We've spent the last few entries looking at moral relativism in its most popular form today. Moral relativism is the belief that we create our own moral codes and as such what is moral for me may not be moral for you. In the first entry on this topic we saw that if we acted consistently in believing moral relativism we’d have to accept that every moral belief is equally worthy – even those that promote cruelty of the highest order. Right now we are looking at common arguments used to defend moral relativism or to attack the opposite position: moral realism. Moral realism is the belief that some sort of universally binding moral law actually exists independently of the human mind (in the same way DNA or elephants exist whether or not we believe in them). We're looking at one last objection before we look at another form of relativism.
But we aren't moral monsters!
When it has been pointed out to the moral relativist that the logical conclusion of their belief is the equal status of every moral belief they sometimes object that they and other moral relativists do not go around saying things like "genocide is as good as donating to Oxfam".
Benny: You're a moral relativist aren't you?
Jimbo: Sure am.
Benny: You realise that if what you believed were true, murder would be no less virtuous than kindliness? Maybe you should admit that there might be some actually existing moral laws.
Jimbo: Please, I don't need to believe in any universal standard to behave morally.
Is this a valid objection? Absolutely not! The relativist has mistaken the nature of the complaint made against him. The moral realist is not saying that the relativist is actually unable to judge one moral belief as better than another, he is saying that the relativist is being inconsistent when he does so. The relativist's response is as absurd as this,
Benny: You believe in a flat earth right?
Jimbo: Sure do.
Benny: You realise that if what you believed were true, you wouldn't be able to fly from one place, stay in the same direction and eventually return to that same place?
Jimbo: Please, I don't need to believe in a spherical earth to travel around it.
Jimbo is right, he doesn't need to believe in a spherical earth to travel around it. He does though if he wants his behaviour and his beliefs to be logically consistent! Similarly he doesn't need to believe that moral laws actually exist to judge one moral belief as better than another. But he does if he wants to be consistent. So ends our look at common defences of moral relativism. If you know of any others that you think should be looked at, drop me an email using the contact form at the bottom of the page.