All those previous posts, the ones with the Grinch in the title and the last two, part one and two, will continue to be fundamentally misunderstood unless one understands the differences between MMR and DMR types of relativism. From the Stanford source already given:
“Descriptive Moral Relativism (DMR). As a matter of empirical fact, there are deep and widespread moral disagreements across different societies…”which we might add is the “minimalist claim that to assert that S is true is simply to assert S…” The New York Times essay (from Part Two) gave us an example of this:
“The trouble is that while ‘Eating beef is wrong’ is clearly a normative statement, ‘Eating beef is wrong relative to the moral code of the Hindus’ is just a descriptive remark that carries no normative import whatsoever. It’s just a way of characterizing what is claimed by a particular moral code, that of the Hindus. We can see this from the fact that anyone, regardless of their views about eating beef, can agree that eating beef is wrong relative to the moral code of the Hindus.”
The above (DMR) is not disputed and goes to nothing in my post(s) whatsoever. And yet, it is the only way any of those commenting have been speaking of moral relativity, which is descriptively. It tells us absolutely nothing except “to assert that S is true is simply to assert S…”
The type of moral relativism I am speaking to, the type I believe reduces to power is MMR:
“Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.”
“Metaethical moral relativist positions are typically contrasted with moral objectivism [my position]. Let us say that moral objectivism maintains that moral judgments are ordinarily true or false in an absolute or universal sense, that some of them are true, and that people sometimes are justified in accepting true moral judgments (and rejecting false ones) on the basis of evidence available to any reasonable and well-informed person.”
So, these views are contrasts—they cannot both be true or correct. I would also add, as a postmodern Christian, that the above should be modified to note “on the basis of [interpreted] evidence” and that “reasonable” and “well-informed” are terms that would have to be qualified and defined, but the above is a generally acceptable definition of the differences (I just needed to head that off before anyone worked himself into a lather about empiricism being the only way to know if something were true or not).
Underneath the umbrella of MMR, we can then go to the specific type relativist I am most interested in as far as my post(s), and these would be the skeptic and nihilist. These are not cut and tried terms by the way. The bleed over into each other and many would say a nihilist was first a skeptic, or that there is relatively little difference between the two. Further, the New York Times essayist notes, and I agree, that the MMR relativist, to remain consistent, should either:
“…decide whether his view grants the existence of some absolute moral facts, or whether it is to be a pure relativism, free of any commitment to absolutes. The latter position, I have argued, is mere nihilism; whereas the former leads us straight out of relativism and back into the quest for the moral absolutes.”
So, as far as I’m concerned, the MMR position is one of skepticism and nihilism, or a mixture such as to make one come to this conclusion: Morality by referent, does not exist because the referents do not exist.
“Moral skepticism says that we are never justified in accepting or rejecting moral judgments. Other views—variously called moral non-cognitivism, expressivism, anti-realism, nihilism, etc.—contend that moral judgments lack truth-value, at least beyond the truth-value implied by the minimalist claim that to assert that S is true is simply to assert S (a related view, the error theory, claims that moral judgments are always false).”
The moral skeptic, nihilist, asserts that morality and ethics, historically, have been based upon objective referents, whether transcendental myth, platonic, Aristotelian virtue, or religious belief/narrative (God), etc. However, they do not believe any of these objective sources point to true existing entities or persons, universal abstract principles, natural laws, or even true historical events. They do not think any of these are really objective at all as to any ultimate referent. They believe, rather, these are the subjective, personal, and relative projections of various cultures over time. The objectivity was used as a mask to gain power and authority, either knowingly or ignorantly.
Therefore, once the objective referents have ceased to exist, the morality resting upon them we now know were simply the desires and wants of the people who had the power, masked as objective and authoritative. So, in this sense, morality does no longer exist. Nature, people, are amoral. There are no “oughts” there is only the “is”. Morality is now code for: What we want and desire. So, does morality go on? Of course. Does everyone have a morality? Of course. Is there a hierarchy of desires? Sure. But no longer in the sense it has, until recent times, meant to be understood, which is in an objective sense—grounded in these various referents. That is what we need to talk about. Not the irrelevant observation that people still assert various things are right or wrong or have desires stronger than others. Such tells us absolutely nothing as to the issues here presented.
And just as an aside, if one is only a DMR type relativist, join the club. So am I. So are most reasonable people. Most reasonable people would agree that “As a matter of empirical fact, there are deep and widespread moral disagreements across different societies…” And, they would agree that “‘Eating beef is wrong relative to the moral code of the Hindus’ is just a descriptive remark that carries no normative import whatsoever.”
