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Moral Relativism. Peter Kreeft. Are we truly free?. To live freely is to live spiritually Spirit is free – matter is not E.g. locked in prison can choose attitude Spirit Intellect – Truth Will – Goodness Moral principles – absolutes

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moral relativism

Moral Relativism

Peter Kreeft

are we truly free
Are we truly free?
  • To live freely is to live spiritually
  • Spirit is free – matter is not
    • E.g. locked in prison can choose attitude
  • Spirit
    • Intellect – Truth
    • Will – Goodness
  • Moral principles – absolutes
    • Unchanging rocks beneath waves of feelings and practices
is this really important
Is this really important?
  • Yes. “Philosophy is just thought, but sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
  • Yes. A society of relativists has not existed. Either:
    • Disprove all of history
    • Repent and survive
    • Persist and perish
  • Salvation presupposes repentance (turning from); which presupposes a real moral law
three claims of moral relativism
Three claims of moral relativism
  • Morality is changeable
    • Shifts with time and no need to turn back
  • Morality is subjective
    • Based upon what we think and feel
    • We become the standard of measuring ourselves
    • Nothing good or bad besides thinking it is
  • Morality is individual
    • True for you but not for me
  • Moral absolutism there are principles that are unchangeable, objective, and universal
psychological argument 1
Psychological Argument 1
  • Deepest desire is for happiness
  • Fear that absolutism would make us unhappy by making us feel guilty
  • Argument form:
    • Good morality = good consequences
    • Bad morality = bad consequences
    • Unhappiness/guile = bad consequence = bad morality
    • Happiness/self-esteem = good = good
    • Moral relativism = good morality
    • Absolutism = bad morality
psychological argument 2
Psychological Argument 2
  • Moral law exists to maximize happiness
    • Labels for food/maps for roads
  • Guilt is good?
    • Guilt may be necessary to avoid greater unhappiness
    • If guilt is true to reality then it is like pain
    • Pain – warning to body
    • Guilt – warning to soul
  • Would a morality based upon feeling makes us happy?
begging the question
Begging the question
  • Morality is relative because relativism makes us feel better.
    • Assumption – our feelings are the standard of morality
    • But this is the claim the relativist is trying to prove
  • Also called “Circular reasoning”
  • Example: Snake venom will make you sick because it is toxic.
cultural influence 1
Cultural Influence 1
  • Different cultures have different moralities as discovered by sociologists
  • Unspoken assumption: Rightness is a matter of obedience to your culture’s values
  • Argument:
    • It is right to always obey your culture’s values
    • Different cultures have different values
    • Therefore: moral rightness differs with cultures
  • Begs the question
  • Absolutist denies that it is always right to obey cultures values
cultural influence 2
Cultural Influence 2
  • Weakness: Equivocation of values with opinions about values
  • Absolutist distinguishes objective truth from subjective opinions about:
    • God
    • Life after death
    • Happiness
    • Numbers
    • Beauty
cultural influence 3
Cultural Influence 3
  • All cultures do not differ on fundamental values
    • Justice, honesty, courage, wisdom, hope, self-control
  • But that we can have a conversation about values implies that we have some agreements
  • Think about translating from one language to another
    • We translate concepts and identify concepts with words
  • So too social laws (changing) use concepts from moral human laws (universal)
social conditioning
Social Conditioning
  • “All values are conditioned by society”
    • If we were in China we would be atheists
    • If we were in a Muslim country, we’d be Muslim
  • Also confuses values with opinions about them
  • False assumption: everything learned from society is subjective
    • Learn rules of basketball but also multiplication tables
  • Also existence of principle non conformists is evidence against being socially conditioned
freedom 1
Freedom 1
  • Are we free if not free to create values?
  • If we are free to create values, who or what is to decide between two people in conflict?
    • Truth? Justice? Then these are values that transcend both people and should be obeyed by both
      • Then we are not free to dismiss ourselves from that obligation
    • No principle outside of subjective selves?
      • Then argument come down to force
      • Force does not guarantee freedom
freedom 2
Freedom 2
  • Freedom does not create values, it presupposes values
  • Relativist assumes that freedom is valuable
    • At least one objective value
  • If freedom good then free from something bad
    • Some objective good, some objective bad
  • Freedom for some? Freedom for all?
