Sunday, October 26, 2003


A very short lesson in moral philosophy

Leftists make great hay out of the fact that moral absolutism is virtually impossible to defend philosophically. And I agree with them. I too am a moral relativist -- i.e. I believe that there is no timeless and forever fixed right and wrong and that what is right and wrong varies from society to society and has no meaning other than that. That does NOT mean, however, that all ways to live are equally wise -- which is the extension of moral relativism that Leftists usually glide into without people noticing. In other words, some ways of living lead to generally desired outcomes and some do not. That is a simple empirical proposition for which there is much evidence. Most people, for instance, desire material prosperity but only some ways of living lead to that. Laziness, for instance generally does not lead to prosperity so laziness is generally unwise, or, in shorthand, “bad” or “wrong”. So don’t let the sophomoric philosophical debating points of Leftists embarrass you into abandoning talk of “right” and “wrong”. Such terms do have real and important meanings -- even if you are a moral relativist.

And at least from Edmund Burke onwards, conservatives have taken the matter one step further. That some value is merely the custom of a given society is taken by Leftists to imply that the value concerned is NOT worthy of respect or continuation. Conservatives draw precisely the opposite conclusion. That some custom has evolved through trial and error over a long period of time is seen by conservatives as indicating that it is probably a wise and valuable custom that should not be abandoned except for very strong reasons. The custom may not be “right” in any absolute, immutable or unimprovable sense but it may still be very wise and valuable in enabling a civil and healthy society to function and give its members what they desire -- such as peace, security and prosperity. In that sense, courage, honesty, democracy and the rule of law are “right”. Countries where such values are widespread generally have more peace, security, freedom and prosperity than countries where such values are not widespread. Values and standards of behaviour are very important matters indeed.

Amusingly, however, Leftists are very prone to using the language of right and wrong (which they claim not to believe in) when it suits them. They will claim that things like Apartheid or “racism” are WRONG without batting an eyelid. The moral relativists suddenly become moralists. They will happily say things that they do not remotely believe in if it suits their ends of gaining power and influence. I did some research into the dishonest Leftist use of moral language which is reported here. And when Leftists do use moralistic language, it is rather fun to use the arguments of moral relativism to show how shallow their arguments are -- as here. There is a broader coverage of the issues in moral philosophy here.


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