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Relativism. I ’ m skeptical about cultural relativism. Concepts. Reducio ad absurdem argument False dichotomy Ethical Universalism Ethical Relativism Reflective Equilibrium Theme: It ’ s alright to be wrong!. Subjectivism: Truth is relative to individuals.

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concepts
Concepts
  • Reducio ad absurdem argument
  • False dichotomy
  • Ethical Universalism
  • Ethical Relativism
  • Reflective Equilibrium
  • Theme: It’s alright to be wrong!
subjectivism truth is relative to individuals
Subjectivism:Truth is relative to individuals
  • The view that…whatever anyone believes is true.
  • Plato: “Protagoras…admitting…that everybody’s opinion is true, must acknowledge the truth of his opponents’ belief about his own belief, where they think he is wrong.”
they can t both be right
They can’t both be right

San Diego isnorth of LosAngeles.

You’rewrong!

argument against subjectivism
Argument against subjectivism
  • Suppose subjectivism were true: If a person believes that P, then P [assume subjectivism for reductio]
  • x believes that P and y believes that x is wrong in believing that P, i.e. y believes that not-P [people disagree]
  • P and not-P [by 1 and 2]
  • Subjectivism is false [reducio: given that people disagree, subjectivism implies a contradiction]
ethical relativism
Ethical Relativism
  • There are no true universal moral judgments.
  • Moral judgments:
    • __ is wrong
    • __ is right
    • __ is obligatory
    • __ is good
    • __ is bad
    • Etc.
false dichotomy
False Dichotomy

If the Ten Commandmentsaren’t absolutely true withno exceptions thenanything goes!

  • The fallacy of false dichotomy is committed when the arguer claims that his conclusion is one of only two options, when in fact there are other possibilities.
  • The arguer then goes on to show that the 'only other option' is clearly outrageous, and so his preferred conclusion must be embraced.
thou shalt not lie
Thou shalt not lie.

I wouldn’t becaught dead in

that rig.

What about white lies?

Cuteoutfit!

thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not steal.

What about Jean Valjean stealing that loaf of bread when he was starving?

remember the sabbath day and keep it holy
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them…[Mark 2:23 -27]

The Sabbath was made for man--not man for the Sabbath.

remember the sabbath day and keep it holy13
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

NO!

I guess this means thatanything goes, right?

ethical relativism vs ethical universalism
Ethical Relativism vs. Ethical Universalism
  • Ethical relativists hold that there is nokind of action that is always, everywhere and for everyone right or wrong.
  • Ethical universalists hold that there is some (at least one)kind of action that is always, everywhere and for everyone right or wrong.
  • This “kind” can be highly abstract!
  • Ethical universalists do not claim that every kind of action is either always right or always wrong!
kinds of actions an action can belong to many different kinds
Kinds of actionsAn action can belong to many different kinds!

You break your promise to give a madman a gun on Tuesday.

  • Promise-breaking
  • Breaking a promise when keeping it would have very bad consequences
  • Doing something on a Tuesday
  • Doing an action that brings about the greatest good for the greatest number
  • Doing an action with the intention of preventing someone else from being harmed…
what features of an action are morally relevant
What features of an action are morally relevant?
  • We ask: what features of an action are morally relevant?
    • Surely not, e.g. the day on which it was done
  • We ask: what are the right-making or wrong-making features of actions?
  • Every action belongs to many kinds
    • Which kinds are morally relevant?
kinds of actions an action can belong to many different kinds20

Promise-breakingwhen keeping thepromise would havevery bad consequences

Tuesday actions

Promise-breaking

Actions that bring about thegreatest good for thegreatest number

Kinds of actionsAn action can belong to many different kinds!
kinds of actions an action can belong to many different kinds21

