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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Relativism : taking a piss on morality part 2

This entry is part of the War on Relativism.

Cultural relativism breaks the principle of universality, as it states that morality changes depending on "country" or skin hue. What is right for an individual in one "country", becomes magically wrong for an individual in another "country", even though they both have the same needs. This is irrational. If (to take an extreme example) it is all right for people in one country to murder atheists and homosexuals, then it should be all right for people everywhere. After all, there are atheists and homosexuals everywhere. So supporting a culture which opposes atheism, means that you are against atheism - or you are a hypocrite (the latter being more likely).

Cultural relativism promotes the forcible enforcment of one value system against the individual's, and is often used to validate oppressive laws. It is therefore nothing but a variant of "might makes right". Unlike moral realism (where freedom, responsibility, benevolence and justice are important virtues), cultural relativism offers us no way to live peacefully in society between people holding different value systems - except for war and violent overthrow.

As a related point to this, cultural relativism, by making "the culture" the only acceptable standard, makes civil disobedience the ultimate evil - when in fact most of us consider civil disobedience in the name of freedom and rights the noblest and most admirable good. This is why cultural relativism is not only immoral but also disgusting. It turns Ghandi and Schindler from heroes into monsters.

I have discussed moral development many times in the past. My model, while perhaps not perfect, clearly illustrates that a lot of our moral development does not originate from "culture" but rather from genetics, brain development and common (i.e. trans-cultural) experiences. Furthermore, if "culture" was the only standard, then how do people come to disagree with their "culture" ? How do people become atheists ? Surely not by magic.

Finally, yet another fatal problem to cultural relativism is the impossibility of a causal origin of morality. There must have been a point where "culture" began, if only because societies began to form. If all morality is cultural, where did these first people find their own morality ? If they created it by rational discovery or blind belief, then morality does not require "culture" at all. But if morality requires "culture", then morality would not exist at all, and by consenquence society could not have formed (since such a formation would require directed action based on facts).

To get a bit off the topic here, but not too much, another related belief promoted by cultural relativists is that "morality applies only to our relations with other people". From the realist standpoint, this is patent nonsense. A person stuck on a desert island needs morality more than anyone else ! If he does not take decisions based on facts relevant to his survival, he will surely die. In fact, the whole point of progress is to weaken our need for morality through cooperation.

Furthermore, any relational scenario can be transformed into an individual one. Take the example of "buying a car" - a complex decisional process which involves many factual criteria. We can reduce this to an individual scenario by removing the seller from the equation and simply talk about "choosing one car amongst others". While this is, I admit, a rather artificial scenario, it still happens that people choose a car from many possibilities without necessarily having a dealership or private sellers in mind.

I think this belief is carried along with cultural relativism - they seem to usually go together. Why ? Well, remember that in cultural relativism, morality itself is defined on a certain relationship with other people (their conception of "culture"). Therefore it seems natural that such a concept would have nothing to do with individual actions. But even that is not a valid assumption even from the standpoint of cultural relativism, as "culture" often demonize individual actions, like "proper" clothes, drug use, masturbation, or demanding worship of this or that type.

My second salvo in the war will be posted in two days. Keep those foxholes busy ! And remember, there are no relativists in foxholes. EVERYONE in a foxhole values getting out of there alive. ;)

Post a Comment


4 Comments:

At 5/06/2008 4:33 PM, Blogger The Celtic Chimp declaimed...

Cultural relativism breaks the principle of universality, as it states that morality changes depending on "country" or skin hue. What is right for an individual in one "country", becomes magically wrong for an individual in another "country", even though they both have the same needs. This is irrational.

Why?

Stoning an adulterer is right in a fundamentalist islamic state. Doing so in a western democracy is wrong.

What you are saying amounts to
"I am right and you are wrong because I say so"

There are sooo many things wrong with this post I just don't know where to begin. So I'll leave it with the comment above. If you want to get into it let me know and we can have a good solid debate on it.

 
At 10/22/2009 12:15 PM, Blogger Lili declaimed...

I believe that cultural relativism is true as a rule of thumb but illogical as an absolute. As a general principle, it is good because it lessens ethnocentrism.

 
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