Succintly Put

Tim Nichols, via normblog

2 Caveats –
1) I know I promised a different take on this subject in the past, but I’ve always managed to get stuck actually writing it…
2) Etymology is a poor substitute for definitions. I always find it irksome when I hear someone say “so & so comes from Latin for such & such” – as though knowing the Latin root is sufficient for understanding the concept. On the other hand, sometimes such expressions can save a lot of ink. Such is the case here. Anyway – the definition isn’t as interesting as the elaboration here.

The word morality is derived from the Latin root mos, meaning custom or habit. Given that customs are relative to culture, morality is by definition a relative concept. Moral relativism is simply an empirical fact grounded on observation of cross-cultural differences in moral codes and conduct. Recognising these differences does not stop you making moral judgments, but helps you appreciate other perspectives when making moral judgments.

The antithesis of morality is dogma, which refuses to recognise different perspectives and places less importance on outcomes than actions. [emphasis added -s]

That second clause of the last sentence is a little bit troublesome, since it seems to presuppose consequentialism, which I find to be an inadequate theory of morality. But, for the rest there is an only major point. Moral relativism is often accused of robbing us of our ability to make moral judgments (often because of a misunderstanding of what it is)… but it is all we really have. We can construct objective or objective-seeming codes… we can carve them in stone and make them tangible and provable to anyone who can read a stone inscription. But we can never cause another person to care what we have carved in our stone unless they already share the values we have. We can never convince them that God told us to carve it in stone unless they believe the same things about God as we do. Dogma isn’t just a poor imitation of morality… not just a pale objective cousin to the real subjective thing. It’s contrary to the real thing.

Moral relativism may be flawed. But it’s a darn sight better than nothing. Which is the only alternative.

Anyway… What I mean to say here is “what he said”.

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