By: Paul Gutbrod – Columnist, Freshman
When I first heard someone had written a rebuttal to my piece on moral relativism, I was initially very excited to read the defense of this theory I took to be hopeless. However, I was disappointed in the attempt to invalidate my writing. I found it contradictory and fundamentally changing nothing I originally said. While I appreciate that someone is watching my back to ensure my clarity, accuracy and consistency, I feel this response often resorted to splitting hairs. I shall show the distinctions made by Julie Fitz, in her Nov. 13 Letter to the Editor “Moral relativity necessary for unity” to be fundamentally inconsequential to the ideas behind my paper. Furthermore, I shall show the uselessness of moral relativism even when defined and explained by Fitz.
As Fitz said, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines moral relativism as “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.” While Fitz referred, for the rest of her piece, to these “groups of persons” as culture or society, I maintain the words’ denotation. Merriam Webster defines the word “group” as the following: “two or more figures forming a complete unit in a composition.” Now, I hardly imagine Fitz would refer to “two people” as an entire culture or society. So, immediately, the merit of anything she said with regard to society or culture is put under question. There still exists the potential for many absolutely valid moralities to exist within a single neighborhood, much less an entire society.
Fitz mentioned the law as a good approximation of morality as seen through a society, and that may be true. However,
moral relativism grants full rights to defy any and all of the laws of the society in which one presides if at least one other person has the same moral code as oneself. The official definition of moral relativism, when examined closely, shows itself to be utterly anarchical, defying the objective goodness of any traditions, convictions or practices. While the law shall ever continue to dictate a standard of acting for society’s members, regardless of their professed morality, moral relativism presents a peace of mind for anyone thinking of acting against the law.
As to my example of the sociopath who finds his moral fulfillment in the drowning of newborn infants, Fitz referred to this as an action no society could ever accept as good and she is most probably correct. But, a moral relativist does not need the acceptance of an entire society, but only of one other person to effectively make a group. In other words, society may imprison this sociopath as a lawbreaker (for every culture outlaws the drowning of newborns); however, they can never judge his action as morally right or wrong. Moral relativism exculpates him from any moral culpability.
Fitz insisted, “moral relativity is not a system of morality to live by. It is a description of the moral variability that exists in a complex, multicultural society,” and this may partially stand. As the definition so clearly states, moral relativistic views are only valid in the presence of two or more persons. Thus, moral relativism may not be a system of morality for any one individual. Rather, moral relativism claims to be the standard for all systems of morality. By declaring every single system valid, moral relativism effectively says nothing. It declares all moral codes as equal, a notion which defies the very concept of a moral code.