Friday, March 21, 2008

Relativism



Rodak said: "[relativism is] not a tyranny, since it's not coercive."

Civis says:

Relativism says "There is no objective truth concerning X". This statement however in fact asserts an objective truth, namely that objective truth does not exist. It is also, coercive. If I say "X is objectively true" and relativism says "X is not objectively true", one statement must be true and one must be false.

Relativism is in fact the most coercive statement of supposed objective truth, because it cannot co-exist with any other objective truth whatsoever. The Church teaches that, while it contains the fullness of truth, we must accept the truth that we find in science and in other religions. There can be common ground. Relativism will allow no such tolerance: everything must bow to it.

98 comments:

Rodak said...

It is also, coercive. If I say "X is objectively true" and relativism says "X is not objectively true", one statement must be true and one must be false.

So what? You're free to believe in your objective truth; the other guy is free to believe something else. Who is coerced there?
If I were to say, "What you believe to be objectively true is false according to my system of thought, and, therefore, you may not promulgate it in public," that would be coercion. That is what you have in a totalitarian system, be it communist, fascist, or theocratic in its orthodoxy.

Rodak said...
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Rodak said...

(deleted above to fix typos)

This is exactly why I have argued against the idea of any so-called "public orthodoxy" being instituted. Anybody calling for a public orthodoxy evidently thinks that such an orthodoxy would be identical to whatever orthodoxy he believes in now--the others would need to change.
Any two or three orthodoxies would have their own "objective truths" that would conflict with some of the objective truths of the others.
This is why the Founders, in their wisdom, ensured against the establishment of any public orthodoxy when they wrote the Constitution.

Civis said...

You ask who is coerced. If I understand you correctly (based on our discussion on your blog), you argue that that relativism must be taught in public schools. Further, I would assert, and I don't thing you would disagree, relativism is in fact taught in public schools and universities. The state (or people who have usuroed the power of the state) is imposing its view of truth.

You make my case well when you say, "If I were to say, 'What you believe to be objectively true is false according to my system of thought, and, therefore, you may not promulgate it in public,' that would be coercion. That is what you have in a totalitarian system..." That is precisely what the state does.

Civis said...

Rodak, you asked be below under "Collective or Individualistic Salvation": "What do you see as the remedy for the pervasive relativism in American society?"

First let me say that I would NOT entrust this problem to the state.

Well, I would suggest that people consider the implications of relativism.

First, as I have pointed out, relativism is self-refuting because it asserts an an objective truth concerning [fill in the blank].

Second, I would argue that there is no argument to support relativism that will hold water.

Third, nobody consistently believes it. I realize that this sounds like an ad hominem, but let me explain. While a person may argue for relativism and though it may pervade his thinking, if you observe the way people act, you will find that they do not act as if truth or morality is relative. This in itself does not disprove relativism, but I would use this phenomenon to coax people into seeing that in fact some inner voice (I would call it conscience) speaks to them regarding truth.

Fourth, with relativism, anything goes:
1) There can be no concept of moral progress (There could be nothing better to do with Jews than murder them)
2) There would be no sense in trying to exhort people to act in any certain way. (It would be senseless to try to exhort Nazi’s not to murder Jews.)
3) One can never say that one culture is better than another (in the case of cultural relativism) or that one person is better than another (in the case of moral relativism). (There could be no better system of government than the Nazi system.)
4) (In the case of societal belief relativism) We can say that a thing is right or wrong simply by consulting the standards of the society. (The holocaust is morally upright since/if murdering Jews was morally acceptable in Nazi Culture.)

In short, I would persuade my fellow man by the use of logic, rhetoric and truth. I would not impose my view using the arm of the state, as is what is happening today.

Rodak said...

First, as I have pointed out, relativism is self-refuting because it asserts an an objective truth concerning [fill in the blank].

Let me stop you right there. Relativism does not do that. Relativism says "Given the present circumstances [blank], [blank], and [blank] it would be prudent, pragmatic, and utilitarian to do [blank]. And, it adds, this would be the ethical thing to do under these circumstances.
What it does not do is state "Because [blank] is objectively true, one must always act in relation to, or in accordance with [blank].

Rodak said...

You keep speaking of relativism as "it" as though there were some entity out there in the world called a "relative" telling people what to do. The whole point about relativism is that it is a manner of approaching problem-solving. It is a method, not a system.

Civis said...

Relativism: A theory, especially in ethics or aesthetics, that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them. [The American Hertiage Dictionary]

Rodak said...

Right. So a person believing that one mustn't eat fish on Friday cannot eat fish on Friday, and a person who believes that one can eat whatever one wants to eat, whenever one wants to eat it, acts accordingly. But what is called "situational ethics" is also a form of relativism, is it not?

Civis said...

Huh? I don't think I understand.

Ryan Hallford said...

Rodak,

But there is a public orthodoxy written in the constitution: the underlying belief in inalienable rights. The Constitution takes the belief that certain natural rights are self-evident through the light of reason. There can be no talk of rights without arguing for some kind of public orthodoxy. The debate for relativism is a debate over Truth and Goodness. This is precisely where relativism fails in offering an adequate philosophy. Relativism maintains that there is no truth and goodness but tries to impose itself as both true and good, namely a "public orthodoxy." Likewise, pragmatism and utilitarianism argues for moral action based off a underlying theory of what is good. The debate is over whether there will be a "public orthodoxy" but what exactly will comprise the "public orthodoxy" that will be in place.

You claim that relativism is a problem solving process. If it is a problem solving process then it offers real solutions to social problems. I'm guessing these solutions should be normative for society to follow, or else it would be useless to formulate them in the first place. If you have a course of action that is "ought" to be normative for society to implement then this becomes an arguement for a type of "public orthodoxy" based on some kind of principled understanding of truth and goodness. I have problems with the principled presuppositions that accompany relativistic theories like utilitarianism and pragmatism as such.

If you could possibly argue for your relativistic utilitarianism without, at least implicitly, arguing that your view ought to be implemented, then I'll reconsider my stance on this matter. And if you argue that utilitarianism should be implemented and taught, I don't really see how this isn't a coercive "public orthodoxy." Basically my challenge is this, you have to some how prove to me that your view is both objectively false (relative) and objectively true (universally applicable) at the same time. Good luck with defying the principal of non-contradiction.

I have a "feeling" that the only accurate arguement for relativism is to resort to emotivism: positing your feeling of how "public orthodoxy" should not be instituted based off of nothing more than your subjective feelings about the matter.

Civis said...

Ryan,

Thanks for weighing in. If I understand correctly, Rodak is not arguing for utilitarianism. Wouldn't Utilitarianism be an object view of morality?

Ryan Hallford said...

I was also responding to Rodak,s statement of how the relativist doesn't try to create a "public orthodoxy." I move beyond relativism as such and address utilitarianism and pragmatism because of Rodak's claims in the following comment:

"Let me stop you right there. Relativism does not do that. Relativism says "Given the present circumstances [blank], [blank], and [blank] it would be prudent, pragmatic, and utilitarian to do [blank]. And, it adds, this would be the ethical thing to do under these circumstances.
What it does not do is state "Because [blank] is objectively true, one must always act in relation to, or in accordance with [blank]."

And I am claiming that utilitarianism makes claims universally valid moral system, but can only do so by maximizing a subjective view point with its own understanding of the good.

Rodak said...

But there is a public orthodoxy written in the constitution: the underlying belief in inalienable rights. The Constitution takes the belief that certain natural rights are self-evident through the light of reason.

Right. And that is my argument: the only "public orthodoxy" possible for this nation is the constitution itself, interpreted with regard to positive laws using the light of reason.
So when the WWWtW writers, who already have the constitution (since they are Americans) is calling for another, and apparently different, "public orthodoxy", I find it threatening. What do they mean? How would it be enforced and by whom?

Rodak said...

I am not, btw, advocating moral relativism for you, or me, or any other individual. What I am saying is that the constitution makes it impossible to formulate any public orthodoxy, extraneous to the constitution, to which all citizens would have to adhere. There is no one set of mores (other than the constitution) under which all persons could live without being coerced with regard to certain of their beliefs; and the constitution gives them the right to hold those beliefs.

Rodak said...

I'm guessing these solutions should be normative for society to follow, or else it would be useless to formulate them in the first place.

If a chosen course of action accomplished what it set out to accomplish, and also proved to be broadly applicable, then it would become normative in those situtations where it would predictably be effective.
It wouldn't be effective, forinstance, to offer a starving Muslim, or Jewish, family surplus canned hams. But it the hungry families were Protestant or Catholic, given them ham would predicatably be effective on multiple occasions of need.

Rodak said...

And I am claiming that utilitarianism makes claims universally valid moral system, but can only do so by maximizing a subjective view point with its own understanding of the good.

To the contrary, Utilitarianism always seeks the best possible outcome for the greatest number of individuals through the means of analyzing the objective situation and taking the most practical action. It is specifically not a means by which to take self-interested action. It's motto is "The greatest good for the greatest number." It is fundamentally altruistic.

Ryan Hallford said...
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Ryan Hallford said...

Still, how do you argue that the constitution should be binding just because it is the constitution? In other words, if the constitution was unjust would we still have to follow its decrees? By what standard do you judge whether the constitution is just or unjust?

The problem with pointing to the constitution alone is you set it up as the standard of public orthodoxy when the constitution, and natural rights theory in general, already presupposes moral norms that I would argued are issued forth from natural law. Thus, any natural rights theory or Constitution can only be deemed just if it is in conformity with natural law.

You say that the constitution would be interpreted "with regard to positive laws using the light of reason." I have no problem with this, but even this is presupposing a public understanding of a moral context, a type of public orthodoxy. My concern is how do we keep a natural rights theory grounded in natural law and prevent people from defining natural rights in some way other than in conformity with natural law. One way to do this is to teach a public orthodoxy grounded in natural law rather than one grounded in the Constitution because the Constitution is the product of man reflecting on how to order a just society and not the standard by which every just society should be measured.

Ryan Hallford said...

Utilitarianism in not fundamentally altruistic. The common good, in order to be common and good, must be common to every person and do good by that person. If one person is overlooked because they didn't make it into the maximizing factor of pleasure/happiness/good (whatever you choose to call it) for the greater number, you can hardly consider utilitarianism as altruistic towards that person that falls in the minority.

Dignity must always come before efficiency. Direct evil towards a few, even for the benefit of the greater number, must be avoided. Plus you get into the problems of proportionalism that I have stressed to you in a past comment and you never did deal with my arguments against proportionalism. I can repost that comment here if it helps jog your memory and you have the desire to respond to it.

I have no problem with a proportionalism as long as it is practiced within the confines of a deontological ethics, namely if avoids doing evil towards any person. If evil can be avoided at all, evil ought not to be done to any human person. Human dignity trumps utilitarian calculation.

Civis said...

Two points:

1) You said "the only 'public orthodoxy' possible for this nation is the constitution itself." Yet on your blog you said that "Public relativism is a must" (3/17/08 6:49 PM). How do you reconcile these statements?

2)Your argument for a constitutional morality is new to me; I'm not sure how to respond because I'm not really sure what you mean. Nevertheless, I think that what you are for (see my first point) would be against the constituion.

Rodak said...

How do you reconcile these statements?

The Constitution establishes freedom of conscience within the boundaries of positive law. It thereby protects religious practice in most instances (I'm sure that you can find a hypothetical case where the religious practices of headhunters from Borneo wouldn't be protected) and allows persons the freedom to act in relation to both society and their private religious beliefs.

Rodak said...

The common good, in order to be common and good, must be common to every person and do good by that person.

That isn't possible. Altruism cannot make that promise. It can only do the best that can be done by persons of good will. Utilitarianism aims at bringing about the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number. Individual dignity is one of the first considerations it takes into account in the decision-making process. One does not operate in a utilitarian way by intentionally causing evil to any minority. The intentional causation of evil is not "good", therefore it wouldn't be utilitarian. Have you ever read Bentham or Mill? I don't see where you're coming from with the notion that utilitarianism would deliberately inflict evil on a minority. If a minority voluntarily excludes itself from what aims at being a common good, no evil has been done. If an unknown minority is inadvertantly excluded from what aims at being a common good, no evil has been done, and the situtation can possibly be corrected so as to include that minority.

You would clearly not be entirely happy unless every person were persuaded to become Catholic. But that ain't gonna happen. The U.S. constitution protects the rights of people who want to be Catholic from potential discriminatory practices by people who think that Luther, or Calvin, or Moses had complete access to absolute Truth. And that's why this nation has never been ripped apart by religious war, as was nearly every country in Europe, at one time, or another.

Utilitarianism is not a person. "It" has no subjective viewpoint. A utilitarian project is, by definition, a collective decision to act in a certain manner in order to bring about specific objective ends which would benefit everyone involved. It can't be undertaken "subjectively." One could, I suppose, be a totalitarian dictator and claim to be acting in a utilitarian manner, but that would only constitute a misuse of the term.

Rodak said...

If one person is overlooked because they didn't make it into the maximizing factor of pleasure/happiness/good (whatever you choose to call it) for the greater number, you can hardly consider utilitarianism as altruistic towards that person that falls in the minority.

If one cannot act without the certainty that no one person will be excluded from the felicitious results of one's actions, then one cannot act at all, since such knowledge is impossible: the perfect has been made the enermy of the good, and the ideal the enemy of the possible.

Rodak said...

One way to do this is to teach a public orthodoxy grounded in natural law rather than one grounded in the Constitution because the Constitution is the product of man reflecting on how to order a just society and not the standard by which every just society should be measured.

And what is "natural law" but the product of man reflecting on what natural law is? Who gets to define what is "natural law"? Aristotle? Thomas Aquinas? Thomas Jefferson? So far as I know, the only thing that will provide absolutely certain, objective truth is mathematics. Even logic can only do so to the extent that all persons agree on the definitions of the terms being employed and the objective reality of those things for which those word stand as representatives.

Ryan Hallford said...
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Civis said...

"The Constitution establishes freedom of conscience within the boundaries of positive law. It thereby protects religious practice in most instances ... and allows persons the freedom to act in relation to both society and their private religious beliefs."

I'm all for that, but you said that "Public relativism is a must" (3/17/08 6:49 PM). Why must my child be force to be endoctrinated in relativism?

Ryan Hallford said...

If altruism cannot make the promise of doing good by every person than it is not altruism. If utilitarianism cannot even theoretically do this than it is not fundamentally altruistic. Utilitarianism doesn’t promise to help ever “other” but only attempt to help the majority of “others”. Individual dignity may be the first consideration that is taken into account, but then it moves beyond this and attempts to calculate the “greatest possible good for the greatest possible number” and leaves the possibility of neglecting the minority, and doing harm by them.

I wasn’t trying to suggest that the person involved in utilitarian calculation intends evil, but that the theory can justify doing evil towards others while hiding behind the theory as the justification. For example, the utilitarian may justify dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima because it “hypothetically” ensures the “greatest possible good for the greatest possible number” during World War II. (Well at least for the Americans this seems to be the case) But once warfare becomes this technological and indiscriminately takes life, there is no way to ensure that innocent people won’t die. If fact, innocent non-aggressors did die in the atomic bombings. As far as I’m concern, direct evil was done to these innocent people that didn’t happen to be counted in the “greatest possible number.” The intention may have been a maximizing principle of projecting individual dignity onto a selected group of people that constituted the majority, but this resulted in doing direct harm to a minority of people and denying their dignity in the actions declared as good by a utilitarian ethic.

I have read Benthan and Mill, I just think there are better moral theories.

“You would clearly not be entirely happy unless every person were persuaded to become Catholic. But that ain't gonna happen. The U.S. constitution protects the rights of people who want to be Catholic from potential discriminatory practices by people who think that Luther, or Calvin, or Moses had complete access to absolute Truth. And that's why this nation has never been ripped apart by religious war, as was nearly every country in Europe, at one time, or another.”
Now that statement is comical. My first retort is I don’t expect to ever be perfectly happy in this life. Secondly, I am not advocating people convert to Catholicism. I think, as Thomas Aquinas argued from Natural Law, that freedom of religion is a natural good of human existence expressed in the freedom of will and possession of reason. I just don’t think utilitarianism or relativism is as philosophically sound as you suggest. Furthermore, I don’t think anybody has complete access to absolute Truth. All human beings are limited in knowing. Even the Catholic Church in all of her splendor doesn’t have a monopoly on Truth. I am have never claimed that she did. This whole comment is a “straw man” that proves you have no idea what I believe in these regards.

The ends do not justify the means, rather every means in itself has to be good. The doctrine of utilitarianism is a type of consequentialism. Bentham and Mill proposed this doctrine by looking at desires and explaining actions by these desires. In turn the terms of “good” and “right” are assigned operative functions within this theory. The “right” becomes defined in terms of “good” and “good” in terms of utility which usually refers to either pleasure (hedonism) or happiness. Thus an act is “right” only if it produces the maximum amount of good. I think one of the serious weaknesses of this stance is that it places a lot of stock on being able to understand what exactly constitutes a good state of affairs by which it tries to calculates means towards that state of affairs. In fact, utilitarianism depends on being able to compare states of affairs and judging which state of affair is more “good” than other states of affair. Furthermore thes “means” may not be inherently just or good to certain individuals that don’t follow into the “greatest number.” Basically, utilitarian places to much weight on what can actually be known in terms of the best possible state of affairs and the best possible way to achieve that state of affairs. There is no guiding principle (deontology or natural law) that would inherently dissuade certain actions as unjust because the utilitarianism deems that the right action is always that which hypothetically brings the greatest amount of “good” which is in turn may be only confined to certain people.

“If one cannot act without the certainty that no one person will be excluded from the felicitious results of one's actions, then one cannot act at all, since such knowledge is impossible: the perfect has been made the enermy of the good, and the ideal the enemy of the possible.”

The problem is when a course of action calls for the exclusion of some for the benefit of the “greatest number.” There is nothing inherent to utilitarianism to prevent the good of the few from being trampled and denied.
If you would like, I will expound upon Natural Law when I have more time. Or so not to get too many topics started we can continue to discuss the merits of utilitarianism.

Rodak said...

Why must my child be force to be endoctrinated in relativism?

For the umpteenth time, your child will not be indoctrinated with relativism. Relativism is not a doctrine; it is the absence of any state-decreed doctrine. If you are Catholic, then I assume that your child will be indoctrinated by Catholicism--privately. Publicly, your child will be taught to be tolerant of the faith traditions of his classmates and that he has the right to believe what he wants to believe, as guaranteed by the constitution.

Rodak said...

If you would like, I will expound upon Natural Law when I have more time.

Yes. I would like that. I also have no idea how we came to be discussing Utilitarianism. I remember using the adjective "utilitarian" along with a couple of other words such as "pragmatic" and "effective" with regard to the U.S. constitution. I was not advocating formal Utilitarianism. My argument is against the attempt to formulate a "public orthodoxy" in a diverse society founded on secular, positive law.
What I would like to discuss is what is the basis of Natural Law, and how it would be possible to establish a "public orthodoxy" based on a universally-recognized Natural Law, that did not violate the establisment clause of the U.S. constitution. That is, and has been, my topic.

Ryan Hallford said...

First off, I would recommend looking for a good book on natural law. I know from that Civis offered a good list of people during the discussion on contraception. For another contemporary I would also recommend J. Budziszewski and Jacques Maritain (Man and the State). Secondly, I am probably not the best person to attempt to explain a whole moral theory, but this is my best attempt.

Natural law uses practical reason to act in accordance with intrinsic tendencies towards human goods. In my mind, the most difficult factor of the theory is trying to convince someone of what is intrinsically good. So I’ll do my best to address this a bit later in this comment.

Natural Law is a law because it is the “ordination rationis” (the ordination of reason) which is to say the law is determined by practical reason which is open to a knowledge of the good to be done. The laws become determined by the practical reason’s conclusion about what is good. Of course, even this assumes what is considered the first principal of Natural Law: to do good and avoid evil. However, if the first principal is not a given, I don’t see how any moral system has a leg to stand on. So in order to establish what is good we must determine what is natural.

Natural Law is natural because man has a set of intrinsic tendencies or inclinations towards a set of goods that man desires in order to be fully human. In other words, these desires help man fulfill his nature as a human.

The First Principle: Do Good and Avoid Evil, is a practical command because it is concerned with action. Thus it comes from the practical intellect. This is why Civis rightly stated previously that natural law is “co-natural to human consciousness.” Natural Law is known along with our human experience and not from some kind of theoretical or speculative knowledge. Even the word conscience means “to know with.” The first principal aims at making some human action while ensuring that those human acts are moral acts.

As a disclaimer to avoid confusion, the first principal may be understood as an implicit moral notion that accompanies human existence. It only becomes explicit when a person tries to deliberate what he ought to do in a concrete situation. In this way, the First Principle can be said to be a formal principle (the form of the moral judgment) and the foundation of all moral deliberation because this deliberation occurs in light of this principle.

So now we need content for the first formal foundational principal (sorry, I’m obsessed with alliteration). Traditionally this is called the Primary Precepts. The Primary Precepts are a set of intrinsic moral goods constituted by practical reason in conjunction with human inclinations (natural inclinations alone are amoral). These percepts require us to look at human good to be pursued and this is traditionally done in a Aristotelian fashion. I will give a very basic list although I know certain theorist have longer list and explanations for that list. Although the following will try to identify certain intrinsic good to human existence by also looking at commonalities with other parts of creation, even in doing so the human uses reason to understand these goods as they apply particularly to humans. Practical reason is always operative and issuing forth laws to act.

As a substance and in common with every being there is a principle of existence/ self-preservation / habit of being. From this experience it may be reasoned that existence and self-preservation is an intrinsic good of human life. With practical reason this would issue forth into a law that human life ought to be respected and preserved. Certain things like killing innocent persons or murder, so forth, would be seen as an affront to this law and to the dignity of the human person.

As animals, we can see certain intrinsic goods as a means of fostering life such as nourishment, reproduction, and education of young. These goods speak to the value of taking care of one’s offspring through proper nourishment and education. This naturally raises issues of child care, education system, healthcare, etc.

As rational animals, humans have a set of intrinsic goods that follow their rational nature such as social life (community), life of reason, to know the truth of God (freedom of religion) and a life of virtuous activity. These deal with the proper ordering of society to foster the good of the community (common good), to pursue truth, to pursue religion. Issues of justice arrive such as ordering a just state, having a just form of government and constitution (equality, liberty, and all that jazz).

Now Aquinas claims that the first principle and the first precepts are known by everyone at least implicitly. Jacque Maritain claims that the first precepts are known first by way of pre-philosophical connatural knowledge and these judgments are determined by inclinations that affirm a set of moral norms. In other words these first precepts would offer a starting point for ethical deliberation that would be concerned with what ought to be done in concrete situations.

This is where Secondary Precepts come into play. Basically, one makes the primary precepts specific and concrete in moral decisions made in particular circumstances and situations. Some of what I have already written to give example to the First Precepts above already involves going into the Secondary Precepts. The Secondary Precepts look to human actions as a means to an end and discerns by practical reason whether or not certain actions will frustrate or enhance the primary percept. For example, from the percept that human existence and preservation of life is good, one can discern that things like suicide, abortion, and they death penalty are evils to be avoided as they do not enhance the primary precept of preservation of human life.

Aquinas believed that the secondary precepts were not universally known by all for all times and required deeper social reflection. This is because certain secondary precepts are dependent on contingent and changing situations. Even though one ought not to kill another human one could conceivably allow for flexibility if this is a last resort for self-defense. This is why Aquinas develops the principle of double effect. Certain circumstances can come into play and render the secondary principles relative in some way. This is what I mean when I claim there is a guided proportionalism built into natural law.

A brief description of the deliberation involved in the Principle of Double effect: If there is a situation where a particular action has two effects—one good and one evil, the action chosen must be because of the good effect and not the evil effect. Aquinas calls this the principle of double effect. However, in order to choose an action that has an evil effect, there must be no other way for the good effect to be achieved. As long as there exists other means to achieve a good end without resorting to an action that has evil effects, it is immoral for the person to chose the action that has evil effects. There must be a proportionate reason for tolerating the evil effect, namely the action is a last resort and the good end could be achieve no other way.

I clear example of this would be amputation. Under regular circumstances you shouldn’t mutilate yourself. But if your life is at risk, you may amputate a member of your body for the sake of health.

The Secondary Principle, and thus the concrete application of natural law is an ongoing social reflection that continuously occurs as new situations arise that call for practical judgments. Unlike utilitarianism, natural law takes into account the intrinsic nature of acts in themselves. Natural Law theory focuses equally on the goodness of certain means as well as the goodness of the ends. There is always the possibility of error in discerning secondary precepts, so rightfully there should be reasonable debate over these issues. Jacques Maritain pints to the reality that there is an evolution of moral consciousness that slowly through time can come to a better awareness of secondary precepts through constant social reflection in the context of the First Principle and Precepts.

I think this will suffice as an introduction, although there is much more to discuss in terms of the objectivity of moral acts and deontology.

To address your primary concern, I would not advocate a public orthodoxy that went against a just constitution. However, I do not feel limited to sticking to the constitution for public orthodoxy because the constitution is not the source of the just ordering of society but an expression of man’s attempt to do so. There are many things the constitution does not deal with that may rightly be incorporated into public orthodoxy. My concern, as previously stated, is how do we keep a natural rights theory grounded in natural law. John Paul II addressed the United Nations in 1998 expounding upon the philosophical foundations of natural rights and insisted that natural rights do not derive from positive law, either human or divine, but are inscribed in the very nature of reality. Natural rights ought to have their foundation in natural law, in human nature itself.

The first and fundamental right of every human person is to be respected as a person. What do we do when the “rights” of the government go against natural law or more particularly against the “rights” of the individual? Do you argue from the constitution that slavery is illegal? It wasn’t until the 1960’s that interracial marriage was legal in most states. The reality is that people can use the Constitution to justify some pretty unjust laws. Do we leave it to one person’s interpretation of the constitution versus another interpretation? Or do we go to a more fundamental level of natural law and use this understanding to understand a just ordering of society? I have problems with the natural rights theory as such because of its development in the Enlightenment and some of the faulty notions of human nature and inalienable rights. However, I am willing to deal with them in the Constitution and society if we try to ultimately ground them in human nature and natural law. Otherwise we just have one group against another interpreting what they believe to be their natural right (for example: a woman’s right to procure an abortion).

Rodak said...

Ryan--
Thank you, that was very thorough.
I think that any brief discussion of cultural anthropology would very quickly put to rest any claim that there is a set of fundamental moral beliefs that are held by human beings universally, even in theory.
As for your example of slavery; there probably wasn't one person among the first formulators of Natural Law theory who didn't think that slavery was a fine, natural, part of human existence.
As for the First Principle, that too is fine, except that no two people will necessarily agree on what is "good" and what is "evil." I, for instance, do not think that birth control is evil, and, in fact, think that not using birth control is at minimum selfish, under a number of different circumstances. I think that man is a tool-maker by nature and that birth control is a tool man has made to assist in his stewardship of resources. Any tool can be misused, of course. But that is in the nature of the intent with which it is used; it is not in the nature of the tools itself.
So, I can see how a specific, coherent, and consistent theory of Natural Law could be formulated witin and for a homogenous cultural group or society; but how one could be devised in a diverse society, made up of several sub-cultures, that would apply equally to every citizen without violating the core beliefs of any citizen, or group of citizens, is beyond the scope of my imagination. That is, I don't see how we could do any better than we are already doing now.
Can you help me out here?

Rodak said...

Here, for instance, is Aristotle on slavery:

So, Aristotle's theory of slavery holds that some people are naturally slaves and others are naturally masters. Thus he says:

But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?

There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.

Rodak said...

Aquinas seems to equivocate on the issue:

Reply to Objection 2. Considered absolutely, the fact that this particular man should be a slave rather than another man, is based, not on natural reason, but on some resultant utility, in that it is useful to this man to be ruled by a wiser man, and to the latter to be helped by the former, as the Philosopher states. Wherefore slavery which belongs to the right of nations is natural in the second way, but not in the first

Ryan Hallford said...

I probably won’t be able to respond again for a while so I'll mention this in passing and try to come back later for a more sufficient explanation. I never said there is set of fundamental oral beliefs universally held by all humanity. I am arguing that every human person has the ability to access the natural law, this does not mean they always practice its precepts. I also believe people sin and have disordered passions. I am not even saying people agree on what is good and evil. Some people believe the Holocaust was good. But how would you argue against that without trying to reference to intrinsic good of human existence the Nazis should be able to reasonably understand?

I figured we would stay away from contraception, but since you mention it. My argument was not that its use was evidently evil, but that if you reflected on the nature of the sexual act and the goods inherent to this act, contraception directly negated these goods. The good effect of contraception, birth control, can be achieved through other means that do work within the intrinsic complete self-giving of the sexual act. I was trying to apply the first precepts to a concrete situation. But just because something isn’t always evident doesn’t mean it isn’t objectively wrong. We may just not be able to easily recognize it as objectively wrong because of some fault in our reason. I’m pretty sure I mentioned in my previous bit on natural law that our application isn’t infallible, and as new situations arise and technology develops, there will be always more reflection on how to correctly apply the first precepts.

Natural Law is making the claim that certain goods are intrinsically good to human existence. That doesn't mean we always apply principle's correctly. Historically this can be seen. However, if you don't argue against slavery from the intrinsic good of human nature and existence, what other moral system are you to use? If there is not some intrinsic sacredness and dignity common to all human people, than why not enslave others as a part of one's will to power?

Aristotle has a faulty metaphysical biology, he also said women were defective males. I don't ascribe to his metaphysical biology, it was erred. However, that doesn't mean he wasn't on to something with natural law. Aquinas was not absolutely against slavery, but believed that people, even as slaves, had certain intrinsic dignities as slaves. One example is he argues that slaves could choose whether or not to marry and to whom to marry. It is not secret that the medievals were greatly influenced by Aristotle’s false metaphysical biology. Thus, whether slavery is understood as just or not depends on practical reason in terms of the value of lie in a particular society. If a given society has a certain view of the just society informed by a faulty metaphysical biology they may argue that slavery can be just if the master treats the slave a certain way. In the case of both of these men, they saw the proper order of society as the wise governing the unwise justly. Even though both advocated for slavery, it should be pointed out that neither would advocate for cruel or evil treatment. I do believe slavery is unjust and I believe that a natural law perspective can show this. One of the reasons why secondary precepts cannot be universal is because cultural conditions such as one’s widely accepted metaphysical biology can distort one’s application of the First Precepts.

I am not arguing that all societies must culturally conform to each other. I am arguing that all societies should conform to the natural goods of human existence available through the practical reason of the everyday experience. This may result in many diverse cultural practices among differing societies. I may try to deal with this when I have more time, but each culture has its own unique way, relative to that culture, of respecting human life from handshaking to bowing to hugging etc. One expression is not morally superior to another but these are varied and differentiated expressions of respect for human life that demonstrate human creativity, spontaneity, and freedom. However, when another society does something objectively wrong like human sacrifice of innocent people, enslave others, etc. We must have some reasonable way to show them that they are not acting in conformity to the natural goods of human existence. Otherwise, we have no moral high ground to condemn their actions.

You are right that not all cultures have similar values. Some cultures have valued human sacrifice, infanticide, euthanasia, slavery, etc. Roman fathers could kill their children without any consequence from the law because their sons were not considered Roman citizens until adulthood and only citizenship ensured the protection of their dignity.

If we ever want to justly argue against another cultures or our own cultures unjust laws and actions, we must be able to access natural law which every person could reasonably access, or we have no grounds to argue and we are only exchanging opinions. If there is no natural law, namely no knowledge of what is naturally good and a moral notion to do that good, than there is no morality. There is either some moral notion co-natural to human experience that guides morality or not. If there isn’t then there is no legitimately reason to hold other people responsible for their actions for they are acting accordance to their natural reason.

You can point to evils justified by people who held a natural law perspective, but this does not defeat the natural law perspective. I would argue that when people see inequality and evil in the world they argue from a natural law perspective without even realizing it. People don’t have to be conscious of the theory to work within its context. The reason why Kant could formulate the categorical imperative or Hume the sentiment of benevolence or Locke the idea of inalienable rights is because of a deeper natural law context that accompanies human experience. Every great social reformer sees an evil that go against the natural law, some basic good intrinsic to human existence, and they fight against that evil to bring justice. Any reform, morality, condemnation of another’s action requires some kind of natural law by which people deny evil and affirm the good.

Civis said...

"Relativism is not a doctrine; it is the absence of any state-decreed doctrine."

Admit or deny: "There is no objective truth concerning right and wrong" is or purports to be a statement of truth.

Rodak said...

I am arguing that all societies should conform to the natural goods of human existence available through the practical reason of the everyday experience.

And I am arguing that all of those natural goods are culturally relative. One does that which is held to be good by members of the group to which he belongs.
There are many overlapping "goods" of course; but I doubt that there is any kind of human conduct that hasn't been held to be "good" by some group or another.

So, that also answers you, Civis.

Rodak said...

If there is no natural law, namely no knowledge of what is naturally good and a moral notion to do that good, than there is no morality.

The only possible repository for this catalog of objective, eternal truths, or goods, would be the mind of God. All men do not agree that there is a God; and among those who do so agree, there are many differing conceptions of God, according to each of which God has given differing "truths" to those who believe in his existence.
Outside of the realm of mathematics, the only eternal truth is that truth is fungible with changing circumstances, mutable over time, and culturally relative at all times.
Once, however, one declares oneself to be a Catholic, or a Presbyterian, or a Sunni Muslim, or a Marxist, one has affirmed and agreed to recognize as "truth" certain doctrines and dogmas that are written down and positively knowable by all seekers within that tradition.
It is impossible, however, to formulate such a set of truths that would be affirmed by all men at all times.

Ryan Hallford said...

Are you implying that there are not intrinsic goods to human existence? Are there no circumstances where we can interfere and morally reproach people and other cultures for actions they deem as “good” but really violates the dignity of others? And just because a society justifies certain actions as good doesn’t mean there aren’t individuals opposed to those actions within that society. We cannot assume that all people in a given society completely conform to the majority understanding of morality expressed by that culture. Are you advocating cultural relativism? If not, on what grounds do you argue that we have a right to interfere with other societies?

I have not brought exclusive religious beliefs into this. Let us not deviate from the point. We are speaking in light of natural reason not supernatural revelation. Those beliefs that I cannot reason from the light of natural reason I do not try to impose upon others. I am not arguing that non-catholics ought not to eat meat on Fridays, attend mass weekly, etc.

I am also not speaking in terms of cultural norms that manifest itself in terms of etiquette which can rightly vary between cultures. Rather I am trying to discern natural goods intrinsic to human nature that become more evident in experience and social reflection that all people regardless of religious tradition can have access to by the light of natural reason.

Rodak said...

Are there no circumstances where we can interfere and morally reproach people and other cultures for actions they deem as “good” but really violates the dignity of others?

No, there are not. Not without being coercive. We can draw the line once they try to force us to do whatever it is to which we object, but we can't go onto their turf and tell them how to act with regard to their fundamental moral beliefs.
We can, if we want, stop one group from wiping out another group in order to grab their land from them. But even there, our choices will be culturally relative. If a group of Arabs had grabbed Palestine from a group of Jews under identical circumstances, we'd be on the other side of that conflict. Everything is culturally determined.

Rodak said...

Rather I am trying to discern natural goods intrinsic to human nature that become more evident in experience and social reflection that all people regardless of religious tradition can have access to by the light of natural reason.

If there were any such thing, all people would have developed identical moral codes long before the advent of written history, or birth of any of the world religions. The truth is that supernatural revelation is the only access we have to eternal truths, and the acceptance of those is strictly faith-based. It all can be traced back to believing what some guy claimed that God told him personally.

Rodak said...

Rather I am trying to discern natural goods intrinsic to human nature that become more evident in experience and social reflection that all people regardless of religious tradition can have access to by the light of natural reason.

Such as?

Rodak said...

If, forinstance, you pass a law forbidding Muslim girls attending public schools from going to school veiled, with their heads covered, you may think that you are "liberating" those girls and providing them with the full human dignity enjoyed by their classmates. But what you are actually doing is humiliating those girls, and, by extension, humiliating the men in their families who are prevented from protecting their daughters or sisters from the humiliation you are imposing upon them.

Ryan Hallford said...

Finally, we got to the bottom of the problem. You are a cultural relativist.

I am not advocating that we go onto “another person’s turf and tell them how to act without regard to their fundamental moral beliefs.” We ought to use practical reason and concrete experience to show how their actions do not conform to natural law. Maybe this will be better understood by way of an example.

Take the Aztecs. A part of their reality was that in order to keep the world from being destroyed they had to sacrifice human life to their gods. They believed that if they failed to sacrifice human blood the world and all they knew and love would perish. Even here, their action is to obtain a perceived good of continuing human existence. It is not as if they do not value human existence but to the contrary they see the human sacrifice as the only legitimate means to preserving their existence. It can be reasonably shown that if they stopped sacrificing humans that the world will continue and reasoned that they can still value human life without sacrificing humans. One can argue from the value of human life, which they in turn value in some fashion, that the action of sacrificing human life doesn’t conform with the intrinsic good. Something also to be aware of is that there had to be a time when the Aztecs didn’t offer sacrifice of human blood to the gods. A time before this became a cultural practice. This is something that interest me. How do certain practices that directly deny peoples dignity become culturally incorporated into the collective consciousness of a given society? Who was it that started this depraved practice of sacrificing others and how did they convince others? Easily we can dismiss the personally responsibility of the Aztecs generations later who are absolutely convinced that they must sacrifice their fellow humans in order to keep the world from being destroyed, but there is a moment in time where Cain murders Able out of cold blood.

I do not know of a human society that does not value human life as a intrinsic good of human existence in some sort of culturally expressed fashion. They may ultimately have behavior, beliefs and practices that act against this belief. I have never seen a perfect society without fault even theoretically. In fact when you look across cultural boundaries, you see that all human cultures are more fundamentally similar than different in terms of moral values. Maybe this similarity is because of a natural law co-natural to human experience that can be discerned in the light of natural reason and social reflection. A given society may not be consistent with their vales and cultural practices because of some supernatural belief and or selfish will to power exercised by more influential members over less influential members. Maybe it is because the majority in power wanted to increase the good of the majority by denying fundamental rights to the weak minority. Even America with its Constitution took many years before abolishing slaves and giving women the right to vote. Does that mean the Constitution is against these actions?

If we ever do go onto another culture’s turf in a coercive way, it should be because we have an obligation to the people who are unjustly being harmed. That type of interference should be a last resort.

I have already listed the intrinsic goods in the first precepts: human existence/self-preservation, nourishment, reproduction, education of young, freedom of religion, social life, life of reason, life of virtuous activity, just ordering of society. Other natural law theories will have slightly varied list but are more or less similar.

If you think I am arguing that we should pass a law forbidding Muslim girls attending public schools from going to school veiled you have greatly misinterpreted me. You are preaching to the wrong choir. I lean to the side of the principle of subsidiary. Whatever can be achieved by the local level ought to be achieved without interference. This includes the raising of one’s children. If those same girls were being raped and slaughtered by their government and no entity within that country had the means or authority to stop it, this just might be cause to interfere and be coercive for the sake of the innocent. In fact, the veil is a cultural expression that recognizing the dignity of women within a given culture. Veiled mystery is meant to honor the beauty of a woman within some traditions, even some Christian traditions. Now if that same woman as an adult refused to where the veil, I don’t think it necessarily just to force her to, but I don’t think that would be cause enough to invade another country for this wouldn’t be a major affront of her dignity.

Rodak said...

You are a cultural relativist.

No, I'm a Protestant Christian.
What I'm maintaining is that since we are a diverse society, cultural relativism is a fact, and that under our constitution it is protected.
And I'm asking, therefore, how either Russell Kirk, or the writers at WWWtW, can justify calling for what WWWtW has called a "public orthodoxy."
Based on what? And enforced how, and by whom?
(I'll keep asking until somebody tries to answer these questions, instead of evading them with digressions.)

Ryan Hallford said...

I agree that we live in a diverse society, but I don’t understand what you mean that “cultural relativism” is a fact. Are you saying that being a cultural relativist is good or that there exist cultural relativist or are you only maintaining that cultures are different from yours or are you saying something completely different with this statement? I would agree that there are different cultural beliefs but I disagree that this means that we can’t judge those beliefs according to natural law. Interesting enough, you seem to want to judge and censor them in accordance to the Constitution. We both are arguing for public orthodoxy but with different things as the standard. I’m arguing my standard of natural law is more fundamental than your standard of the Constitution. I think I would want a standard in case I should happen to visit another place that is not America.

Our constitution protects people’s rights to hold certain beliefs, religions, and ideas. Whereas you based people’s right to do this on the constitution, I claimed these things are intrinsic goods of human existence whether or not the Constitution protects these rights. I know on your blog you were addressing writers at WWWtW, but on this blog the issue is whether or not relativism as such is a tyranny and coercive. Therefore, I have not taken time to deal with the claims of Russell Kirk or WWWtW because I imagine I would do that at your blog.

I was not trying to evade with digressions but getting to the deeper issue of what our public orthodoxy ought to be based upon. Also I was trying to deal with tyranny of relativism which seemed proper for this post. (see post title “Relativism” above)

I believe there needs to be tolerance for diverse beliefs. I don’t think one must be a moral relativist or appeal to the constitution to be truly tolerant/ tolerant in the way one ought to be tolerant. If there is natural law and truth about things, tolerance is much more about being receptive to people and truth without being a relativist. The reason why relativism is so dangerous is that it isn’t really as tolerant as it claims. Relativism excludes any belief that claims to be true. Really, tolerance only makes sense within a moral framework where people can morally justify certain beliefs and actions while not tolerating others. This is what you seem to be attempting by arguing against Russel Kirk and WWWtW. Tolerance without a moral framework namely relativism leads to a dogmatic relativism. I am claiming that this type of dogmatic relativism has no place in the public orthodoxy. We can be open to different views and beliefs without being open to relativism.

I don’t think cultural relativism is a fact. I think that people have different values and beliefs is a fact, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t have a dialogue or judge the validity of other people’s beliefs. If this was the case you wouldn’t be able to judge, rightly or wrongly, Russel Kirk and WWWtW as having faulty notions of what should constitute public orthodoxy. Their beliefs have just as much right to be a part of the public orthodoxy as yours, that is if you really want to be culturally relativist. If we want to be humble, we will listen to their side and engage them in healthy debate and try to be open to truth.

Rodak said...

Tolerance without a moral framework namely relativism leads to a dogmatic relativism

Can you list, say, five tenets of "dogmatic relativism?"

Rodak said...

this doesn’t mean that we can’t have a dialogue or judge the validity of other people’s beliefs.

I believe that an "orthodoxy" is something that is generally agreed upon, no?
If most of the people in a given society have heterodox beliefs, then any proposed orthodoxy could only be imposed by a strong minority on a weaker, and divided minority. Most people would be coerced into behavior for which they found the moral foundations invalid, and that would be a tyranny.
It seems to me that this is what WWWtW and/or Russell Kirk are proposing.
As far as American society is concerned this would be unconstitutional.

Rodak said...

To provide a concrete example of something that the WWWtW "public orthodoxy" would enforce that many people would find to be coercive, the WWWtW orthodoxy would outlaw living wills and force persons and their families to maintain artificial life support indefinitely on brain-dead bodies to keep them "alive."
I have no argument with this being done if the next-of-kin wants it, and the wishes of the "patient" are not known. But to outlaw living wills on the basis of a "natural law" orthodoxy that is not generally adhered to would be coercive and tryannical.

Rodak said...

To provide another concrete example, the WWWtW orthodoxy would ban (or burn) those books whose message was contrary to their orthodoxy.
This, too, would be unconstitutional.

Ryan Hallford said...

“I believe that an "orthodoxy" is something that is generally agreed upon, no?”

Orthodoxy means right belief. Which in itself is a good reason why relativism shouldn’t be the foundation for orthodoxy. But it may not be something generally agreed upon. “Fallacies do not cease being fallacies because they become fashions” (G.K. Chesterton). I am not for imposing religious beliefs but certain ethical application of naturally good precepts. I think certain virtues like self-control, courage, honesty, wisdom, freedom, etc may be the types of things that should belong to the realm of a publically held orthodoxy. I would say that imposing unjust behavior upon minorities is unjust because this goes against the natural law. My position that this is just even if we were not in an American Society.

I have no problem with some of your conclusions, I just have a different means of getting there. In fact the true relativist couldn’t give anything more than a sentiment that they don’t think the will of the majority ought to be imposed on the minority, and the cultural relativist would view moral rightness as the conformity to the view of the majority within a given culture. I think both these options are unsatisfying. However, the natural law perspective can allow a person to identify actual injustices and have a objective perspective to argue against it.

“But to outlaw living wills on the basis of a "natural law" orthodoxy that is not generally adhered to would be coercive and tryannical.”

You would not be able to outlaw living wills on the basis of “natural law,” so to try to do so wouldn’t make sense. I think the confusion with natural law maybe lies in its application.

I think most people, all people, use a natural law perspective without even thinking about it. People think, “hey! that is not fair, or right, or good.” Then they act accordingly to bring justice, goodness, and truth. People naturally/instinctively make very good judgments according to the natural goods of existence, nourishment, education, society, freedom of religion, etc all the time without giving a second thought about it. I think this is why the natural law isn't inherently contradictory to the Constitution. The natural rights perspective, the theory of unalienable rights, already presupposes some kind of intrinsic goods of human existence.

Ryan Hallford said...

Some tenets of dogmatic relativism:

*Exclusive and Intolerant: Relativism excludes any other value beliefs that claim to be true. Denies the possibility of natural law. Not receptive to the truth of other people’s moral claims because relativism reduces all moral claims to the level of opinion. Relativism is intolerant of alternating views.

*Coercive: Relativism creates an enforced orthodoxy about the nature of truth: everyone has the right to have an opinion but no person is allowed to act as if his or her opinion is the correct one.

*Infallible/Absolutist: Relativism makes a truth claim that all other truth claims in regards to morality are false.

*Subjectivist: Relativism reduces morality to the realm of subjectivity for no practical judgment of intrinsic goods of human existence can be objectively known cross culturally or even person to person. What ensues is a type of emotivism. Behind relativism is the subjective position that we cannot know reality in itself, but only our ideas.

*Gnostic (Unquestionable and unverifiable premise): Assumes its own tenet/ begs the question: To conclude moral relativity as a fact, one must presuppose that what is wrong in one culture must be right in another. To merely observe different values doesn’t lead to the conclusion that there are no absolute moral values. Thus, even the theory presupposes moral relativism.

*Equivocates the moral values of others: does not distinguish between subjective value opinions from objectively true values.

*Judgmental: If you believe in objective moral truth, you are wrong. You cannot be open to the truth of others because they cannot be any more right than you can.

*Relativist often presupposes other unverified values: Because relativism denies any objective universally good values, it cannot objectively claim tolerance and freedom as objectively universally good values. Yet relativists often try to claim that all value opinions are equal in the name of tolerance and freedom.

*elitism: Relativism must judge that those that live their lives according to absolute moral norms are living according to an illusion.

*Indoctrinating and hypocritical: Many relativists teach their doctrine that moral absolutism is wrong and moral relativism is right. They argue against one universal normative truth for another. Teaching relativism
becomes a performative contradiction.

*Fosters intolerance: Why not be intolerant? Why not impose your will on others with all opinions being equal.

Rodak said...

Oh, come on. All of that is merely descriptive. If it is to be claimed that relativism is a "doctrine" then there must be a list of formal tenets. A tenet is:

A principle, doctrine, or belief held as a truth, as by some group.

What is the identifiable group of "Relativists", and what are the formulated tenets of their published doctrine? Where can I read their manifesto?

You would not be able to outlaw living wills on the basis of “natural law,”

Ah, but WWWtW would. They say that it is suicide, and that suicide is a breach of natural law.

Fosters intolerance:

That is an example of perfect Orwellian Newspeak: Good is bad; War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength;...Tolerance is intolerance.

Intolerance is fostered in its only dangerous form precisely by those who have been organized around a rigid orthodoxy: Marxism, Naziism, Fascism, etc. (Since it's Easter Sunday, I'll leave religious intolerance out of it, for today, even though it has caused as many wars as any other kind.)

I am not for imposing religious beliefs but certain ethical application of naturally good precepts.

If you are for "imposing" anything, then you are for coercion, and in the same camp as the WWWtW authors. I don't see the distinction here between "imposition" and "appliclation" where there would be resistance to that "application." A free society is based not on impositions by the strong on weak, or the many on the few, but on agreement by all that the rights of all will be protected. This is the function of the U.S. constitution. That it is a secular document is essential to it, in that there is a mechanism built into it by which it can be, and has been, amended. If it were merely a restatement of eternal truths, then ipso facto it could not be amended.
It does not, for instance, allow the majority Protestants in some medium-sized mid-Western town to get together and vote to tax the property held by the one local Catholic church. If it "enforces" anything, it enforces tolerance.

Again, relativism is no doctrine, in that it has no tenets which can be taught as always applicable. By its very definition, a decision based on moral relativism is made by comparing the possible courses of action that could be taken with reference to specific immediately relevant contingencies. It is impossible to formulate of doctrine out of that. As I've said before: its only doctrine is that there is no doctrine. To call it a "doctrine" therefore, would be oxymoronic.

Ryan Hallford said...

A philosophy can have implied tenets. I maintain that the philosophy of relativism has certain tenets that are implied by its teaching and application. Tenets can be practically held and applied by a group of people without formally being published as their doctrine. If you want to disprove my list, than all you have to do is show how each one is not applied in theory and practice by relativist.

Suicide is a breach of natural law. But people also have the right to die a natural death without using extraordinary means to help keep them alive or to remove extraordinary means if those do not benefit the patient. I do not see how dying a natural death is suicide or abolishing a living will can be consider just. They may attempt to give a natural law argument, but within the context for natural law they would be defeated. I do believe that if you were to argue definitively against WWWtW, then the natural law perspective would be the context to do it. Otherwise you are going to say its unconstitutional, and they are gonna say so what. And by your reasoning it only happens to be wrong in America because of our Constituion, and technically other places would be able to outlaw living wills without a U.S. Constituion, and you would not be able to say anything.

“Intolerance is fostered in its only dangerous form precisely by those who have been organized around a rigid orthodoxy.”

Well, relativism is a rigid orthodoxy. Its open to everything but truth. People must assume nobody has truth and act accordingly. It inhibits the quest for truth. If there is truth out there, then I must really be humble, because then what I know counts. I believe we must approach people and ideas in humility, but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that there isn’t any truth. Toleration only makes sense in a moral framework or you’ll end up tolerating something that ought not to be tolerated like Marxist regimes, Nazis, or Facism.

This quote is pretty self explanatory:

“Everything I have said and done is these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories, and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism.” —Benito Mussolini


I am not for imposing religious beliefs but certain ethical application of naturally good precepts.

“If you are for "imposing" anything, then you are for coercion, and in the same camp as the WWWtW authors. I don't see the distinction here between "imposition" and "appliclation" where there would be resistance to that "application."”

By imposing, I meant arguing for just laws and just application of those laws. Unless you want to consider debate as a form of coercion, then we are both guilty. But that is just what the Constitution seeks to do, impose a certain order onto society to ensure that is just.

The constitution does have certain truths imbedded in its framework like the just ordering of society, the common good and general welfare, the protection of individual rights. If you were to take any of these ideals away from the constitution it would essentially change the nature of the Constitution.

The amendments of the Constitution can be amended to where it reflects the imposition of the strong upon the weak. This is a possibility, one that we ought to be aware of. The Constitution does not insure that the minority will not be abused any more than natural law dictates that people won’t do evil to one another.

I was not claiming that the Constitution enforces relativism or intolerance. I was claiming that relativism encourages intolerance. I was not claiming that the Constitution is a relativistic document. In fact, the Constitution has a definitive way of structuring government and institution to benefit society.

“Again, relativism is no doctrine, in that it has no tenets which can be taught as always applicable.”

Then you won’t mind showing me how relativism doesn’t encourage the very things of which I accused relativism in the list above. And how do you base a decision on moral relativism? Wouldn’t this exalt one opinion over another? I believe that would be to go beyond moral relativism to say one course of action is better than another. Moral relativism may be the only doctrine that claims there is no doctrine, yet it imposes itself as the truth about the nature of truth. To pretend that moral relativism doesn’t have a doctrine would be a performative contradiction.

Rodak said...

I do not see how dying a natural death is suicide or abolishing a living will can be consider just.

Neither do I. And that is one of the arguments that I got banned from WWWtW for pursuing. And that is also why I am arguing against any public orthodoxy founded in Natural Law: even staunch Natural Law advocates cannot agree on what is Natural Law and what is not.

Rodak said...

And how do you base a decision on moral relativism?

I already showed that: you use reason to analyze the various possible courses of action that might bring about a good end and choose the one that seems best, given the contingencies with which you are faced. It is consequentialism, to be sure, but that isn't a dirty word to me.

Unless you want to consider debate as a form of coercion, then we are both guilty.

Debate is persuasion, not coercion. Burning books is coercion. Banning living wills is coercion. Persuasion that would result in coercion if successful should be vigorously opposed. All people should be free to live according to their personal beliefs, so long as by doing so they don't impose those beliefs on others. That is, I suppose, moral relativism. That is what allows you to be Catholic and me to be Protestant, and both of us to coexist in the same society with minimal friction.

Rodak said...

The amendments of the Constitution can be amended to where it reflects the imposition of the strong upon the weak.

It is, in fact, very difficult to amend the constitution. It requires a couple of separate super-majorities. The strong and the elite are never anything but minorities numerically. It is therefore nearly impossible for them to amend the constitution to suit their whims. If you look at the amendments that have been enacted, you will notice that they protect the weak against the strong, I think in every case.
Federal court rulings are different. But those can be overturned as easily as they are put into effect. They come and go.

What Mussolini is saying in that quote is exactly what WWWtW authors are actually advocating. They are saying "We know what truth is and what good is, and we would impose our knowledge of how things should be on everybody, if we could access the power to do so." They are, essentially, Christian fascists.
Although my understanding of the teachings of Christ is that his true disciples would not seek worldly power.

Rodak said...

And how do you base a decision on moral relativism? Wouldn’t this exalt one opinion over another?

Sure. But only in the given situation. It wouldn't necessarily kick Kant's categorical imperative into effect on every occasion.

Rodak said...

Well, relativism is a rigid orthodoxy.

Fine. Then you will have no difficulty finally complying with my request that you list its formal tenets; not describe how you peceive the actions of the relativists, but quote from their offical catechism.

Ryan Hallford said...

And how do you base a decision on moral relativism?

"I already showed that: you use reason to analyze the various possible courses of action that might bring about a good end and choose the one that seems best, given the contingencies with which you are faced. It is consequentialism, to be sure, but that isn't a dirty word to me.”

This is where you lose me. You are using consequentialism to attempt to bring about a good end. From where do you determine whether or not the end is good? Moral relativism will not supply to you which end is good or better than the other. You are bringing some moral notion to the table that doesn’t come moral relativism or consequentialism. You are arguing that something is good and pursing that good through consequentialist means. You have also expressed that consequentialism should be applied in such away that it doesn’t oppress the minority but includes them. Consequentialism doesn’t supply this value either. Consequentialism is a method for calculating means that can be used by an individual or group according to the end they deem worthy, whether or not the end is intrinsically good or evil. It seems to me that you are bringing many values to the table that comes from neither moral relativism or consequentialism. Is it possible they come from some innate connatural experience of what intrinsic goods ought to be included in human existence? I tend to agree with your values, I just don’t agree that they are supplied by the relativistic position you are claiming for yourself.

“All people should be free to live according to their personal beliefs, so long as doing so they don’t impose those beliefs on others. That is, I suppose, moral relativism.”

I agree with the first sentence, because I believe the freedom of religion and beliefs are natural goods intrinsic to human existence. Thus, I would argue that this comes from natural law and not moral relativism. Maybe the problem is that I’m looking at moral relativism as a philosophical belief system which states there are no universal moral truths binding on humans and you are looking at moral relativism pragmatically as a way for you to act as if this alone allows you to coexist with others that have different beliefs than you. Why couldn’t it be true that there are universal moral truths that are binding on humanity, and you still should be able to coexist with others that have different beliefs than you? This is my stance. I guess in the end, I don’t find your moral relativism very philosophically sound or pragmatic.

I gave you a quote of a moral relativist on top of his game. I had hoped that would suffice as a dogmatic infallible statement. Mussolini’s statement is absolute moral relativism taken to its logical end. If there is no universal binding morality by which humans can discern goods and good action, then there is no good or evil. If there is no good or evil one person’s intuition is as good as another (or bad for that matter). Since my intuition is just as invalid as your intuition, why not oppress other people when in a position of power?

Once again, a philosophical system does not have to explicate its beliefs into official teaching to have those believes and teachings inherent in its worldview. I gave you a list of things implicit to the teaching of moral relativism, if the list is wrong, you only need to demonstrate how those qualities on the list do not constitute a relativistic framework.

The closet I can give you to a formal tenet from an ‘official catechism’ is to repeat Mussolini’s statement:

“Everything I have said and done is these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories, and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism.”
—Benito Mussolini

If it is easier that the list, show me how what Mussolini does not characterize relativism, and how what you claim to be relativism is different then this without bringing in any moral notions that would point to human goods known extrinsic to the philosophy of moral relativism.

“Although my understanding of the teachings of Christ is that his true disciples would not seek worldly power.”

You are right, and you can say it. The teachings of Christ is that true disciples does not seek worldly power.

Relativism is such a rigid orthodoxy that it does not even have an official catechism because it has brainwashed its followers to belief that catechisms are false opinions holding no more weight than anyone else's false opinions. Relativism relativizes the intuitions of its followers and convinces them that moral truth does not exist. If anything, as a moral relativism, you should admit that natural law theory is at least as plausible as moral relativism.

Rodak said...

From where do you determine whether or not the end is good? Moral relativism will not supply to you which end is good or better than the other.

Reason, and my personal moral tradition, will tell me which is the best course to take. Moral relativism does not supply answers, it frees reason to find those answers relative to the moral tradition in which the agent has been educated.

Is it possible they come from some innate connatural experience of what intrinsic goods ought to be included in human existence?

They come from whatever moral system the agent in question adheres to. The point is that they don't come from one rigid orthodoxy that has been formulated and imposed on all men by the authors of WWWtW, or Mussolini, or any other single "law-giver." They might come from fear of punishemnt according to a perception of public opinion, from the positive law, from Kant, from Plato, from Jesus, from the Buddha, from Mohammed, or from the Boy Scout Handbook. And the decision taken might look slightly different, depending on which of these sources is drawn upon by the moral agent.
So each moral agent will have some orthodoxy to draw on; but all moral agents will not have the same orthodoxy.
It is said that this will lead to decadence. Perhaps so. If so, then the U.S. Constitution is a badly flawed document. If the authors at WWWtW would undermine the consitution by substituting for it a formal public orthodoxy of their own design, then they are forces subversive to our constitutionally founded nation as surely as are the Muslim proponents of Shari'ia law against which they claim to be protecting "Christendom."

Ryan Hallford said...

So why should one naturally favor one moral tradition over another? Why should one adhere to a moral tradition at all? Then we also have the problem of the infinite regress. I person A got there beliefs as an adaptation from person B. And person B from person C, this causal chain goes back indefinitely and some person had to create their moral system without any previous tradition. Given there was no tradition at that point in time, how is the first moral system developed if it requires reason and a moral tradition as you suggest?

Civis said...

"Reason, and my personal moral tradition, will tell me which is the best course to take...."

But if you believe in moral relativism then you must believe that there is no "best" course

"Moral relativism does not supply answers, it frees reason to find those answers relative to the moral tradition in which the agent has been educated."

Rodak. Look man, you can't have a private Rodak definition of words. That is not what MR is about. If you want to, make up your own word or theory. In fact, I think that is a great idea. But MR is what it is. MR not only "does not supply answers", it says there are no answers.

Rodak said...

from the Wikipedia article "Moral Relativism:

In philosophy moral relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. Moral relativists hold that no universal standard exists by which to access an ethical proposition's truth; moral subjectivism is thus the opposite of moral absolutism. Relativistic positions often see moral values as applicable only within certain cultural boundaries (cultural relativism) or in the context of individual preferences (moral subjectivism).

How does this differ from what I'm saying when I say:

Moral relativism does not supply answers, it frees reason to find those answers relative to the moral tradition in which the agent has been educated."?

Civis said...

What you quoted from Wikipedia says that there is no objective right and wrong.

Rodak said...

Not exactly. It said there is no objective right or wrong discernable in moral or ethical propositions without reference to their source. That's slightly different. You may see an objective truth where I don't, and vice versa. One of could be right and the other wrong. Or both of us could be wrong. But both of us can't be right.

Civis said...

Well, I don't seem to be getting through to you. I don't know what else to tell you.

Ethics is a fascinating topic to me, and I enjoy talking about it. I'd like for us to resolve this issue and I think it is resolvable, unless you are just being stubborn.

Here is another angle at the question:

If you take a look at my second comment above (March 21, 2008 11:30 AM), and see the four points under "Fourth, with relativism, anything goes:..". If you hold to relativism, you must accept these four. I think you will agree that they are problematic. Yet they are inescapable if you believe in moral relativism.

I think you will agree that there is something wrong with the four things I list. There has to be a right and a wrong that is independent of what anybody thinks. Yet relativism says there is no objective right and wrong.

I would be interested, if you would be up to it, in discussing your argument FOR moral relativism. We've been letting you slide with all of your practical reasons for it, but you have never made your case in support.

If you will e-mail me your argument in support--as concise as possible if you don't mind--I will post it and we can discuss it.

Rodak said...

There has to be a right and a wrong that is independent of what anybody thinks.

If there is no God, which is a possible rational position, then that statement is not true. Moral right and wrong would be completely dependent upon the preferences of those in any group capable of enforcing those preferences, or by community concensus. Only if we posit a God and say that what God declares to be "good" is good, can we establish moral propositions as objectively true or good.
The human mind on its own can only prove mathematical propositions; and mathematical propositions are not applicable to moral ones.

Rodak said...

in discussing your argument FOR moral relativism.

I don't have a case in support of it, per se. I am only "supporting" it in making a case against a "public orthodoxy" on the basis of the U.S. constitution.
I.e., I am stating what I think an atheist, or other moral relativist would say, in support of his right to freedom of conscience under the establishment clause.
If you agree with me that a public orthodoxy, imposed by some elite group, would not be constitutional, then we are done here.

Rodak said...

What I'm saying is that the concepts of God and "good" are related; you can't prove the existence of the latter without proving the existence of the former.

Rodak said...

you only need to demonstrate how those qualities on the list do not constitute a relativistic framework.

They don't constitute anything, they only describe various things that might be said to characterize a relativistic point of view. There is a difference between "de-scriptive" and "pre-scriptive" which you are not taking into account here.

Rodak said...

I.e., if you were to tell a moral relativist "Thou shalt not hold any truths to objective and eternal" he'd look at you funny and say, "Well, du-u-h..."

Ryan Hallford said...

"What I'm saying is that the concepts of God and "good" are related; you can't prove the existence of the latter without proving the existence of the former."

That is not true, you can ask someone starving if nutrient and food is good. You can ask somebody alone and dying in a nursing facility, if community is good. People experience good and evil, joy and suffering, without ever positing the existence of God. I believe it is quite often these experiences that instigates people to raise the question of God at all. If there were no good and evil, if there were no joy and suffering, then there would be no need to ask the question about the existence of God. I think it is the opposite, without out experience, and especially experience of good and evil, you would not be compelled to ask the question of God because the two are so inner-connected. Our human experience inspires metaphysical question that the natural causes of the universe just cannot answer.

Civis said...

Rodak,

You are begging the question and avoiding the issue.

You can't respond to my March 24, 2008 6:08 AM point can you? And you can't defend moral relativism, can you?

Civis said...

When I say "And you can't defend moral relativism, can you?" I mean you can't provide any reasonable basis why any of us should believe in moral relativism.

Rodak said...

And you can't defend moral relativism, can you?

In absolute terms, no. In political terms (which is the only way I've wanted to defend it), yes.

Rodak said...

People experience good and evil, joy and suffering, without ever positing the existence of God.

Yes. And, as your examples point out, a person's concept of good can be dependent on his situation at any given time.

Rodak said...

It is, for instance, a moot point as to whether food is "good" or not. It clearly has negative aspects for an obese food addict.
For the rest of us, food is necessary. You can say that everything that is necessary is ipso facto good, but when speaking of food, you aren't raising any moral issues, so it's a red herring.

Ryan Hallford said...

Goods cannot be understand outside the context of human existence. But that doesn't mean human goods are moral relativist. There are universal human goods intrinsic to human existence.

I am arguing that nourishment is the good. Too much food or too little food can be an impediment to health.

Rodak said...

I am arguing that nourishment is the good. Too much food or too little food can be an impediment to health.

Fine. But this is not a moral issue. This is a biological issue.

Civis said...

"[Q:]And you can't defend moral relativism, can you?

[A:] In absolute terms, no. In political terms (which is the only way I've wanted to defend it), yes."

Eureka! You're not a relativist, you're a pragmatist.

I see you are still dodging responding to my four points. That’s okay. I’ll be a good sport and let you slide.

Rodak said...

No offense, but your four points aren't worth responding to. Those points are not points against a moral relativist, but against a complete amoralist, or immoralist. Advocates of moral relativism do behave morally--that's why they are called moral relativists.

Ryan Hallford said...

The moral evil occurs when people act against this good such as when parents starve their children or someone starves themselves. Moral issues occur around natural goods. This can include biological issues. However, this issues typically are not just biological. They can be issues of a spiritual, psychological, social, etc. nature.

Rodak said...

It would seem that the "goodness" or "badness" in withholding food from children, or whomever, resides in the intent of the person holding the food, and not in the food itself.
Forinstance, it is often said that "money is the root of all evil." But that is corrected by the orthodox, who insist that it is the love of money that is the root of the evil, not the money itself. So food qua food, like money, is morally neutral.

Rodak said...

If, therefore, because a thing has existence it is ipso facto "good" then everything is likewise good, from bread to the HIV retrovirus: God sustains the existence of it all. All distinctions between existing things reside in the subjective reaction to those things of the individual perceiving them. Some love chocolate and hate vanilla, and vice versa.

Civis said...

"No offense, but your four points aren't worth responding to. Those points are not points against a moral relativist, but against a complete amoralist, or immoralist. Advocates of moral relativism do behave morally--that's why they are called moral relativists."

You're kidding right? You cannot be serious. If you are, I'm going to have to send this to my old philosphy professors--no, it might result in a heart attack from laughing.

If this is a joke and I didn't realize it, I'm going to be embarrassed--then the laugh will be on me.

Rodak said...

Civis--
You are saying that a moral relativist would have no grounds upon which to oppose genocide. That is truly ridiculous.
As one concrete example, nearly all of the prominent French existentialists, more morally relativist than which one could not get, were active in the French underground contra the Nazis.
You will find a plethora of moral positions in the writings of existentialists, whether atheists, like Sartre and Camus, or Catholics like Gabriel Marcel.
I don't know who was teaching you philosophy, man.

Civis said...

Rodak,

You continue to beg the question and avoid the issue. I'm not going to argue with you that relativists do not act according to thier worldview. In fact, you stole that line from me (see my March 21, 2008 11:30 AM comment above).

Be that as it may, although your religious creed may tell you that your interpretation of the Bible is just as good as the next guys, when it comes to a philosphical term of art, your "personal meaning" doesn't count for much.

You can beg the question till you are blue in the face, or to use your words, "for the umpteenth time", you cannot escape the fact that moral relativisn is what it is, not what you think it is or what you want it to be.

Nor can you escape the necessity of my four points.

Welcome to the the real world.

Rodak said...

None of the following is true:

Fourth, with relativism, anything goes:
1) There can be no concept of moral progress (There could be nothing better to do with Jews than murder them)
2) There would be no sense in trying to exhort people to act in any certain way. (It would be senseless to try to exhort Nazi’s not to murder Jews.)
3) One can never say that one culture is better than another (in the case of cultural relativism) or that one person is better than another (in the case of moral relativism). (There could be no


better system of government than the Nazi system.)
4) (In the case of societal belief relativism) We can say that a thing is right or wrong simply by consulting the standards of the society. (The holocaust is morally upright since/if murdering Jews was morally acceptable in Nazi Culture.)

Rodak said...

Civis--
I really don't understand why you continue to ask me to defend moral relativism as though I were a moral relativist; I'm not. My moral philosophy is based on a pretty much literal interpretation of the New Testament.
The U.S. Constitution, however, would not allow my moral system to be translated directly into statute law, or into some kind of enforceable "public orthodoxy" and I think that this is a good thing, for the reasons I've said above.
But I am done playing the devil's advocate.
Do you want to argue that the WWWtW crew is correct in their desire for a public orthodoxy that would burn books and prevent persons from having living wills, among many other things that would anger and coerce a large percentage of the population?
If so, let's hear your reasons.

Civis said...

At March 25, 2008 6:49 PM you beg the question again.

At March 25, 2008 6:57 PM you avoid the issue again. This post is not about WWWtW, it's about YOUR public orthodoxy of relativism.

You need to man up and admit that relativism is indefensible. There's no way around it. You cannot provide any justification for the veracity of relativism, and you cannot avoid the baggage that comes with it. It's a worthless idea.

Watch for "Relativism II" which will be coming out soon.

Rodak said...

At March 25, 2008 6:57 PM you avoid the issue again. This post is not about WWWtW, it's about YOUR public orthodoxy of relativism.

You just ignore this:

I really don't understand why you continue to ask me to defend moral relativism as though I were a moral relativist; I'm not. My moral philosophy is based on a pretty much literal interpretation of the New Testament. [emphasis added]

And you ignore this:

Any two or three orthodoxies would have their own "objective truths" that would conflict with some of the objective truths of the others.
This is why the Founders, in their wisdom, ensured against the establishment of any public orthodoxy when they wrote the Constitution.


If you are going to ignore these explicit statements as though I never made them and go off on some witch hunt based on what you imagine that I've said, well...rock on.

Rodak said...

Finally, what you seem to be saying is my advocacy of moral relativism has never been that. What I have tried to do is correct your mischaracterization of what moral relativism is [i.e. its not a doctrine, but a perspective] and what you seem to think are its inevitable effects [i.e. it doesn't inevitably lead to immoralism].
I might similarly correct what I saw as misstatements about Marxism, or any other "ism"--that wouldn't mean that I was advocating that "ism."
That's it. I have nothing more to say about moral relativism.

Civis said...

I'll respond to your more recent comments under "Relativism II" , I've got a lot on my plate today and I'm running late, so it will have to be this evening.

Civis said...

Rodak,

Okay, I'm repsonding here after all to one of your points, since it would not belong under Relativism II:

You said I failed to respond to the following point:

“Any two or three orthodoxies would have their own "objective truths" that would conflict with some of the objective truths of the others. This is why the Founders, in their wisdom, ensured against the establishment of any public orthodoxy when they wrote the Constitution.”

I ignore it because I don't see the point. You generally respond to arguments with a lot of fluff, I ignore the fluff rather than respond to it. If this is not fluff, tell me what the point is and I'll respond.

Rodak said...

Civis--
You evidently don't understand the first thing about the establishment cause in the U.S. constitution, if you don't understand that paragraph. I'm not a high school teacher. I can't help you with it.

Civis said...

I'm familiar with the establishment clause, I just don't understand what your point is vis-a-vis this discussion.

Actually, I think it is you that misunderstands the establishment clause, but I don't want to go chasing rabits through the weeds. I feel like we have our hands full already. Maybe that would be a good topic for discussion down the road.

Rodak said...

Okay. Let's call this thread dead and pursue whatever on the new one.