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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Brevity is the soul of Blogging

Let me express my infinite envy of Matthew Yglesias contrasting this brilliant explanaion of what relativism is and isn't with my ramblings at where I am listed as the most recent onymous guest blogger.

Yglesias explains "He [Brooks] makes, however, a common error of the cultural conservative in conflating a principle of freedom with a principle of relativism. People normally don't find this confusing when you talk about things other than sex or death." and "Brooks thinks the liberal view on the Schiavo case contains no moral principles. I would say, rather, that each liberal's view contains two principles."

One [is that] society should govern itself in regard to these dilemmas ... According to individual choice as determined, in cases of controversy, by the law. The other is the principle about what you would choose for yourself". I can't write like Yglesias but I can cut and paste. Yes, of course, now that he puts it that way, it is clear that Brooks and other cultural conservatives have made a gross intellectual error.

I, in contrast, am inclined to go off on a discussion of relativism and ontology.
Hmmmmm onymous, ontology something to do with mental onanism ?

OK so I try again. What is moral relativism.
1) as noted by Matthew Yglesias it is not belief in allowing people freedom to do things to themselves which you think are mistaken. That is an absolutist belief in freedom and toleration.
2) it might be the view that the moral law says only people should do what they sincerely think is right. This is absolutist and silly. According to this view the actions of the hijackers on 911 were moral. Clearly no one would accept this view after more than a moments thought.
3) we can't proves something is right and what is wrong. This seems to me to be obviously true and doesn't amount to anything. The absence of proof makes no difference in the absence of doubt.
4) there is no objective right and wrong just different beliefs. This is derived from 3 by confusing proof and truth (epistemological and ontological objectivity). It amounts to almost nothing. You can know someone for decades and observe their (very moral) behavior and not know that they believe this until you ask them.

Update: Having read Brooks' original article, I think one bit of Yglesias' post is either clumsy or deliberately provocative. The second possibility is much more like Yglesias but I can't see the point. Brooks becomes outrageous when he equates belief in freedom and moral relativism "Once you say that it is up to individuals or families to draw their own lines separating life from existence, and reasonable people will differ, then you are taking a fundamental issue out of the realm of morality and into the realm of relativism and mere taste." To me this is like saying "once you say 2+2=4 you end up agreeing that it is all right to torture people for fun." More seriously, to Brooks it seems obvious that if something is an important issue it should be decided by the state and that freedom should be restricted to minor issues of "mere taste." In other words one can recognise peoples freedom to choose and also judge them criticize them even condemn them as immoral. Brooks is not an idiot (he just plays one on TV) so why does he pretend not to understand the distinction between moral suasion and compulsion ?

Anyway I wrote this update to note that, in his gentle critique of Brooks, Yglesias seems to play with the idea of comparing mere taste with morality writing
"The Go Fug Yourself people are not being non-judgmental about fashion, and certainly don't think there are no objective standards by which fashion choices may be judged. Nevertheless, I take it that they don't think celebrities should be legally prohibited from wearing fugly attire, should they choose to do so. " This must be some kind of joke, why else would he talk about fashion when explaining that he doesn't consider the issue one of mere taste ?

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