Thursday, April 20, 2006
Kill Moral Relativism
This entry is part of the perpetual War on Moral Relativism.
What is moral relativism? It is the belief that there is no factual moral standard, and that any given moral system is as "valid" as the other (or depending on how you look at it, none of them are valid). Moral relativism violates so many logical rules that it’s hard to know where to begin killing it. I have decided that the best place for me to start is at the individual (self-ownership) level.
First, we need to take a quick look at fact-based individualistic morality, and the best way to familiarize oneself with that is by reading the wonderfully illustrated entry from Hellbound Alleee called "Sally and Cy: Morality in Action!"
Now that you've read the illustrated tale of Sally and Cy, let's review: Morality is about making good or bad choices. Good choices fulfill one's values, while bad choices do not. Since reality is based on fact, values are also based on fact. For example, if you value your cat, you cannot fulfill that value without taking care of said cat. And taking care of a cat requires actions based on facts: cats need certain kinds of food; cats need a suitable place to poop, and cats need affection and stimulation. Only certain actions can fulfill the cat's needs, like providing cat food and a clean litter box and cat toys. Doing these things is the only way to fulfill one's pet cat values.
Values are contextual, but they are still fact-based. Some moral relativists mistake the fact that people have different values for moral relativism, when in fact it is simply contextualism. While many values are shared by all humans, some are not. That means that while Sally may value her cat Cy, Aaron Kinney (that's me!) may value his Mustang GT instead. Just because Sally and Aaron don't have all the same values doesn't mean that morality is relative. Both Sally's cat value and Aaron's Mustang value require specific fact-based actions in order for those values to be fulfilled. Sally's cat needs food, and Aaron's Mustang needs gasoline.
There is another important aspect to a fact-based morality: individualism. Individualism is based on self-ownership. In other words, you own yourself because you are yourself. Individualism rejects other-ownership because you are not anyone other than yourself. Kind of self-explanatory, right? But you'd be surprised how often people fail to recognize such a basic concept when moral issues are discussed. With individualism, every individual is sovereign. While an individual has every right to make himself fulfill his own values, he does not have a right to force any other person to fulfill his values.
With individualism, consent is paramount. Forcing an individual to do something without his consent is immoral, because morality is about individual value fulfillment, and forcing another against their will violates their values. It is immoral for Aaron to force Sally to pay for his Mustang just as it is immoral for Sally to force Aaron to take care of her cat, because in both situations, an individual's value fulfillment is being restricted or denied.
Some moral relativists will protest, and say "but it isn't immoral in Sally's morality for her to force Aaron to take care of her cat, and therefore morality is relative!" But that is a totally erroneous statement because it violates the law of identity. Sally only owns herself; she does not own Aaron. Similarly, Aaron only owns himself; he does not own Sally. Both Aaron and Sally only have the right to make decisions about their own actions, not anybody else’s, because they only own their individual selves.
In a fact-based individualist morality, just about the only thing immoral is coercion. Coercion is the forcing of one's values onto another: things like theft, cheating, murder, threats, etc. are all coercive. Coercion is wrong because it violates individualism; it is the attempt to force, or effectively "own," someone else (or at least their values). Since you are only you, and not someone else, you only inherently own yourself. You do not inherently own anyone else, and have no right to coerce them to do anything or violate their consent.
Fact-based individualistic morality is not based on whether a cat or a Mustang is a better value. To claim that a Mustang is a better value than a cat disregards contextuality. In other words, valuable to whom? What it is based on is principles or rules, namely, the principles and rules that I described above. Think of values as variables in an algebra equation. Value "X" can be a cat or a Mustang, but that doesn't make morality any more relative than the laws of mathematics are relative. These variables (or values) must still operate along the universal, fact-based laws of mathematics (or moral rules).
These principles are all universal in the same way that the laws of physics are universal. A very important tool for use in determining the universality of morality is the Moral Razor.
The Moral Razor states: A moral principle or system, or a political principle or system, is invalid if it is asymmetrical in application (to locations, times or persons).
This Moral Razor makes use of universality the same way that logic and physics make use of universality. If the laws of thermodynamics exist on Earth, then they exist everywhere. If the laws of logic exist on Earth, then they exist everywhere.
Where do we stand now? We have recognized self-ownership (and rejected other-ownership), we have recognized that values are based on facts, and we have recognized the universality of moral rules. This brings us to a fact-based individualistic morality, where each individual is as sovereign as the next, consent is paramount, and coercion is immoral.
So kiss moral relativity goodbye! Say goodbye to moral systems based on asymmetrical sets of dictates from cosmic slave drivers. Say goodbye to coercion, force, and anything that violates the sovereignty of the individual. Say goodbye to lame-duck attempts at justifying different sets of moral rules for different individuals.
Kill Moral Relativism.