**This is from guest blogger Cole D.**
In his “Moral Relativism Defended”, Gilbert Harman deviates from the definition of moral relativism formulated by its detractors, which states that, “…(a) there are no universal moral principles and (b) one ought to act in accordance with the principles of one’s own group, where this later principle, (b), is supposed to be a universal moral principle,” (41). He instead utilizes a more logical thesis which postulates that something’s morality is akin to its largeness. Just as it is meaningless to say that an item is big without any references, he argues that judgment of an action’s morality only makes sense within the context of an agreement or understanding.
I found Harman’s discussion of cases in which moral judgments are not applicable to be especially interesting and convincing. For Harman, we only make inner judgments (calling their actions “right” or “wrong”) about someone’s morality if we believe that relative moral considerations are applicable to them. For this reason, we may call a group of cannibals heathens and savages, but we cannot say that they were wrong in their actions, because they would merely scoff at us (and then eat us).
This distinction isn’t only for people who belong to other societies. Harman argues that moral judgments are also not applicable to those whose actions are “beyond the pale” (43). He gives the example that it seems strangely weak to say that Hitler’s perpetration of the holocaust was “wrong”. This is because we view an action as going beyond mere wrongness. Harman believes that this intuition comes from us knowing that our morality did not apply to Hitler; if he could have done something so incredibly reprehensible, he obviously had a completely alien sense of morality which we would not have been able to influence. The author convincingly compares this with the case of Stalin, who was responsible for the death of millions, but believed that this decision was preventing greater disaster. As such, we can logically say that Stalin made the wrong decision, but we cannot say that about Hitler.