply doesn’t make sense (which is where the principle of lack of ethical standards or any standards evicerates the ability to have human relationships–because it turns us all into our own version of Eric Cartman on Maury when he says “What evah…..I’ll do what I want!?!?!?) We all have different perspectives on life, work, family, and relationships–but we have shared ideas which overlap.

Hidden Premises of the Argument from Differences of Opinion (aka Subjectivity):
Here are what I believe to be one or more of the false premises in various versions of the (arguably) faulty and fallacious case for moral relativism:
Absolute 100% agreement on 100% of the issues is a precondition for ethics. Lack of an objective standard is mutually exclusive with meaningful value judgments.
Disagreement on ethical principles isn’t a reason to throw up our hands any more than any other difference of opinions is a reason to give up.
Disagreements are (mostly or totally) un-resolveable.
Disagreements are reason to give up trying to be closer to the standard.

The Conclusion: The Need for a Continuum:
If A = Not A, both shared meaning and value collapses. By actually emptying meaning and a continuum of options–you crush paradoxically crush diversity. For instance, if you say that totalitarian governments and democratic governments are all the same–and are equally oppressive you’ve not only stripped reality of meaning (aka done rhetorical violence), but also destroyed both truth (and the shades thereof) and choice in the process.

I’ll conclude with the incisive words of J.C. Hewitt :
“People argue against objective morality in order to exploit others. If there is no good and evil, and it is all a matter of opinion, then anything may be permitted for classes powerful enough to enforce their will. It is a form of moral parasitism.

Subjectivism is a more powerful weapon for instilling the slave mentality than ten thousand nuclear bombs. If you can convince a person that evil is a matter of opinion, you may train them to accept any sort of brutality. They may acquiesce to or even support mass-murder. They will shower love on a dictator that robs them of their potential, maniacally cheering “Dear leader!”

It is necessary for ordinary people to keep their peers in the subjectivist trap to maintain the social order and protect the masters. Once a person discovers that reality is not a hallucination, they are unlikely to remain submissive. So, the moral slaves around them attack their fellows to preserve social cohesion.

Subjectivism is a more powerful weapon for instilling the slave mentality than ten thousand nuclear bombs. If you can convince a person that evil is a matter of opinion, you may train them to accept any sort of brutality. They may acquiesce to or even support mass-murder. They will shower love on a dictator that robs them of their potential, maniacally cheering “Dear leader!”
It is necessary for ordinary people to keep their peers in the subjectivist trap to maintain the social order and protect the masters. Once a person discovers that reality is not a hallucination, they are unlikely to remain submissive. So, the moral slaves around them attack their fellows to preserve social cohesion.

To be continued……at a later date…..and probably in a more essay-like form…. I have written a follow up…..with a rather similar line of argument, which can be read here: Toward Agreement on Human Values and Ethics It tries to outline some additional values which could be the basis for agreement.

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