Friday, July 15, 2016

Inevitable Flaws of Relativism

From guest blogger, Wadea.

A huge topic talked about the first week of class is ethical relativism. The two forms of ethical relativism consist of ethical subjectivism, also known as individual relativism, and cultural relativism, relying on people as the authors of morality. The two forms of ethical relativism differ in weather it is an individual person or society that has the final say of what is right and wrong. Given that humans are far from perfect, it is hard to use our actual selves as the measure of morality; however, we could use a different measure of morality, the ideal observer—our ideal self, both fully informed and fully rational.

In theory, the “perfect,” ideal self sounds pretty good; however, what creates this ideal self? Who determines what constitutes the ideal self?

The ideal observer approach is essentially recreating the relativist views so we essentially are still the deciding factors of what is moral and what is not. Actions do not become right just because someone—the actual or the ideal self—favors them. So, what makes an action intrinsically moral? In order for any of us to determine that something is moral, we must have good reason for doing so.

Although God says that killing someone is wrong, he doesn’t give a reason. I propose that killing is wrong, because it puts an end to someone’s life that would have otherwise either continued to be a productive member of society, or at the very least, staying alive is better than the alternative of being dead, resulting in others sadness as well. Here, we have a reason as to why the act of killing is wrong, not just my saying it’s wrong making it wrong.

All in all, acts are right or wrong because of the reasons, not because any particular group or person decided so, just because. An act is going to continue being right or wrong, regardless of anyone’s opinions or beliefs about the act being right or wrong. This is a huge objection to relativism, as something cannot be right just because “I said so.” No matter which way you look at it from a relativist’s point of view, what you think does not change what actually is. Does anyone have a fight for the relativist’s side?  


Bethany Vanderhoof said...

The concept of an Ideal Observer definitely does seem to contradict both forms of Ethical Relativism. Since humans--as individuals or as a society--effectively create moral codes in accordance to Relativism, there is no right or wrong moral code to follow. Thus, there is absolutely no need for an Ideal Observer-- after all, wouldn't that simply point towards the values of Objectivism?

The example that you provided about killing is also an interesting example that further fleshes out this point. It is interesting that a relativist may not have exact reasoning for WHY a particular action is immoral. Strangely, this lack of reasoning has the flavor of Virtue Ethics or Objectivism-- something is moral or immoral simply because it is.

Julie said...

I'll start off saying that I think this is a really compelling objection and that I agree the reason for something being right or wrong is a really important factor. Using a good person's actions as a guideline doesn't show us why it's the moral thing to do.
I like the idea of objective morals and knowing right from wrong in a stark manner, but for further discussion, I'll play devils advocate.
A relativist might circle back to your "killing is wrong" example and propose a situation in which killing someone could be a moral act. Our intuitions obviously guide us to feel as though killing is wrong, but what about when killing someone would put them out of their misery? Is not killing them really the most moral thing to do in this scenario? Another example might be "never lie." Might there be a circumstance in which lying might be the most moral thing to do? In class a circumstance of this kind was proposed: lying to a terminally ill cancer patient to prevent them from living their remaining time in a depressed state. In these two examples, it is up to the agent making the decision to decide what feels moral to them.
I find it hard to set an objective moral act to every situation. But I do wish there was a rulebook of moral rights and wrongs so we wouldn't have to struggle through moral dilemmas like choosing between killing your mom or a stranger's mom.

William Wagner said...

I agree with this post. Personally, I think relativism isn't really a philosophical view. It has too many problems and too many holes for it to stand on its own. Relativism doesn't allow for right and wrong, which is key point for morality. If nothing is ever right or wrong, how can relativism itself be right? This is where objectivism really makes a case for its correctness, because it allows for actual thought about what is right and wrong. I think you make a good point about ideal observers. I think ideal observers weaken the argument for relativists. It is obvious that ideal observers will never exist. Then why use it in an argument? It lessens the argument for relativism because relativists are resting the base of their argument on a nonexistent foundation.