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Moral Relativism & Epistemic Relativism

 
 
bigstew
 
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 11:50 am
Most moral relativists claim that morality consists of varying moral frameworks between communities. This notion posits that morality itself is a standard, and since standards depend on whether a community accepts them or not, morality can consist of many types of standards relative to a respective community. So for example, the moral statement "rape is wrong" is true insofar that statement applies to a standard from which a community accepts that: (1) acts of rape consist of sexual abuse and (2) such acts are morally wrong.

Epistemic claims operate much like moral claims, since they are statements about reality. The assumption is that epistemic claims are not relative, that what we know is a fact about the world, and basic science and our utterances regarding the world speak to this. Whether I or someone from a different part of the world disagree about the the green colour of grass has nothing to do with the sorts of epistemic standards we accept. We do not claim that the statement "grass is green" is true relative to the epistemic standards North America accepts. Grass is either green or its not, and that is a true fact about reality. It would seem strange to think that the greeness of grass can vary depending on the sorts of epistemic standards a community accepts.

Moral relativism, however, assumes that standards themselves can simply be accepted or rejected. That is, the justification for a standard depends on whether a community accepts it or not. So even if moral facts and strong evidence for them existed, the rationale of these facts would not be sufficient in their own right. Rather, these facts would be true insofar that a community simply accepts them or not. That is an unjustified assumption.

If we have good reason to reject epistemic relativism, I argue we have good reason to reject similar moral relativisms (but perhaps not all) based on the very same logic.

 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 12:22 pm
@bigstew,
Quote:
If we have good reason to reject epistemic relativism

IMO We don't, and even if we did, the "logic" of social interaction need not be synonymous with that of material interaction. And taking a well accepted moral issue like "rape" is a hardly an argument.....try applying your argument to Kant's categorical imperative "never to lie" for example.

(Your "grass is green" as a "fact" is a naive realist's position. All such statements are functionally embedded in physical and cultural contexts.)

bigstew
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 12:38 pm
@fresco,
I find it hard to believe that you think there is no objective facts about the world itself. Basic science is not relative.

In any case, you're missing the point at issue. The logic of the relativist thesis has to do with the justification for moral judgments. The general acceptance of rape as a moral wrong is neither here nor there (though the fact that it is a commonly accepted moral belief does demand explanation). The logic has to do with the justification for rape being wrong.

As for "naive realism" that is just a silly remark on your part. I could simply change the example with the earth orbits around the sun. Is that not real? Social contexts are besides the point to what is in fact true.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 01:27 pm
@bigstew,
bigstew wrote:
If we have good reason to reject epistemic relativism, I argue we have good reason to reject similar moral relativisms (but perhaps not all) based on the very same logic.

That may be a valid objection to moral relativism, but there are so many other, simpler objections to moral relativism that I'm not sure it's worth the effort.
0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  2  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 01:27 pm
@bigstew,
Quote:
I could simply change the example with the earth orbits around the sun. Is that not real?

Laughing
No ..."real"for whom ? Its the most elegant astronomical model. The "reality" for astronauts is functionally different to the non-astronomical "reality" of sunrise and sunset. (BTW Mathematically they orbit each other round a common centre of mass)

What the naive realist fails to take into account is that the word "fact" comes from the Latin facere "to construct". Insofar that we have similar physiologies and common goals, such constructions tend to go unquestioned But try your "grass is green" in a hypothetical world of the colour-blind for example. Green is not a property possessed by grass: it is a description of a common interactional expectancy about grass and a particular observer under specific lighting conditions.

Code:Reality is an illusion albeit a persistent one
A.Einstein

None of this deals with your morality issue, but maybe this is more fundamental.
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 01:54 pm
@fresco,
I can see the utility of relativism in social science. Social scientists do not want to make value judgements about different cultures. But I never understood the application of relativism to natural science. What is true about physical reality can be described objectively without reference to cultural values.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 02:08 pm
@wandeljw,
Alas, Thomas Khun (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) would not agree with you. According to such a view,"science" proceeds via progressive "paradigms" involving temporally shifting relatively stable periods of accepted models and methodologies which are later superceded. Such paradigms involve the social dynamics and semantic fields of what constitutes "acceptable data" and "professional study".
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 03:01 pm
@fresco,
I read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It is an excellent account of the history of science and illustrates cultural factors involved in the acceptance of scientific theories. I did not believe Kuhn was attempting to criticize the methodology of natural science.

Another author related a story of attending a conference of historians where Kuhn was a featured speaker. Some of the conference members were praising the merits of "Kuhnianism." Kuhn told them, "There is one thing you people need to get straight: I am not a 'Kuhnian'."
bigstew
 
  3  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 04:16 pm
@fresco,
Quote:
No ..."real"for whom ?


This is an absurd question. Real objectively.

The fact that there is a mind independent world is not true to some, false to others, true to him, false to her. This is self contradictory.

The fact that you are endorsing epistemic relativism is self defeating. The truth of your claims is only relative to the constructivist framework you endorse. There is in fact no fact of the matter according to your accepted epistemic standard.

This completely defies common sense.
Eorl
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 04:50 pm
@bigstew,
I think you perhaps you fear of losing the anchor of assumed absolutes.

"Rape is wrong" is very subjective and definition dependent. For example, the idea that's it possible to rape one's spouse is quite a new concept, and certainly not a worldwide one. Also, various versions of rape depend on age of consent, which ranges between the Vatican (age 12) and Tunisia (age 20).

btw I highly recommend listening hard to Fresco. You will learn an awful lot, though your head may hurt! Neutral
fresco
 
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Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 04:59 pm
@wandeljw,
Correct.....he was not"criticizing"...he was describing the changing character of "models"...eg. Newtonian physics (fixed frame) vs Relativistic physics (Observer dependent frame). What matters is not "factual truth" but "successful prediction" of observations. That is all that "properties" amount to...prediction of observation. Such predictions are often suggested by the mathematical coherence of models which resist "logical" explanation (like Feynman's positrons as "electrons travelling backwards in time"). Observation is thus guided and "data" are never independent of observers.Since mathematics is a relatively culture neutral meta language, paradigmatic shifts tend to globally progressive rather than culturally differentiated. A potentially interesting paradigmatic schism is happening right now with the dispute about whether the "speed of light" is an upper limit. There are those who argue the new data "must be wrong" or the current framework of models will fall apart.

All this has been said in this forum countless times. We operate successfully in our mundane lives as though there were a "reality" independent of "us", because most of the time our physiological and psychological differences are insufficient to cause substantial disagreements about observation. But what we forget is that "observation" is a social event even if it involves self talking to self. As I sit here in this room there are potentially an infinite number of trivial observations I might make...from the colour of the carpet to the speck of dirt on the mirror....but the "reality" of those "things" is a function of my socialization through language in common with others with visual systems like mine. And as Heidegger pointed out, we do not actually evoke either "things" or "self" most of the time. Such "facticity events" are triggered when the flow of undifferentiated interaction is interrupted and we contemplate our next move. In other words, we never actually wander around saying "grass is green" or "rocks are hard" as diembodied "facts"....we would be locked up if we did !

0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  2  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 05:02 pm
@bigstew,
Try applying "common sense" to the quantum physics on which the operation of your computer is based.!

BTW The dichotomy between "subjectivity" and "objectivity" is one of the myths of naive realism.
0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 05:06 pm
@Eorl,
Thanks for the headache accolade ! Smile
JLNobody
 
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Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 10:31 pm
@fresco,
I just found this thread, this very interesting thread, too late for my participation. But before I go to bed, isn't "common sense" almost synonymous with "naive realism", or is it too late for me to think straight?
fresco
 
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Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:48 am
@JLNobody,
Your point seems valid if we try to apply "commons sense" to "epistemology", which is one arm of the OP. On the other hand the target "morality" (IMO) does open itself to "common sense" in so far that its target is about behaviours and self perceptions held in common. It seems to me that morality is about selves and their and their comfortable belonging (to social groups), and moral dilemmas occur when different group allegiances involve different group norms. (religion versus nationalism, blood versus acquaintance etc). Difficult scenarios (like WW2 Germans who risked their family's safety by hiding Jews) serve to illustrate such dilemmas. "Logic" aka sometimes as "common sense" has no part in the resolution of such dilemmas. Only belief systems which might offers transcendence of "this world" might bring sufficient comfort to resolve the dilemma, but you and I both know that this is a far cry from "common sense" or "naive realism".
Fil Albuquerque
 
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Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 10:18 am
@fresco,
...and there you go again singing the song of naive realism...you ought to explain in your system how is it that mutual beliefs are held together by a group of people, how do they communicate in the first place with a common language in place and come to an "agreement", when statistically speaking the probability of opinions coinciding is highly improbable without an actual independent (pre-functional) state of affairs to ground and prevent a limitless infinite set of possibility┬┤s of generating an ever growing cacophony of entropic noise...
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 11:26 am
@Fil Albuquerque,
No....I don't need to "explain" by stating axiomatic initial conditions. As far as I'm concerned "language" is no biological big deal, and co-operation (structural coupling) with or without language, is merely an evolutionary advantage common to many species along an indefinite continuum in either direction. (Check out "embodied cognition" Stamford Enc Phil for demolition of computational models. Common physiology implies cognitive convergence).
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 12:26 pm
@fresco,
...you are not addressing the argument only circumventing it...how would you have anything in common is the bottom line which you did not counter so far...and what defeat are you talking about I thought I settled that one down sometime ago...
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 12:50 pm
@Fil Albuquerque,
...because "reproduction of structure" is a property of autopoietic systems (aka lifeforms). No teleology or goal directedness is required to justify such reproduction.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:06 pm
@fresco,
"Reproduction of structure", it would seem, happens not because it serves a function or a purpose; it happens because it is "hardwired" to do so. DNA physiology. Ultimately in the evolution of forms the hardwiring reflects the success of a biological form. But the reproduction of social structures, on the other hand--capitalism, monarchy, monogamy, socialism, etc., etc.-- does so because they are (both the reproductive processes and the structures they reproduce) serve functions, usually the perpetuation of desired social structures/patterns/values/institutions, etc..
Have I changed the subject?
 

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