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Universalism or Relativism?. Moral Universalism: Moral truth IS the same for all people, at all times, at all places. Moral Relativism: Moral truth is NOT the same for all people, at all times, at all places.

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universalism or relativism
Universalism or Relativism?
  • Moral Universalism: Moral truth IS the same for all people, at all times, at all places.
  • Moral Relativism: Moral truth is NOT the same for all people, at all times, at all places.
    • Moral truth is relative either to individual persons or to particular cultures.
slide2

Relativism as a basis for tolerance

    • If we admit upfront that each individual (or each culture) has his/her (its) own moral truth, then we will not try to impose our beliefs on others.
    • We will then all “just get along.”
  • Why do people believe you have to be a relativist to be tolerant?
slide3

“Nietzsche claimed that if men took God seriously, they would still be burning heretics at the stake. In the same spirit, one supposes, are the notions that if men really cherished moral truth, they would suppress all beliefs that they considered wrong, and that if men still cared about the sanctity of the marriage bed, they would go back to making adulterers wear the scarlet A.

slide4

“Today two different groups of people agree with . . . [Nietzsche’s conditional statement]. In the first group are the ordinary bigots, who are always among us. The second are a kind of modern backlash – call it the reaction – found principally among the ‘cultural elite.’ For instance, whereas the bigots respond to Nietzsche’s conditional by saying, ‘Yes, that’s why we should burn heretics,’ the reactionaries respond to it by saying, ‘No, that’s why we should suppress the public expression of belief in God.’”

J. Budziszewski, “The Illusion of Moral Neutrality”

slide5

Of course, the “cultural elite” would also suppress any public expression of belief in universal moral truth.

  • At least, they would suppress using such beliefs in the formation of public policy.
  • But, is this really necessary to support tolerance?
  • Or, to ask it differently, are those who believe in universal moral truth necessarily committed to forcing adulterers to wear a Scarlet A and other things of the like?
slide6

Tolerance: To put up with, rather than suppress, what one takes to be evil or wrong.

  • Why put up with what one takes to be evil or wrong?
    • Because one might believe suppressing the evil might produce more evil than putting up with the original evil.
slide7

For example, tolerating (not suppressing) false beliefs.

    • Protect the Peace
    • Protect the Truth
      • “On the side of suppression we might plead, ‘After all, the opinions in question are false, aren’t they? Then, isn’t it a gain to get rid of them?’ But, on the side of toleration, we might ask, ‘What better engine have we for honing truth than to try it against error in a fair fight?’”

J. Budziszewski, “The Illusion of Moral Neutrality”

slide8

“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error, so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Thomas Jefferson

  • “[W]e must always put the two evils, the evil that suppression engenders and the evil that it prevents, on a scale. When the evil that suppression engenders equals or exceeds the evil that it prevents, we ought to put up with the thing in question instead of suppressing it.”

J. Budziszewski, “The Illusion of Moral Neutrality”

slide9

The bottom line is that true tolerance requires making definitive (universal) moral judgments.

    • “The truly tolerant point will always be somewhere between the two endpoints of the continuum, its location depending on the act in question and on the circumstances. But, precisely where it is along this line will vary.
slide10

The location of true tolerance can be determined only by the exercise of case-by-case judgment about the goods and the evils involved . . . . [Thus,] tolerance cannot be neutral about what is good, for its very purpose is to guard goods and avert evils.

J. Budziszewski, “The Illusion of Moral Neutrality”

  • For example, one might tolerate the expression of racist views, but not permit people to act on those views, by banning hate crimes.
slide11

The Ox Bow Incident

    • 1943 movie set in Nevada in the 1870’s. In the movie there are two groups.
    • One espouses a form of moral relativism.
    • The other espouses a form of moral universalism.
    • As you watch the movie, ask yourself which group’s view is more likely to result in everyone’s “just getting along.”
slide12

“We want the freedom to believe what we like, ignore facts, sugar-coat reality, but then we have to recognize that there is a price to pay. If we abdicate reason and clear thinking and reality checks, the result is not only that pesky scientists can’t gainsay our beliefs – neither can we gainsay those of fundamentalists, theocrats, obscurantists, Nazis, Holocaust deniers.

slide13

“We have to choose, we can’t have it both ways, we can’t embrace irrational ideas we just happen to like and reject the ones we don’t. If you insist on setting sail for the realm of hunch and intuition and thinking with your gut, you’re likely to meet some fellow voyagers who are not all peace and love and light.”

Ophelia Benson, “Paradigms U Like”

slide14

“Can ethical relativism function . . . in a country as diverse as ours, where we often find opposing values (‘Looting is antisocial’ versus ‘Looting is a righteous act for the dispossessed,’ for example) within the same neighborhood? Because a multicultural ethic asks us not to think in terms of one dominant set of rules, some might opt for an attitude of total moral nihilism instead: No values are better than any other values, because no values are objectively correct.

slide15

“Such nihilism might well result in the breakdown of the fabric of a society; and, possibly, in a greater cohesion within subgroups, with different groups battling one another. Rather than describe these battles as gang wars, we might call this phenomenon Balkanization ―when groups have nothing or very little in common except hatred for what the other groups stand for.”

Nina Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story, p111

slide16

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a premonitory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and, therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

John Donne, “Meditation XVII”