2 Today Follows the Stephen Law reading Relativism Moral Relativism basicsSome available positions
3 Relativism There are no independent truths All truths are relative to some framework or otherE.g. Some person, culture etc.So, what is true for you might not be true for meTime might seem objective… but it’s actually relative
4 The Great MysticaLogical scientific reasoning is not the only system of belief/knowledgeOpen your mind to what you don’t yet understand!Judged on New Age standards, astrology is a very sensible practice!So, the claims made by astrology are true (relative to new age ways of thinking)
5 Interesting vs. Boring Relativism Boring relativism doesn’t involve contradictory ‘truths’:Dan likes tofu, so tofu is nice for himJohn thinks tofu tastes like rotten eggs, so it’s not nice for himInteresting relativism does:Dan believes in astrology, so it’s true for himJohn thinks its rubbish, so it’s not true for him
6 Is All Truth Relative?‘All truths are relative’ could be absolutely or relatively trueIf it’s an absolute truth, then it contradicts itselfIf it’s a relative truth, then… what do you think?
7 Is All Truth Relative? 2Dan: ‘All truths are relative (including this one)’Smart Student: ‘So, whatever I think is true is true… for me?’D: ‘Exactly!’SS: ‘So, if I think it’s true that “all truths are absolute”, then it’s a relative truth that “all truths are absolute”… but that’s a contradiction!’D: Hmmm… Errr… Oh dear…SS: ‘Sorry Dan, but “all truths are relative” leads to a contradiction either way… It’s just not true!
8 Moral Relativism There are moral truths, but There are no independent truths about what is morally right or wrongMoral truths are always relative to some groupE.g. our moral beliefs are true for us, but not necessarily for other groups
9 Olaf vs. Mrs BarberyOlaf: ‘It’s obviously true that FGM is morally wrong, because it causes permanent damage to the recipients’Mrs B: ‘Whose “truth” is this? You must judge the morality of their actions by their own moral truths.’
10 Moral ArroganceMrs B: ‘It’s arrogant to assume that you know the moral truth for everyone and that they are all wrong!’Olaf: ‘But, we should spread our moral values because they are so obviously right.’Mrs B: ‘If you were them, then you would not think that it was so obvious.’
11 Some Positions Moral relativist Moral absolutist Moral Nihilist ArrogantHumbleMoral Nihilist
12 Arrogant Moral Absolutist Position:There are one or more universal moral truths that can be used to determine the morality of actionsI know what they areProblem:How can you be sure that you are right? There is no test!
13 Humble Moral Absolutist Position:There are one or more universal moral truths that can be used to determine the morality of actionsI’m not sure what they areProblems:How can we even discuss this if you don’t know what they are!?What could they even be?
14 Moral Nihilist Or ‘Ethical Nihilist’ Position: Problems: All talk of morals is rubbish because nothing is morally right or wrongProblems:Some actions are clearly more or less moral than othersIs there any positive evidence for moral nihilism?
15 Next Time Read Get ready to discuss James Rachels: ‘The Challenge of Cultural Relativism’Get ready to discussMore objections to Moral Relativism
16 James Rachels vs Moral Relativism PHIL104 – 2009Dan Turton
17 Position Comment Are there moral facts? Moral Relativist Yes, but only relative onesThe truth of moral claims can only be assessed relative to the relevant group or frameworkMoral Absolutist (arrogant)Yes, universal ones, which are (blah, blah)It’s just obvious that I’m rightMoral Absolutist (humble)Yes, universal ones, but I’m not sure what they areMaybe they are harm and fairness, but who knowsNihilist (extreme)No. So, stop talking about themYour parents/ church/society made them upNihilist (moderate)Maybe, but stop talking about them……Because you can never be sure what they are
18 Today Follows the James Rachels reading: ‘The Challenge of Cultural Relativism’Rachels interpretation of an arguments for cultural relativismHis general criticisms of the theory
19 Cultural Differences Different cultures are… well… different Importantly, many seem to have different moral codesCallatians eat, Greeks burnEach think the other is morally reprehensible
20 E.g. Inuit Offer wives to visitors Alpha male can drop by any time he likesGrandparents are left out in the cold to dieChildren (usually girls) are killed at birth at the parents discretion
21 Cultural Relativism A form of moral relativism Moral truths are judged relative to the moral code of the relevant society/cultureE.g. infanticide is morally permissible for Inuits because the moral code of their society allows it.