I am only speaking to that which goes to the idea of a “normative” import, in the sense it is normative for everyone, not just me or my culture. Such is what the word “normative” means and implies. I am speaking to the idea of what morality actually consists of, not what it describes or merely defines as to an individual or culture. Clearly then, every example given me of why a certain type escapes my critique failed because they were merely descriptive and told us nothing about a normative import. And if there is no normative import, then just say so (which would be agreeing with my relativist) and we are back to where my critique does hold.
What I am arguing then, if we take the relativist logically, is that changes in the adoption of moral codes, at the point of conflict, is not about a true “good” (in the sense just noted—an actual objective good—a true North) but about who has the power to enforce their desires and wants, to name it true North, or the good, thus the reduction to power.
I think the relativist would agree with me, that such reduces to power. He would say the same even if one side, or both, asserted their morality was objective. He would say they are mistaken; no referents actually exist, so it still reduces to power. If one of the players is a relativist, then they already know the conflict isn’t about a true North, but who will get to call their direction true North. If it is not about a true North, it is about power then—the power to name, to call my direction North.
Notice, one must first believe none of the referents exist, such as God. Therefore, while it is a statement of belief, what the relativists believes, as far as an argument goes, to just assert such is what’s really happening, it is question-begging. It begs the question of God’s existence. “If” God does exist, then morality is objective—there is a true North. “If” morality is objective, then the adoption of one moral code over another is not a reduction to power, but possibly the adoption of a true good, or the turning to a true North.
Second, notice that “if” God exists and “if” morality is objective, then we cannot logically come to the conclusion there is a reduction to power whether or not we believe morality to be relative or objective. We can only assert such if we take the relativist’s perspective that such is what’s always happening, regardless of what we believe, because objectivity is just as mask. That, of course, begs the very question. The question is: Is that is what’s truly happening?
The analogy of a true North explains why they both cannot reduce to power. As before, imagine a world that comes to the conclusion there is no true North, although there is in the collective memory, an understanding of a truth North. Direction is the way this world talks about morality. However, since the loss of the memory, now true North just means, “whatever direction I desire or want.” One day, someone finds that there is, indeed, truthfully, and objectively, a true North. What people use to talk about as true North, was true. It exists. Thus, when someone now claims, “This is what I think is moral or ethical, this is true North”, we can now say, “No, actually, that is West.” Or, we might say when someone asserts, “Ethnic cleansing is ethical”, we might respond, “No, according to true North (Fill in an objective referent), it is not.
The point is that one cannot say that with, or without, true North (an objective reference point), all the decisions being made regarding direction (or morality) are the same and that if two people disagree as to direction and there is conflict, both reduce to power. Such is logically impossible.
The above is what no one has addressed thus far. If one agrees with the relativist (as noted), then all reduces to power. If one disagrees with the relativist, and thinks there is a true North (or an objective morality), then there is not a reduction to power, but an appeal to a true “good” or “north”. In other words, even if we lose, North is still North. That does not change. So this doesn’t reduce to power. The “winners” may say that west is north, but they are wrong regardless. If the relativist is correct, and there is no true North to begin with, then whichever direction we end up going, it is not about a true North, but about the power of those involved who end up having their direction called “north”. They get to name what “north” is now. This is what it means then to be able to name who the “criminal” is and who the law-abiding citizen is, but power could reverse these and such would become the new “north”. However, “if” there is a true North, then this all looks different and it becomes about something more than just power; it becomes about seeking true North, a true good, a true justice.
Agree or disagree with either the relativist or objectivist, this seems like a straightforward matter of logic to me. Remember, we don’t care who is correct here, whether the relativist or objectivist. This is not an argument for either. We are trying to tease out what some of the logical conclusions might be if we were to adopt one or the other’s position as to the justified use of violence and power.
Now I will move on to some specific objections. Bernard hasn’t made it clear whether he agrees with my relativist or not. He claims that whether morality is objective or relative, both reduce to power and violence is “justified” relative to each. This is the claim of my relativist, because my relativist doesn’t care what the objectivist might be claiming. He thinks him wrong. That is how he sees both reducing to power.
Now, Bernard must be making some other point because he can’t know or believe as an agnostic that morality is relative or objective. So, for him to suggest that regardless of what we believe both still reduce to power must mean one of two things as far as I can tell. First, that he has simply made an error of logic. The error noted by the true North analogy. Or, he is still making the simple error of noting an irrelevant and trivial point that in each case (court of law or criminal gang, Nazis death camp or Allied prison) someone died—that in each case there was a death. If so, then Bernard has not only not been listening (because I have noted this error over and over) but is not following and addressing the argument. If such is all he’s pointing out, then the entire conversation has been lost on him.
He will have to tell us which it is or provide an alternative answer.