Promise-breakingwhen keeping thepromise would havevery bad consequences

Tuesday actions

Actions intended to preventothers from being harmed

Promise-breaking

Actions that bring about thegreatest good for thegreatest number

Kinds of actionsAn action can belong to many different kinds!
ethical universalism
Ethical Universalism
  • To be a ethical universalist you only have to agree that there is somekind of action that’s always right or always wrong.
  • The relevant kind may be something very general, e.g. “doing something that brings about the greatest good for the greatest number.”
is ethics a game without rules23
Is ethics a game without rules?
  • Reflective equilibrium: theory construction in ethics is comparable to theory construction in science
  • We get data--our “moral intuitions” about real and imaginary cases
  • We generalize
  • We test our generalizations against further data
  • We keep going back and forth until we achieve a “reflective equilibrium”
a sample theory to test
A sample theory to test

The Wiccan Rede: Harm none

a case of easy rescue
A case of easy rescue

What is “harm”? Failing to help in some cases when we don’t actually do harm can be wrong.

setting a bad example
Setting a bad example

Even when an action doesn’t directly harm anyone it maystill make others worse off by setting a bad example,establishing a bad precedent or undermining institutionsthat are in the public interest.

contributing to harmful practices
Contributing to harmful practices

Some kinds of actions that are harmless individually are harmful when lots of people do them

another sample theory utilitarianism
Another sample theory: Utilitarianism
  • PU: an act is right iff it maximizes utility
  • “Utility” is understood as desire-satisfaction, pleasure or happiness
  • Consider moral intuitions that support the theory
  • Consider those that are go against the theory (example: the promise to the dead man problem)
  • What should we do if intuitions go against the theory:
    • reject the intuitions and keep the theory?
    • reject the theory in favor on one that explains our intuitions?
    • modify the theory to accommodate our intuitions?
the promise to the dead man case
The Promise to the Dead Man Case

Promise that when I’m dead you’ll give me decent burial

maximizing utility
Maximizing utility

The greatest goodfor the greatest number!

A good Utilitarian cuts up the body and uses it as fish bait.

the moral of this story
The Moral of this Story
  • Even if end we agree to disagree, we can reason about moral issues
  • Ethics is not a game without rules
    • It is not merely “subjective”
    • It is not just a matter of personal feelings
    • It is not something we have to take on faith
cultural relativism means different things
“Cultural Relativism” means different things…

T 1. People’s beliefs, attitudes, tastes, etc. are significantly affected by their culture--and people in different cultures have very different beliefs, attitudes, tastes, etc.

T2. Methodological cultural relativism: cultures should be studied on their own terms.

F 3. Actions are right or wrong to the extent that they conform or don’t conform to cultural norms.

cultural relativism reflections
Cultural Relativism: reflections
  • Actions that are wrong may be excusable and people that do them may not be blameworthy.
  • Even if an action is wrong, it doesn’t follow that it would be right to stop people from doing it.
  • Practices that produce good results in one culture may not produce good results in another, e.g. polygamy.
asking these questions assumes a universal standard
Asking these questions assumes a universal standard!
  • An ethical universalist may consistently hold that polygamy is ok in one context but not ok in another
  • Because he may hold that what makes an action right is something that holds across all cultures . . .
  • But that whereas a given kind of action has that right-making property on one context it doesn’t have that property in another.
slide41

Different Questions

Is it wrong?

Can you blame them?

Should you stop them?

problems with cultural relativism
Problems with Cultural Relativism
  • Who is my neighbor? (The problem of overlapping cultures)
  • Some practices are just plain wrong
  • The paradox of tolerance
the paradox of tolerance
The Paradox of Tolerance
  • The ethical relativist cannot hold that everyone everywhere should be tolerant without contradicting himself!
  • If the ethical relativist holds that actions are right if they conform to cultural norms then he must hold that people in intolerant societies ought to be intolerant!
the moral of the story
The Moral of the Story
  • Relativism isn’t as good as its cracked up to be: “a little learning is a dangerous thing”
  • Some forms of relativism are logically problematic
  • We can accommodate our intuitions and commitments (about tolerance, about not being dogmatic, etc.) without buying into any form of relativism.
slide49

Don’t wish for Ethical Relativism…

The End

…you might just get it