    • How would we measure who deserves? If for all then we must value equality
freedom 3
Freedom 3
  • We are free to create alternative social mores but cannot create alternative morals.
    • Mores – (more-ays) – are customs and conventions of a community. Examples?
  • We are not free to make charity wrong or treason right.
  • If all morals were created by us then we would not feel bound by our conscience in breaking them.
  • No moral obligation to do wrong.
tolerance 1
Tolerance 1
  • Relativism claims that it guarantees tolerance
  • Tolerance is a quality of people, not ideas. Ideas may be fuzzy or well defined but that does not make them more or less tolerant.
  • Science is based on absolute and objective facts but not intolerant to different theories. Absolute does not equal intolerance.
  • One may teach hard facts softly or soft facts in a harsh manner.
tolerance 2
Tolerance 2
  • Is tolerance good? Should we be tolerant? If no objective call to tolerance then tolerance is an imposition.
  • What if tolerance no longer popular?
  • Tolerance on its own is in describing our patience with evils as opposed to goods. We don’t tolerate goods.
  • Cultural differences of tolerance and intolerance
  • Even if absolutism did cause intolerance it does not make it not true
situationalism 1
Situationalism 1
  • Diversity of situations excludes universal norms
    • Stealing to feed starving family
  • Closely related: Motives determining morality
    • Manslaugher/Attempted Murder
  • Truth is both motives and situations along with the act itself determine morality.
    • What you do
    • When, where and how
    • Why
situationalism 2
Situationalism 2
  • Situations are objective
  • Motives are subjective but are judged objectively
    • Will to harm is always evil
  • To ask for flexible application presupposes that there are rigid standard
judge not lest ye be judged
Judge not lest ye be judged
  • Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye – Matthew 7:1-5
  • Judgment - Truth telling that sheds light so that both good and bad may appear
arguments for absolutism
Arguments for Absolutism
  • Not enough to deconstruct arguments for relativism
  • Tearing down is necessary sometimes, but then we must rebuild
  • We tear up the soil so that we may plant seeds
  • Consequences are relative indicator
    • Clues that allow us to draw conclusion
  • Majority of immoral deeds feel good
  • Relativism has not produced a saint or society
  • Everything I have said and done is these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories, and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism.       —Benito Mussolini
  • Egalitarianism extended through history
  • “Democracy of the dead”
  • Relativists believes that the vast majority of people have ordered their lives based on an illusion of moral principle
moral experience
Moral Experience
  • Language of “ought” “should” “right” “wrong”
  • Example of a promise and temptation to break promise
    • Certain desires push from inside
    • Other obligations pull from outside
  • Primary data – because EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE experiences this situation
ad hominem
Ad Hominem
  • Basically that the relativist abandons relativism when he or she is victimized by relativism
  • There is then an implicit appeal to a moral standard outside of themselves to justify anger or hurt experienced by relativistic behavior
moral language
Moral Language
  • We argue about right and wrong on principle
  • If not then simply tests of strength
  • What allows us to say “That isn’t fair”?
  • We don’t praise, blame, counsel or command non-moral agents (do-ers of action)
    • Vending machine doesn’t “steal” your money, it is simply malfunctioning
    • You can’t guilt a parking meter into giving you more time, although you can try to convince officer that the machine is broken
cause and cure
Cause and Cure
  • Moral relativism is not caused by arguments
  • It is the throwing away of reason: rationalization
    • Rationalization is to try and explain away something done by using logic
  • Passions should be governed by logic- self control
  • Strongest desire is the one desire that is fulfilled by sharing life with another. The desire that calls us to union, i.e. sexual desire.
sexual revolution
Sexual revolution
  • Separated sex from some natural consequences
    • Major and fundamental: Possibility of pregnancy
    • Contraception – against conception
    • Backup contraception – abortion
  • Most traditional morality is accepted
    • Ecology
    • Nutrition
    • Not smoking
    • Condemnation of greed
    • Lust, greed, pride, sloth, gluttony, envy, wrath
  • Repent
    • Recognize something is wrong and we need to turn
    • Metanoia – go beyond
  • Fast
    • Willingly deprive yourself of something good to instill desire for greater good or appreciation for another good
  • Pray
    • Speak to Truth, Goodness and Beauty – the one true God
    • Be a saint