22 What Cultural Relativists Think Societies have different moral codesThe codes cannot be rated or compared because there is no objective moral measureOnly the moral code of the culture in question can assess what’s ‘Morally right’ in that culture/societyJudging other cultures’ moral practices is arrogantwe should be tolerant of them
23 The Cultural Differences Argument Different cultures have different moral codesc) Therefore, there is no objective “truth” in morality. Morally right and wrong are dependant on the relevant culture’s moral code- (what they believe to be morally right and wrong)
24 Being Charitable Give your opponent as much as possible Make their argument better if you canShow why it’s still wrongTheoretically, this will cut the debate short (with you emerging the clear winner)
25 The (New) Cultural Differences Argument If cultures believe in different moral codes, then there is no objective “truth” in moralityCultures do believe in different moral codesc) Therefore, there is no objective “truth” in morality; it’s all relative.
26 Verdict on the Cultural Differences Argument The argument does not support the conclusionTherefore the argument does not give good reason to believe the conclusionBut, the conclusion could still be trueRachels goes on to discredit the conclusion
27 Taking Your Opponents Conclusion Seriously Philosophers are famous for having their head in the sandMany of our thought experiments are ‘unrealistic’ / ‘plain stupid’One way you can catch people out is to imagine the (bad/absurd) consequences of your opponent being correct!Reductio ad absurdum
28 Taking Cultural Relativism Seriously 3 absurd consequences:“We can’t judge others”“The standards of our society dictate right and wrong”“There would be no moral progress”
29 Judging Others“We can no longer say that the customs of other societies are morally inferior to our own”Works for funerary practicesCallatians vs Greeks vs usNot so well for:FGM, Slavery,Anti-Semitism
30 Deciding what’s Morally Right and Wrong “We could decide whether actions are right or wrong just by consulting the standards of our society”Dan: I’m worried that slavery is morally wrong.Southerner: Don’t worry, we all think it’s OKYou can’t criticise other societies moral codes or even your own!
31 Moral Progress “The idea of moral progress is brought into doubt” Women are no longer the property of menThey can now vote, own property and even be PM!This seems like moral progressA cultural relativist must deny many types of moral progressIt’s just moral/societal change
32 Verdict on Taking Cultural Relativism Seriously 1) If cultural relativism is true, then moral progress, comparison and criticism don’t make sense2) Moral progress, comparison and criticism do make sensec) Therefore, cultural relativism can’t be true (it contradicts obvious facts)
33 Is there Really Moral Disagreement? Remember that difference in moral codes between cultures is a very important part of the cultural relativists argument
34 The (New) Cultural Differences Argument If cultures believe in different moral codes, then there is no objective “truth” in moralityCultures do believe in different moral codesc) Therefore, there is no objective “truth” in morality; it’s all relative.
35 Is there Really Moral Disagreement? If we look closely, there may not beE.g. Eating cows (grandma)E.g. Inuit baby-killingMen are the hunters and die more easilyMums can only nurse/carry so many kids at a timeAdoption (if possible) first
36 The Common values Remember these are morals at the societal level Without these, the societies would failCaring for offspringTruth-tellingMurder is wrong
37 How Much Moral Difference? So, it’s contentious how much moral difference there isDoes this matter?Would a complete lack of moral difference (at a deep societal level) mean that moral relativism is false?
