Presentation on theme: "Moral Relativism, Cultural Differences and Bioethics Prof. Eric Barnes."— Presentation transcript:
Moral Relativism, Cultural Differences and Bioethics Prof. Eric Barnes
Moral Absolutes? THE PROBLEMS: Narrow Minded Moralism “Who’s to say what is right?” Cultural Differences Abound
Moral Relativism DEFINITION: A theory asserting that a moral claim is right if the individual (or her culture) believes that it is right. Therefore, two people with opposite moral evaluations of the same thing can both be right (or, at least, it can be that neither is wrong). Abby: “Bombing Nagasaki was wrong.” Sierra: “Bombing Nagasaki was not wrong.”
Radical Relativism All facts are supposed to depend on what people believe. CORE CLAIM: Nothing is objectively true. Easily refuted by pointing out that the core claim must be presented as objectively true.
Objectivity in the World In Math: 5+7=12, no matter what you believe. There is no largest prime number, like it or not. In Science: The Earth is round, and it was round even when everyone believed it was flat. In Religion: Either God exists or God does not exist. If God exists, then God exists regardless of whether anyone believes it. If God does not exist, then God doesn't exist regardless of how sincerely anyone believes that God does exist.
Vocabulary Translation Relativists say: “X is true for me.” Objectivists hear: “I believe X.” What else could this mean? Key Objectivist Claim: What one believes can be false, even if it is true that you believe it. (The fact the you believe it doesn’t make it true.)
Let’s Play: Do They Disagree? You tell me if the two people’s statements disagree with each other. Some are tricky. Remember: Two statements can only disagree if they are about the same thing.
Do They Disagree? Columbus: “The Earth is 18,000 miles in circumference.” Eratosthenes: “The Earth is 25,000 miles in circumference.”
Do They Disagree? Gilligan: “My car is green.” Skipper: “My car is red.”
Do They Disagree? Marcia: “I believe that Paris is the capital of Spain.” Greg: “I believe that Paris is not the capital of Spain.”
Do They Disagree? Laverne: “The government should make all abortions illegal.” Shirley: “The government should not make all abortions illegal.”
Do They Disagree? Jerry: “Capital punishment seems unfair to me.” Kramer: “Capital punishment seems fair to me.”
Do They Disagree? Homer: “Homosexuality is immoral.” Smithers: “Homosexuality is not immoral.”
Do They Disagree? Archie: “We should force all other people to adopt American values.” Edith: “We should be tolerant of most other people's values.”
Lessons Learned If moral claims were just statements of one’s beliefs, then disagreement about moral issues would be impossible. Agreement would be equally impossible. People do disagree about morality, so there must be an objective moral truth about which they disagree.
Moral Imperialism The moral imperialist claims: 1) there are objective moral facts; 2) he knows what these are; and, 3) it is right to impose these on others. Objectivism is not imperialism The only way to reject imperialism is to accept moral objectivism. The relativist can’t assert that tolerance is better than intolerance.
Circumstances Matter Objectivism accepts that circumstances are relevant to a moral evaluation. Both of these statements might be true: “Infanticide is morally unacceptable in Boston.” “Infanticide is morally acceptable in an Eskimo’s environment.” However, this is not because the Eskimo believes that it is right. If this is true, it is true because of the nature of the extreme circumstances.
The Allure of Relativism We avoid uncomfortable disagreements. Everyone gets to be right. There is no reason to argue or criticize others’ beliefs.
Teaching Kids Relativism Some kids tend to be intolerant of others who are different. We want kids to learn to be tolerant An easy way of doing this is to teach them that there is no right answer to how things should be done. (Moral Relativism) But this is logically incoherent. Saying “Tolerance is better than intolerance” implies moral objectivism. We need to teach moral humility instead.
Moral Absolutes ? THE PROBLEMS: (revisited) Narrow Minded Moralism “Who’s to say what is right?” Cultural Differences Abound
Moral Objectivism THE SOLUTION TO: Narrow Minded Moralism Reject moral imperialism and teach genuine moral humility. It is only the fact that there is a right answer that can make us wary of getting it wrong.
Moral Objectivism THE SOLUTION TO: “Who’s to say what is right?” ANSWER: You are! It is up to each of us to discover what is right and wrong by careful contemplation. (This isn’t easy.) There’s no person whose job it is to decide moral questions, just like there is no one in science.
Moral Objectivism THE SOLUTION TO: Cultural Differences Abound First: Reasonable differences in moral judgments are usually explained by relevant differences in circumstances. Second: Radical differences in moral judgments can be explained by realizing that cultures are wrong sometimes.
Conclusion Relativism denies our most uniquely human capacity, our capacity to determine what we ought to do. Only by accepting objectivism can we make sense of the idea that there is ever a good reason to do anything.
So, how do we justify moral claims? We find common ground with those who disagree (premises) We use principles of rationality (logic) to make inferences We demonstrate that our moral claims are justified by our shared assumptions (premises) (In other words: We construct careful moral arguments.)
What do these careful arguments look like? Precise formulation of defensible general moral principles Careful attention to the relevant empirical facts Application of these general principles through these facts Ultimately, grounding these general principles in a moral theory