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Mental Jousting (On the Relativity of All Things) - Ethics Forum

About Mental Jousting (On the Relativity of All Things)

Previous Entry Mental Jousting (On the Relativity of All Things) Jun. 19th, 2007 @ 12:09 pm Next Entry
For a while, I've been having occasional mental jousting matches with myself on the issue of moral relativism.

Then, along comes an article on Salon.com by Laura Miller (not the current mayor of Dallas) about a new book by Terry Eagleton, the noted British academic. Eagleton examines the question that perpetually plagues mankind. (No, not "Where can I buy adult-sized footy pajamas?") What is the meaning of life?

I like this paragraph from the article.

Eagleton brings contemporary linguistics-based
theory to bear on the idea of "meaning," pointing
out that it takes several forms. I might mean (that
is, intend) to say the word "poisson" ("fish")
to a French waiter, but I might actually say "poison,"
which in turn means (that is, signifies)
something else entirely. ("Poison" has the same
meaning in French, actually, as it has in English.)
There's what I intend to signify or communicate
when I speak, and then there's what my words mean
in a larger system, such as a language. For linguists,
the first kind of meaning is an "act" and the second
is a "structure."

I think there's some overlap here -- I mean, issues of the relativism of ANYTHING.

At first, I thought there had to be some moral absolutes. Right? Surely, murder is wrong. But, wait. The state murders people via capital punishment. Lots of folks support vigilante justice. What about abortions? And God sent people to kill other people all the time in biblical times, dispatching armies or persons or floods to be the instrument of His will. Geez. I think most of us are familiar with the many, many instances that Leviticus commands us to kill people -- by that humane method of stoning.

I think the true answers to my questions are more complicated than black and white. And just when ya think you've rooted yourself in a defensible position, careful examination with intellectual honesty forces you to reconsider.
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Date:June 20th, 2007 12:03 am (UTC)
You're confusing morality with pragmatism. Murder IS wrong. The wrongness of that act doesn't not, however, exist in a vacuum outside of life. Committing a wrong may prevent a larger wrong. That does not make the individual wrong a right, though one might consider the larger action a right.

Of course all of the above depends on the definitions of the terms within. But ambiguity of meaning does not make for relativism.

If you deny that murder is wrong, peel it back further until you ask "is there such a thing as a wrong?". If yes, ask what is the core assumption of why it is wrong. What is the generality? Unlike an objective physical or conceptual reality, a moral reality does take some assertion. But if one makes very basic assumptions - such as valuing the self-determination of intelligent life, avoidance of suffering, etc - you can quickly sketch out some core principles and work forward.
Date:January 10th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)

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