38 Problems with Cultural Relativism It’s main argument has 2 problems:Believing in a moral code isn’t enough to make it trueThere may not be moral cultural differences after allIf CR is true, then we can’t:Compare, criticise or progress morally
39 Lessons from Cultural Relativism It reminds us about cultural differencesand helps us to examine the peculiar cultural rules we followWhich may well be arbitrary (not morally right or wrong)Be open-mindedSome of your moral beliefs are probably based on cultural influences during your upbringing
40 Next Time Read: Get ready to discuss: Gilbert Harman: ‘Precis of Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity’Get ready to discuss:Probably the best simple account of moral relativism
41 Gilbert Harman’s Moral Relativism PHIL104 – 2009Dan Turton
42 Recap: Some Positions Moral relativist Moral absolutist Moral Nihilist E.g. Mrs BMoral absolutistArrogant e.g. OlafHumbleMoral NihilistExtremeModerate
43 Recap: Rachels’ Problems with CR It’s main argument has 2 problems:Believing in a moral code isn’t enough to make it trueThere may not be moral cultural differences after allIf CR is true, then we can’t:Compare, criticise or progress morally
44 Today Follows the Gilbert Harman reading: ‘Precis of Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity’Harman’s argument for moral relativismApplying Rachel’s reductio to Harman’s MR
45 Relativistic TruthsIn some cases, what is true is best understood in relation to other truths (background truths)Is it true that Bill Clinton had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky?That depends on some background facts:What counts as sexual relations?
46 How a MR Interprets Moral Judgments When someone says:It’s morally wrong for P to do DE.g. It’s morally wrong for Bill to cheat on his wifeThe moral relativist takes them to mean:In relation to moral framework M, it’s morally wrong of P to DAccording to the moral framework of the USA, it’s morally wrong for Bill to cheat on his wife
47 Understanding Olaf? Olaf: FGM is always morally wrong Mrs B: I take it you mean: ‘in relation to Western moral frameworks, FGM is always morally wrong’Olaf: No, I don’t!Mrs B: Actually, yes you do.
48 Moral Diversity as an Argument Against Moral Absolutism (Again) 1) There are fundamental moral disagreements between groups2) The best explanation for this fact is that there are no absolute moral facts, just relative moral factsc) Therefore, we have good reason to believe that moral relativism is true
49 Evidence of Fundamental Moral Diversity Some differences in moral frameworks can’t be explained by differences in situational factors or non-moral beliefsKilling (who can be killed?)Meat-eatingLiberty vs equalityNZ: Civil unions, abortion, homosexuality
50 Moral Absolutists’ Explanation for Diversity Some people are ‘not well placed’ to discover moral truthsPerhaps societies that encourage an open dialogue on ethics are better placed?Perhaps ethics professors in those societies are best placed?
51 Harman’s Other Reply to the Moral Absolutists There is a good reason why some people mistakenly think that there are absolute moral facts:Their own moral framework is particularly salient to themThe same goes for time/motionBut it’s only salient to them because of the culture they grew up inThe reason it’s so obvious to them is totally arbitrary
52 Harman’s Reply to the Moral Absolutists Saying that:‘Some people are better placed to discover absolute moral truths’Is the same as saying:‘Some people are better placed to discover the absolute time’Remember that time is relative; there is no absolute timeBut, are moral truths the same as truths about time?
