Tuesday 22 March 2011

There is no such thing as relativism


Modern morality is often termed 'moral relativism' - but this term can be misleading.

There is no such thing as moral relativism - what is called moral relativism is actually nihilism.


Relativism entails a stable and permanent reference of morality - otherwise there is not relative, quantitative difference but simply difference.

'Relativism' actually implies that all difference is qualitative (not quantitative - because quantity requires a fixed measure).

In fact, relativism - whether applied to morality, truth or beauty - is a denial of the reality of morality, truth and beauty.


In other words, what is termed relativism is actually nihilism - when nihilism is defined as the denial of reality; since reality must be single, stable and permanent.


Reference: Nihilism by Eugene (Seraphim) Rose circa 1962.




dominic said...

The general PC concept of relativism, that it is intolerant to say others are wrong, is incoherent; Bernard Williams coined the term 'vulgar relativism' to refer to this. To hold that it is always right to be tolerant, and wrong not so to be, is in fact a stance of moral absolutism rather than relativism. However, the illogical nature of the view does not deter those who hold it, for, as you have written previously, PC is not a view born of rational thought.

Brett Stevens said...

I see relativism as a kind of moral subsidy. We know what should be done, but we'll make allowances for others -- in exchange for them doing something for us, which is expected from them and they are punished if it does not appear.

Differences of opinion about the term nihilism aside, since you clearly define your usage (seems similar to Nietzsche's), relativism does represent a denial of value but even more, a denial of reality. We work as a species by agreeing on terms, tools and values.

Without that, we fall apart and become useless. But it seems to me that's what the moral relativists want: anarchy with grocery stores.

The Crow said...

It is being discovered, daily, that reality is whatever the individual thinks it is and perceives it to be.
This is a rather inconvenient indication of truth.
Thus the concept of reality may not be the ideal base for building upon.
Consensus of a shared reality might serve better, as in: what sort of reality is most beneficial to the greater good of any given population, in the long-term?

Bruce Charlton said...

@dominic - yes I agree it is obviously incoherent. But I need to keep refreshing the insight.

@Brett - I see it in terms of using the One Ring in pursuit of good - The Left use anti-authoritarianism because *it works* (in the short term - it gets rid of the prevailing authority); in particular A-A mobilizes the ambitious young who are transformed into moral exemplars and choice-leaders purely from their lack of complicity in 'the past'.

@Crow - I don't think so, this would be a world of multiple delusions (aiming for a folie a deux, or multiple thereof), not multiple realities. Try looking through the linked book by Eugene Rose to see if you are convinced that your expressed view is nihilistic at root.

The Crow said...

Last week I would have said the same thing as you, Bruce, but reality intruded in a most alarming way, except that being me, I remain unalarmed by it.

I chanced to do a Google search for Genesis, Chapter One, to reacquaint myself with what I really already knew. I chose the third entry, since Wikipedia is always first and second. I found:
"In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was God."
Exactly as I had remembered it.
Later that day I engaged a Roman Catholic on this chapter, and had him inform me that it said something quite different. I was more than a little nonplussed at this.
Returning home, I re-checked via Google, and indeed, Genesis One says what he said it did, not what I had read, and remembered, earlier on. Oddly, my wife remembered it saying exactly what I did, too.
I searched twenty-odd Google pages for the entry I had read, and it was nowhere in sight.
It had, to all appearances, ceased to exist!
Mysterious indeed.
Reality suddenly seems a little less stable than it did.
I am not given to delusion. Neither is my wife. Make what you will of it.