Sunday, September 06, 2009

What are we to do tomorrow?

I'm at work on a long post on pedagogy. I teach, and a series of posts on the conclusions to which I've come about that is past due.

But until them, let me say a little about the moral life.

The moral relativist tells us that moral obligation is relative. When I ask, "Relative to what?", not all give the same answer. To some, it is relative to individual choice; to others, to societal norm. But for me now, the answer does not matter. For I wish to ask all relativists how they know what they are to do tomorrow.

I understand well enough when they tell me that present moral obligation is relative to this or that. But we seem able to choose, and to change, our moral views. This I think is a fact of experience, an obvious fact. But if moral obligation is relative and variable, that today it is this (whatever this is) does not imply that tomorrow it ought to be, or will be, the same. Relativist, explain to me why you should not change your moral views overnight. Explain to me why it is necessary to hang on to them for even a second more.

You cannot say that they should not change because they conform to an external, objective standard. You cannot say that they should not change because human nature remains fixed, for a moral scheme that ties moral obligation to human nature runs counter to the fundamental thesis of the relativity of moral obligation. But if you cannot say either, it seems that you can say nothing. You can provide no reason not to abandon your moral views tonight.

The relativity of moral obligation is, I would say, a synchronic fact. It concerns only what occurs at present. At present, moral obligation is merely a reflection of the view the individual or society happens to hold. But that this is so at present gives not even a tiny hint of a reason why it should remain thus. Change or remain the same - that can make no difference to the relativist.

Thus if we cling to our moral views - as we ought and in fact do- we reveal that we are not relativists. If we know what we are to do tomorrow - and we do - we are not relativists.

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