53 Verdict on Harman’s Reply to the Moral Absolutists Harman needs to give us a reason to believe that moral facts are like facts about time (and not facts about mathematics)The moral absolutists do sound arrogant/bias, but we do consult experts about lots of kinds of truthE.g. climate change
54 Moral Frameworks“A system of moral coordinates”, a set of moral values, a moral codeAnalogy with the lawConsider the non-moral facts of the case in light of the moral codeBecause this is not easy, we get mistaken moral beliefsThat’s when your beliefs don’t follow the moral code like they should
55 Can Harman’s MR Deal with Rachels’ Reductio? If MR is true, then can we:Compare? (better/worse)Criticise? (plain wrong)Progress morally? (internally)Certainly not to the extent that moral absolutists want toThey want to challenge the moral code itself, not just moral beliefs
56 Sort of Summary So far we’ve had: An argument against moral relativism (Rachels), andAn argument against moral absolutism (Harman), and onlySome very weak arguments to believe either position is true!Should we be moral nihilists by default?Maybe we just need to think more
57 Next Time Read: Get ready to discuss: Russ Shafer-Landau: 3 Chapters from ‘What Ever Happened to Good and Evil?’Get ready to discuss:Another opinion on this tricky problem
58 Russ Shafer-Landau on Moral Relativism PHIL104 – 2009Dan Turton
59 More Positions Moral relativist Moral absolutist (Ethical Objectivist) Cultural relativist = (societal level)Moral subjectivist (individual level)Moral absolutist (Ethical Objectivist)ArrogantHumbleMoral nihilistExtreme (error theorist about morality)Moderate
60 Today Follows the Russ Shafer-Landau reading: 4 chapters from: ‘What Ever Happened to Good and Evil?’S-L’s arguments (in defense of moral absolutism)Summary of the topic
61 Ethical ObjectivismEthical Objectivism = Moral AbsolutismConventional morality = moral beliefs/standards used to govern behaviourMoral truths that are independent of conventional morality do existThose moral truths can be used to assess the merits of conventional moralities
62 Getting Morality Wrong Some fundamental moral codes are surely mistaken e.g.cultures that don’t give men and women equal rightsSlavery etcHow are they mistaken?Either:Error theorist’s account orEthical Objectivist’s account
63 Error Theory (About Morality) Error Theorist = Extreme NihilistEvery element of conventional morality is mistaken+ve) George Bush, slavers, terrorists & misogynists are wrong-ve) So are saints, abolitionists & freedom fighters
64 Ethical Objectivists on Moral Error If some people/groups have moral codes that are incorrect, then there must be some independent moral truths to judge them soSome people/groups have moral codes that are wrong e.g. Hitler/Nazis, slavers etc.c) Therefore, there are moral truths that are independent of conventional morality
65 Cultural Relativists on Moral Error Internal Critique (allowed)From inside the cultureCriticises moral beliefs by reference to inconsistencies with the existing moral codeE.g. segregation in South USAExternal Critique (not allowed)Criticises moral codes by reference to independent moral facts
66 How Changes in CRs’ Moral Frameworks Happen (Not from Shafer-Landau)Most people believe that an act is morally permissibleSome of the other people criticise, protest & try to persuade the majorityCriticisms can be ‘internal’ or about the fundamental moral code itselfMost people change their mind, so the moral framework changes
67 Is Moral Change A Problem for Cultural Relitivists? (Not from Shafer-Landau)Maybe… Weird result:30% to abolish death penalty50% want to keep itThe 30% are wrong… until a few more people change their minds, then they are right and the other wrong!