That was my preface to understanding the objection he seemed to finally land on, because we must first understand he is making a case, like the relativist, that both reduce to power. How as an agnostic one does that is another problem, but whatever—he will have to square that. He claims that whether we say this is what I desire or what I believe, we have the reduction to power. He thinks I am asserting that the relativist says: “This is what I desire” while the objectivist says: “This is what I believe.” This would be incorrect.
I addressed this several times and he chose not to respond. Perhaps he will now. I made very clear that both the relativist and objectivist are “believers”. We don’t have one asserting something out of desire and the other out of belief. They are both asserting out of belief, one out of the belief that morality is relative and one out of the belief that morality is objective. Desire comes into play for both but in different ways. What the relativist believes about morality puts his desires as the moral framework from which he proceeds. What the objectivist believes about morality puts his desires in check to a moral framework that is objective, outside his desires. He may not always heed or follow that check, but there it is anyway. The relativist has nothing outside himself and his desires, nothing objective, to act as a check against his desires, to even give his desires a hierarchy. A hierarchy assumes a “higher” and “lower”, but how could we know which was which without an objective standard? Otherwise, if we are just falling back on DMR and noting that this one guy believes some desires should be followed over others, but this tells us nothing about a normative understanding of desires.
Once we acknowledge these differences, we see that both then cannot reduce to power. Again, this is a fairly straightforward logical connection.
Frankly, Bernard has me totally baffled here. He either fundamentally misunderstands these posts, the questions being put forth, and the issues at hand, or he is simply agreeing with my relativist. That is fine, but it would certainly call into question his agnosticism. It is also question begging, because the question has never been, do we agree with the conclusion of the relativist—is he right in that sense. But, rather, is it a logical to conclude that given the premises of the relativist, morality reduces to power. Bernard seems to be answering in the affirmative and throws in the “you too” as well, like the relativist does making the complete argument, when we were just speculating as to “what if” the relativist is correct. I think Bernard may have proven himself too clever by half here.
Also, I will not be addressing the desire/belief issue again if not addressed here. And just to note that it was indeed addressed by me, but never responded to, just brought up again later, we have the following:
“- For the relativist, one might choose to impose one’s view on another based purely upon personal preference.
– For the objectivist, one might choose to impose one’s view on another based purely upon personal belief.”-Bernard
“This is not the same thing, at all. See the same point—the very same thing I had to note for Burk and JP as well. That we all have to subjectively believe what we do is not disputed, nor the point. The court of law has to personally believe in the rule of law. The gang member has to personally believe it is right to kill his rival. Such has absolutely nothing to do with the conversation, the problems noted, nor does it mean that both actions reduce to power.”
Here is more:
“Morality is now just code for: What I will or desire. Thus, the reduction to power.”-Darrell
“Morality is now just code for: what I believe is right. Thus, the reduction to power.”-Bernard
“Because I have already told you why. See paragraph 3 of the Part One post.”-Darrell
And, when Bernard did go to that paragraph he told us it said nothing about reduction to power, but that wasn’t his question. His question was regarding any difference if we say “I desire” over “I believe”. That paragraph notes the fact that we are all believers, we all have to subjectively believe what we do, whether a relativist or objectivist. Therefore, his point about belief and desire does not hold. I am not asserting if we say “I believe” as opposed to saying “I desire” there is no reduction to power. How silly.
I am however saying that if we believe our desires, relative to us only, are the defining feature of our moral framework, then such does reduce to power. Belief is operative for both the relativist and objectivist. It is not just the aspect of desire or belief, by themselves, which reduces to power. It is the content of our beliefs about our desires and morality in general that will tell us if what we believe reduces to power or not when in action or theoretically.
Notice too that the two statements above are really just the relativist assertion stated differently. Bernard is not contrasting a relativist assertion against an objectivist one. They are both relativist assertions.
Here is more:
“To which you responded, see paragraph three on the first post. So I looked. And it does not in any sense address why one of these would reduce to power, but not the other.”-Bernard.
“Again, that one single paragraph wasn’t meant to. The entire post was. I referenced that paragraph to address the other mistakes you were making regarding your “I believe” over your “I desire” choices. Subjective belief is in play for each side. Such has nothing to do with what I’m asking in the post or whether or not morality is relative or objective.”-Darrell
Anyone is welcome to go to that paragraph and not see if it doesn’t address the “desire” over “belief” issue in the context of subjectivity and in the context of Bernard’s question (whether one agrees with me or not, it is addressed). We are all believers. We have beliefs about our desires and their relation to morality. Are they (our desires) our morality, regardless the content or direction of our desires? Or, are they factors we take into consideration when talking about morality in reference to an objective bar that helps us know what direction our desires should point, or whether we should ignore them? It is only when we go further that we can see whether there is a reduction to power or not.
Anyway, I hope this clarified some issues and addressed some objections (or addressed them again, and again…).