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Tuesday, September 30, 2003
My brother Adam, recently took the opportunity to weigh in on the subject of relativism raised by Jason in a recent post. His comments:
Recently, i browsed over your website and i was
interested in the stuff on ethical relativism as i
just finished studying it in one of my philosophy
classes, and now that i'm somewhat of an authority on
the topic (in fact, at this very minute i am working
on a logical sylogism that proves it is morally wrong
to take the last cookie from the cookie jar), i would
like to point a few things out; namely, there is an
important difference between ethical relativism and
subjectivism, or emotivism. the former is a theory
rooted in the notion that no objective ethical
principles exist, and that ethical judgements are
wholly contingent upon the predominant folkways and
traditions of a society or culture, and the latter,
although it also maintains that no objective ethical
principles exist, is differenct because it asserts
that morality is relative to individuals rather than
entire cultures or societies.
Although i don't disagree entirely with Jason, I
don't believe he gave a very good argument in favor of
moral absolutism, nor a very good counter-argument
against ethical relativism.
One of the biggest problems with ethical relativism
(not cultural relativism), as your friend pointed out,
is that it is impossible to make ethical judgements
about another culture or even one's own culture if the
theory is accepted. Furthermore, the notion of
culture itself is somewhat fuzzy. What is a culture?
What does it mean to be a member of a culture? The
ethical relativists have their hands full with this
isssue. One must also be aware of the distinction
between ethical relativism and cultural relativism.
While ethical relativism is philosophical theory,
cultural relativism is fact, amply supported by
empirical data from the social sciences.
Simply stated, culture relativism says that different
cultures do exist and have existed throughout history,
and they do have conflictiing codes of behavior. it
makes no claims about morality, that's ethical
relativism. In fact, cultural relativism and moral
absolutism are compatible, but ethical relativism and
moral absolutism are not.
Finally, i disagree with your notion that ethical
relativism is as ubiquitous a belief as gene hackman
is an actor in movies. Maybe in political science departments,
ethical relativism rules with an iron fist, but i think most
people give little sway to the idea that no objective
moral truths exist, at least nobody in my philosophy
class does. now, cultural relativism is a horse of a
different color and i don't have time to elaborate on
it because i have to go play poker.
p.s. is it immoral to play poker
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