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August 24, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

Another diatribe against relativism in morality and ethics

Amorality or relativism sounds well and good if you approach life from 1000 foot view, but where the rubber meets the road it just flat out fails & fails hard.

Relativism is a logical and practical dead end…
Is character is irrelevant? That courageous people who formed our nation or saved us and the Jews from the Nazies were noble? To suggest that further suggests that teachers, doctors, and public servants are spinning their wheels. They might as well be on Wall Street and that the vocabulary which separates the good from the bad financial advisor isn’t particularly meaningful–they are just investors (not good, bad, ethical, transparent, genuine, and family loving Wall Street investors–just investors. Just people for that matter–because what they do doesn’t matter or make ultimate or collective meaning.)

Values Are the Pre-requisite to Innovation and Progress:
Humans need values, norms, standards, goals, boundaries to make sense of the world–and for shared efforts toward greatness.

Think Wikipedia–even wikipedia has rules. Community is the prerequisite to high-level innovation, creativity, and progress. You need common understandings and principles to reach shared goals and objectives.

Trade and commerce is another example. You need rules of fair and honest trade in order to have an efficient functioning trade system so that people can survive and optimize its potential as well as so society can advance.

Even our greatest inventors from Steve Jobs to Edison and Ben Franklin lived by principle and value and even created heuristics for living well.

Whens the last time a company without a mission statement entered the Fortune 500?

When is the last time a dadaist formed an amazing company?

Practical examples prove….

So its permissible to cheat your brother and do violence to the innocent? Without out a language of ethics to speak to personal responsibility, we are left with no reason to hold people like ENRON, Bernie Madoff, or Kim Jung Ill the third responsible? I’m sorry killer, betrayer, rapist, and genocidal maniac aren’t just empty signifiers. They mean things. They particularly mean things to the victims. In contrast, love, community, and relationship mean something beyond mere survival (if the world was just sex & survival, we would see a vastly different world. Sure, some allow themselves to be caught up in that, but for every one of them there are 300 or 500 who find genuine meaning in other people and in searching out truth and leaving the world a better place.) If you feel otherwise, I’m sure you wont mind sharing your all financial info on the web. Something in (most) all humans shirks at such a suggestion. We don’t 100% agree–but we have general principles which we agree on (for instance a majority of those codified in the UN Declaration of Rights). Sure this has varied over time–but we create meaning via community.

Meaning is dynamic doesn’t deny values, principles, and ethics…
That the meaning isn’t stagnant, doesn’t mean the meaning isn’t incredibly important. This position denies value in the universe. If value value and purpose don’t exist…there isn’t a reason to get up in the morning. The meaning progresses is one of the great parts of being human–its what enables us to have “flow” experiences and gives meaning to the ebb & flow & progress in history.

Ethics are key to rights…
Our moral language as well as our rights language serves an important purpose both in terms of our internal experience as humans, but also in terms of a functioning society (ie ethics serves a valid purpose even if it can’t be scientifically verified).

Disagreement alone is insufficient…
Sure, disagreement exists in the universe, but thats everything, that doesn’t deny that the act of seeking truth, or the act of seeking meaningful and loving relationships isn’t important. And those interpretations don’t mean that the transcendent doesn’t exist, only that we can’t agree on what the transcendent is. It doesn’t deny the importance of the transcendent.

This isn’t to say that anthropology and psychology don’t offer value, but rather the types of truth they provide aren’t sufficiently meaningful in this case to create a conclusion or whatever truths they provide have to be understood in the context of larger truths about history, meaning, philosophy, human relations (and even logic).

That ethics serve other ends (utility, psychology, or whatever) is irrelevant . Its like saying knowledge serves some other end–so there is an agenda there. Thats silly. Sure, its intellectually interesting–but its not mutually exclusive with other interpretations. Suggesting such is like buying into the polarization of nurture vs. nature debate….which seems to be have been resolved as both/and.

We need standards of excellence…not wet noodles…
Sure, the curvature of history tilts toward striving. Striving for better family, striving for better community, striving for personal goals, and more recently even making the world a better place. Thats hardly a cold dark abscence of value and purpose and meaning that I’ve heard previously ascribed to human life without transcendent values (or even more localized ones).

Hence, these new evolution and psychology arguments are just the old anthopology argument in drag (with this seasons latest academic fashion added for book sales). I don’t find it particularly persuasive.

A general rejection of violence is key to our discussions & free speech….
In fact, the very notion that civil discourse trumps violence–which enables our conversation is founded in the idea of equality, respect, and ethics. Its as if we’re bouncing on a trampoline, and in mind air we’re questioning the existence of the very trampoline we’re bouncing on or the air breathing through our lungs.

General agreements are sufficient for ethics….
Even if someone was to prove that we can’t make or codify “universal moral judgements”–it is the case in community those codes and sources of identity have important moral worth (even if they can’t be put in the test tube or on laboratory scales or be pinpointed with laser accuracy.) If laser accuracy was the end all be all of truth–we would give up on journalism, academia, and along with that human endeavors like art, culture, and communication entirely.

But, no, those have meaning & purpose. Even if evolutionary. Again, supposed evolutionary roots or evolutionary ends is 100% not mutually exclusive with transcendence or the importance of finding it or seeking it. It might well be that if Plato’s cave doesn’t have meaning, that history doesn’t either.

One Comment

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  1. compassioninpolitics / Sep 10 2013 10:25 pm

    I’ve added in a comment from another thread–but it makes points along the lines of relativism:

    “My answer to that would be that the absolute perspective does not matter at all as we will never be able to perceive it the way it is” This seems to give up on the pursuit of both truth and Truth. There has to be something beyond mere pragmatism or utilitarian practice which is the basis of our goals.

    Rights can’t be trumps in a meaningful way without an absolute or near absolute value placed on the value of individual dignity without a meaningful focus or priority placed on truth. Also, multiple perspectives check and/or point in the same direction. We can’t ever know who committed a crime isn’t a justification for not having a criminal justice system. Similarly, its not a reason to attempt to integrate our inferences and truths to point toward Truth.

    In terms of your two maxims. It would seem that you are describing universals. Second, I think the word partial or biased….versus relative is more meaningful for creating a dialog on such issues. The associations with “relative” (or the generalness) are simply to great to justify using it as a word to have a meaningful dialog on the issue. I realize thats in the title–but I just think partial or some version of biased is perhaps more helpful.

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