68 Consequences of Moral Absolutism Being False Either our own fundamental moral code is always right or always wrongError theory (extreme nihilism)Always wrongMoral relativism or subjectivismAlways rightExcept under CR if you disagree with the existing moral code, but then you would be irrational
69 Moral EquivalenceAt the level of fundamental moral code, most theories imply moral equivalenceNihilismExtreme (error theory) & moderateMoral relativismCR & subjectivismME = all moral beliefs/codes are equally in/correct
70 Argument Against Moral Equivalence No one believes in moral equivalence (because donating money to charity is obviously better than organising a genocide)If no one believes in moral equivalence , then some moral codes must be inferior to othersIf some moral codes are inferior to others, then there must be an objective morality to deem them soc) Therefore, there are moral truths that are independent of conventional morality
71 Shafer-Landau vs Mrs Barbery Mrs B: Every moral judgment is necessarily made from that person’s perspectiveMr. S-L: Claims are always issued from a person’s perspective. But, it does not follow from that truism that everyone’s claims are equally correctMr. S-L: In all areas of inquiry, the default assumption is that one of us might be right
72 Another Argument Against Moral Equivalence In [nearly] all areas of inquiry, the default assumption when there is a disagreement is that one person might be rightMorality should be treated like other areas of inquiryThere is disagreement about fundamental moral codesThe default assumption should be that one person might be rightA good reason is required to divert from the default assumptionc) Therefore, we need to be given a good reason to believe in moral equivalence
73 Moral Progress Is the abolition of segregation a morally good thing? If you answered ‘yes’, then you are probably a moral absolutistWhat makes you think it’s morally good?These might be your absolute moral truths
74 Personal Moral Progress New years resolution time! How can I be morally better?Ethical Subjectivist:I’m already morally irreproachableCultural Relativist:We’re already morally irreproachableProgress is measured against the existing standardNihilist (Both): Shaddap! Who cares! I wish I had friends
75 Argument from Dogmatism (against MA) Moral absolutism leads to moral arroganceMoral arrogance is very badMoral relativism & nihilism avoid moral arroganceAvoiding very bad is very goodc) Therefore, moral relativism is very good
76 S-L reply to P1 Moral absolutism leads to moral arrogance What about humble MAs?There is a fact of the matter about physics, but humble scientists are not arrogant about their theoriesBecause humble MAs and scientists don’t invent their ‘truths’, then they should not be arrogant about them
77 S-L reply to P3 3) Moral relativism & nihilism avoid moral arrogance Nihilism arrogantly assumes everyone is wrongMR makes everyone right about morality, so everyone could be arrogant
78 Dogmatism S-L’s best point on dogmatism/arrogance: “There is no better check against hubris and arrogance than the recognition that we are not the authors of the moral law.”
79 Next Time Read: Get ready to discuss: Julian Baggini: ‘Bank Error in Your Favour’Get ready to discuss:Essay tipsSummary of Moral RelativismIntro to ‘Why Be Moral?’
80 Summary of Moral Relativism PHIL104 – 2009Dan Turton
81 S-L’s Basic Tactics Assuming our beliefs are correct Philosophy can = reconciling our beliefs with the truthAssuming our beliefs are correctE.g. about Nazism being immoralAnd, so describes ‘the truth about what is’ in a way that validates our beliefsBut, sometimes philosophers conclude that we should change our beliefs!
82 Position Comment Are there moral facts? Cultural Relativist Yes, but only relative onesSomething is im/moral for a culture iff that culture’s moral code deems it soMoral SubjectivistSomething is im/moral for someone iff that person’s moral code deems it soArrogant AbsolutistYes, universal ones, which are…It’s just obvious that I’m right! They are XYZ…Humble AbsolutistUniversal ones, I’m pretty sureI’m not sure what they are, but some acts are clearly im/moralExtreme NihilistNo. So, stop discussing themYour parents/church/society made them up (moral error theorist)Moderate NihilistMaybe, but stop discussing them……Because you can never be sure what they are
83 Summary: The Nature of ‘Moral Facts’ What are ‘moral facts’ really like?facts about maths or logic,facts about chemistry or physics,facts about time,opinions,‘facts’ about the boogey manCan you come up with a good justification for your belief?
84 Summary: Reasons to Believe in a Position No position seems to be supported by a sound deductive argumentBut which position has the best reasons to believe it?Remember to also consider the consequences of the positions being trueThese could be reasons not to believe a position
85 DIY Best Position Table Read the readings and fill in the whole table yourselfPositionBest reasons to believeBest reasons not to believeHumble AbsolutistNo firm commitments required. Lots of potential moral facts to follow upYou have to suggest some or you are boring.Why think that those ones are the ones? – try to think up counter-examples.Extreme NihilistCoolest position by far. (Plus cool mo like Nietzsche)Probably leads to no friends, and possibly jail time