How could we truly live in a morally relative environment? Why should society be able to determine what is morally right? Why should it matter that the majority have decided to use the majority process? By what standard is it determined that the majority process seems to work best? If morality is relative, then why are some members of society prevented from practicing their morality? Doesn’t the notion of the common good imply ought for the whole of society? Where does this ought come from? If the ought is relative, then ought I ignore it? If not, then ought I follow it? If not, then where am I left, as an individual, in a society of many?Why does a moral relativist even bother to debate the issue of morality with anyone?
Monday, September 20, 2004
Just your average Joe: a scenario in moral relativism…
In the comments section of Can Religion Tell Us Anything Important? (part 2), I’ve been attempting to clarify the moral relativist position of one commenter by the name of Paul. After several gyrations, I think I was able to define his particular position (see this comment). In so doing, I began wondering what implications, if any, would result if we were take the moral relativist’s position to its logical end. So, let’s look at a moral relativism scenario as applied to just three Average Joes. Premise: The law of the land is decided by the majority. In this context, morality is defined as whatever the majority decides. The majority of the populace has decided each Joe must behead his respective 2nd born daughter. Regardless of whatever reason may be given for such a decision, the point here is that the decision is the result of a majority opinion. Results: Joe(1): Despite what the majority wants, Joe(1) chooses to disobey the majority. The reason why Joe(1) disobeys is that he finds the act objectionable. Joe(1) believes the reason why he finds the act objectionable is not because the act is an absolute moral wrong, but due to influences from his family, society, experiences growing up, genetic makeup, etc. Joe(1) believes that, while he believes the act to be objectionable, if he had grown up in a different environment he might just as well believe the act to be permissible. Joe(2): Despite what the majority wants, Joe(2) chooses to disobey the majority. The reason why Joe(2) disobeys is that he believes the act to be objectionable. Joe(2) believes the reason why he finds the act objectionable is simply because the act is an absolute moral wrong, regardless of the influences from his family, society, experiences growing up, genetic makeup, etc. Since Joe(2) believes the act to be an absolute moral wrong, he also believes that is wrong for everyone at all times. Joe(3): Despite what the majority wants, Joe(3) chooses to disobey the majority. The reason why Joe(3) disobeys is that he believes the act to be objectionable. However, Joe(3) believes that the act, in and of itself, is enjoyable, so he sets out to commit the act on the 2nd born daughters of other men. Joe(3) believes the reason why he finds the act enjoyable is not because the act is an absolute moral right, but because of the influences from his family, society, experiences growing up, genetic makeup, etc. Joe(3) could be considered a sort of alter ego of Joe(1) in that he also believes a variety of external influences have determined how he views reality. In other words, the external influences have determined how he determines what is right and wrong. Discussion: Q: In the land of moral relativism, which Joe is morally right? A: They all are; along with the individual morality beliefs of Joe(4)…Joe(n). Q: In the land of moral relativism, which Joe could rightfully be restrained? A: None of them; since restraining the actions of one over the other implies that the one who is restrained ought to act in a manner that the other mandates. I would argue that hidden within the original premise is the belief that the opinion of the majority should apply to all. Yet such a belief folds in on itself. While a society may decide that murder is legal, it cannot determine murder to be moral. Consider the argument for moral relativism which supposes that on a particular Monday society considers murder to be illegal and morally wrong. On the next day, Tuesday, society votes to define murder as legal and morally right. If we truly live in a morally relative environment, then certain questions should immediately be asked. Questions such as: