Sunday, August 5, 2007

Individual Ethical Relativism

We've already discussed both descriptive cultural relativism and cultural ethical relativism, and shown that both have serious flaws that lead philosophers to reject them. There is, however, a third--and more popular--form of moral relativism, and it is this that we will examine this week.

I'm talking about individual ethical relativism, what Beckwith and Koukl call 'I Say Relativism.' Basically, it's the view that, as regards moral issues it's 'to each his own.' In other words, a given moral norm can be (to borrow from the title of Paul Copan's excellent book largely about relativism) True For You, But Not For Me. On this view, there is no absolute morality, but each individual determines what is right and what is wrong.

Before we look at what's wrong with this view, let's make it clear that this is pervasive in our culture today. To adherents to this view, tolerance is the supreme virtue, and the most heinous sin is to 'force one's morality on someone else.' (Free hint: A fatal flaw for this view is evident in what I have just written.)

Also, if this form of moral relativism fares no better than the other two we've already refuted, then what's left is moral objectivism. That is, any evidence that counts against moral relativism (also called moral subjectivism) is evidence in favor of the more traditional view that morailty is objective--that right and wrong are the sorts of things that apply equally to all people at all times.

What I'll do in the next few posts is share seven fatal flaws of individual ethical relativism. These are not original with me, and I am most indebted to Greg Koukl, who has effectively articulated these problems in his book, in lectures, on the radio, and at his website. Anyone wanting more examples or further clarification of what I discuss this week should avail himself of these resources.

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