Monday, October 20, 2008

Am I A Moral Relativist?

I'm not sure that asking if a person is a moral relativist is really a relevant question, honestly. Unless a person is a sociopath, how is being relativist really going to make a lick of difference in the way you live? I'm willing to bet most people want the same basic needs met: food, water, shelter, and the means to make those things happen. So, since morals address actual needs and how they're met, relativism mostly applies to projected situations: what would you do if?

Exceptions might include a philosophical commitment to a certain ideal; e.g., deontology vs. utilitarianism. Or perhaps adopting a religion like Christianity, or Judaism. Even then, however, the moral systems incumbant on most of the world's philosophies and religions come down to meeting the same basic needs and how one does that; and most of them also suggest in one way or another that it is an absolute ought to consider the welfare of the people and places around you.

So, while a person may consider themselves a moral relativist, the term only aides in describing that a person may have a different philosophical commitment about how to meet essential needs (a strategy). In all practicality, however, refusing to meet those needs, regardless of philosophical/religious/a-religious commitments simply makes a person immoral, and not a relativist. Hence what is absolute is that it is incumbant on all of us to be moral; what is relative is how we go about doing that.

5 comments:

suneal said...

Beautiful, succinct, and virtuous thinking Chris! I love this! I think when the Apostle Paul said in Romans that some not hearing the Law still have the Law in their conscience, he is referring to a standard that seems perceived across the board, despite religious or cultural differences.

I think your list is awesome in that not even atheists can really argue with it for basic needs. So even for them, does not "war" become "immoral?" Those needs get taken away for some in order to "help" others, supposedly. But add to the list doing "no harm" or as you said "the welfare of others," and where then is "just war theory?" I am not saying war is never plausible, just never moral in an absolute sense.

Now I wonder, is there a distinction between morality toward humanity versus/or God? The innate across the board perception you refer to or in your words the "absolute ought," seems to be for peace toward each other and being responsible to aid one another in it. Drinking myself silly, can disable me, so my offence then might by first to God, dissipating later toward my neighbor.

I woke up tonight, so I hope this philosophical musing has the effects of the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach- it was written for an insomniac!

justsomename said...

This is great and has made me think a lot.
Do you think that there is ever a situation where your own survival is pitted against the needs of others and the moral option ends up being to take care of yourself? By this measure are we not all immoral?

Truly presenting yourself as a living sacrifice in a biblical sense is not an easy calling.

I understand that there is a Buddhist meditation where a person is to imagine himself breathing in death, sickness, evil, hate, and every horrible thing in order to take it in to himself and out of the world and then breathing out life, health, good, love, and every wonderful thing in order to give what they have away to the world.

Even though it comes from another religion, I think that it provides a frightening pointer (as many ancient religions do contain such pointers) to Christs call to death on a cross. I don't know how to reconcile this with my own day to day effort to make my own life better. Thank God for grace.

It's a strange universe that we live in.

Christopher said...

Craig,

Thank you for such a tough question: if pitted against another, would it be immoral to protect your own life?

I think the answer would be no. I also think the answer would be 'no, the other person protecting his/her own life is also not being immoral.' Still we would be at odds with each other, and it is that thing between us that is the immoral thing. That is, because we would be in a position where both of us are forced to fight for the basic need to survive, the situation that demands we do that is the immorality.

That is perhaps a little abstract, but it's the best way I could think to explain it after having 2 hours sleep these past 24 hours. ;)

Christopher said...

Suneal,

"I think when the Apostle Paul said in Romans that some not hearing the Law still have the Law in their conscience, he is referring to a standard that seems perceived across the board, despite religious or cultural differences."

Absolutely, bud! I'm not sure how to see it a different way, to be honest. And knowing that goes a long way to suggest what Arthur F. Holmes said in the 1970's, that "all truth is God's truth no matter where it is found."

That being the case, whatever a person does, or does not do to shade their heart to what is right, moral, and conformant to God's reality does not erase the fact that it is right, moral, and conformant to God's reality. St. Paul reduced all previous and subsequent philosophies in antithesis to ground-zero morality to rubble.

"Now I wonder, is there a distinction between morality toward humanity versus/or God?"

Intriguing question, my friend. How do you think the imago dei plays into answering your question?

Anonymous said...

I found this site using [url=http://google.com]google.com[/url] And i want to thank you for your work. You have done really very good site. Great work, great site! Thank you!

Sorry for offtopic