Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weeding out Relativism

Conduct Revisited

Weeding out Relativism

Relativism answers “How and why should we be or behave with the Other and self?” by requiring that we respect (conduct, L1.1) and be (character, L1.2) tolerant of the norms of Other cultures, considering them equally as valid and beyond criticism as the norms of our own culture (L3), and so, by
 logical implication, we should conform to our own cultural norms (conduct, L1.1), with the consequence (L1.1) that all cultures will live in harmony. Relativism is cultural voluntarism (70, L2), the view that moral truth is created (69, 71) by the cultural will.

The American anthropologist Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) affirms relativism when she says, “The concept of the normal is properly a variant of the concept of the good. It is that which society has approved. …modern civilization becomes not a necessary pinnacle of human achievement but one entry in a long series of possible adjustments,” (4; 93-94). The basic impulse (51) driving the view that acknowledges as moral truth the values of the majority of a given culture, and that every culture’s values are valid for that culture, is the admirable, merciful feeling that, just as we would not want an Other culture’s values forced upon ours, we should not force our culture’s values on Other cultures—we should instead respectfully and nonjudgmentally seek to preserve cultural freedom and diversity (golden irony, for this is the Golden Rule incorrectly applied, suggesting again the Golden Rule is more basic than any relativistic misapplication—see Appendix G) (see Objection 12 in Appendix E). There is much to be said for respecting and preserving cultural diversity [note that to claim such respect as essential, transcending culture, is to contradict the impulse of tolerance, and that the tolerance of relativism is ineffective in cultures without that impulse (51)], however, the absolutist view of this paper is not that we force our values on (or adopt the values of) cultures that do not share them (ours), but that the Golden Rule is discovered (71) in and transcends the creeds of every major culture while maintaining diversity (and that such diversity does not negate the similarity).

That there are a variety of moral values that conflict with eachother is no argument against there being an essential good against which to measure them (see Objection 11 in Appendix E). If it were, it would mean science is an act of futility, since there are a variety of theories about different things in nature (see Objection 11 in Appendix E). As mentioned earlier, we live against relativism whenever we find ourselves criticizing or praising the social behavior of someone from an Other culture—and this doesn’t mean we are intolerant of all forms of cultural diversity (see Objection 12 in Appendix E). Tolerance of cultural diversity is good, as long as it is not tolerance of social evil, of violations of the universal moral code common to all cultures, whether its members acknowledge it by adhering to or defying it in law or deed. This can be seen in a dialectic (58, 66)…

The Moral Diversity Dialectic

Thesis: Tolerance is best.
Antithesis: Must not tolerate evil.
Synthesis: Celebrate diversity that conforms to Golden Rule love (see Objection 16 in Appendix E).

Although relativism can solve moral conflicts by siding with whatever the majority deems right (logically making all civil disobedience, and so, too, moral progress, automatically immoral, which is more likely to fuel immoral rebellion than moral behavior), it prevents finding common ground and solving moral conflicts in an environment, like the U.S., wherein many varieties of cultures live together, individuals are often members of multiple cultures, and there is no easily definable majority (to which we must apply aforesaid self-contradictory universalized tolerance). Even after the difficult (without an anchor) task of defining what counts as a majority and what constitutes a culture (and which of the cultures/majorities to which one belongs should take precedence), relativism and subjectivism fall apart for the same reasons if we apply the same impulse of tolerance to both cultures (or majorities) and individuals: 1) cultures and individuals are both capable of praiseworthy moral achievements and condemnable moral failures, 2) praiseworthy or condemnable not because of who they are, either as a member of a particular majority (relativism) [tyranny of the majority, is-ought fallacy (12) of reification (70) (see Objection 2 in Appendix E)], or as an individual (subjectivism) (the logical fallacy of the ad hominem argument) (notice that relativism is just collective subjectivism, and subjectivism is just individual relativism), but due to valid moral reasoning. As mentioned previously, Tim Keller writes, “If there is no God, then there is no way to say any one action is ‘moral’ and another ‘immoral’ but only ‘I like this,’" (2; 153) (emotivism) and he continues with, “If that is the case, who gets the right to put their subjective, arbitrary moral feelings into law? You may say, ‘the majority has the right to make the law,’ but do you mean that then the majority has the right to vote to exterminate a minority? If you say ‘No, that is wrong,’ then you are back to square one. ‘Who sez’ that the majority has a moral obligation not to kill the minority?” (2; 153). So relativism leaves us without a means of conflict resolution which is true to the reality—a universal moral code.

The assertion that we haven’t discovered a universal moral code (see Objection 11 in Appendix E) is countered by evidence of a universal moral code manifested in the similarity between ethical creeds from various civilizations (9), including how the Golden Rule has its “roots in a wide range of world cultures,” (10) (see Objection 12 in Appendix E). “The so-called Golden Rule is found in negative form in rabbinic Judaism and also in Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It occurred in various forms in Greek and Roman ethical teaching. Jesus stated it in positive form,” (15). That the negative form (Silver Rule—see Objection 15 in Appendix E) is the flip-side of the positive form can be seen in this dialectic (58, 66)…

The Silver-Golden Dialectic

Thesis: To avoid doing to the Other what you would not want done to you (to do the Silver Rule) is to not do anything at all.
Antithesis: To avoid doing to the Other what you would have them to do you (to avoid doing the Golden Rule—to do nothing) is to actively do to the Other what you would not want done to you (to break the Silver Rule, in bad faith, as Sartre would say—to refuse to choose, to do nothing, is a choice).
Synthesis: To avoid doing the Golden Rule (to do nothing) is to do harm, so in order to avoid doing to the Other what you would not want done to you (to do the Silver Rule) you must actively do the Golden Rule. [ See Appendix G: Synthesizing Golden Rule Variations and Competing Ethical Theories. ]

The existence of this universal moral code shows us that enforcing discovered (71) eternal moral truth does not violate cultural diversity, but acknowledges common humanity and common ground which is in common with all cultures. To not hold all cultures accountable to a standard which applies to all cultures (except when contradicting itself by universalizing tolerance) is to insult the moral autonomy of each culture’s members (their status as free persons able to discern moral truth and make moral choices) (failing L1.3 and L3, 70), and is to exclude them from the resulting benefits (see Morality and Legal Justice on universal human rights) of following it.

Truth is not relative, but universal, true for all or none (failing L3, 70). And again, moral truth is not created (69), but discovered (71) (failing L2, 70). It cannot be said that relativism is cultural essentialism (which is racist, classist, etcetera, thinking that certain types of humans are essentially different from others and therefore have different essential moral obligations, also failing L1.3 and L3 (70), and more closely described in Plato’s virtue theory, with its producers, warriors, and rulers), because it is based on the actual doings of the majority [whereas what we do is not always what we ought to do, and since ethics deals with why and how we ought to be or behave with the Other and self (failing L1, 70), and since we should avoid the is-ought fallacy (12) of reification (70) (see Objection 2 in Appendix E), this is not a positive aspect of relativism]. Note that ‘culture’ is on the ‘nurture’ side of “nature vs. nurture” (49) and so is created (voluntaristic, 70), not discovered (71) (essential).

Now we’re ready to dig in to the ever-edifying, authentic, life-giving feast of God’s love, the banquet of God’s nature set before us, the image in which we are made and which He alone empowers us to maintain…“the resolution of a thousand fruitless searches,” to quote Mr. Gabriel (48). The meaning that exists, or we would not hunger (57) for it…

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