Re: relativism vs equivalidity

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Thu Nov 08 2001 - 07:22:05 MST

On Tue, Nov 06, 2001 at 10:03:45PM -0800, Wei Dai wrote:
> I think in our discussions of moral relativism, we should distinguish
> between two forms of it, which I'll call strict moral relativism and moral
> equivalidity.
> Strict moral relativism says there is no objective morality.
> Moral equivalidity goes further and says that because there is no
> objective morality, all moralities are equally valid.

I would also add epistemic relativism: there might exist an objective
morality, but we can't know with certainty which morality is right.

> I think the recent criticism against moral relativity is really against
> moral equivalidity rather than strict moral relativity. But moral
> equivalidity is simply a logical contradiction and therefore pointless to
> criticize on other grounds. Since it itself is a subjective morality,
> moral equivalidity leads to the conclusion that we should treat it
> symmetrically with all other moralities which claim moral superiority. But
> that is a logically impossible thing to do, so one could only believe in
> moral equivalidity while avoiding thinking through its implications.

Yes. I think that while moral equivalidity is contradictory, it is also
more common than moral relativism. If we disregard consistency, instead
looking at what people actually think and do, it seems that even the
most vocal moral relativists espousing moral equivalidity (usually based
on cultural equivalidity) do believe in some kind of overarching,
universal morality that is objectively true. Not that they would put it
that way, but when you look at the actual courses of actions suggested
(such as how minorities should be treated or what to do about female
circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa) they seldom show moral relativism
and instead can argue quite passionately for particular courses of
actions that apparently are universally true (from their perspective).
So we end up with people espousing moral equivalidity, but with a core
of some morality which they apply regardless of the equivalidity.

> There are many ways to break
> the apparent symmetry between moralities. My personal favorite is to use
> the indexical fact that I am me, and simply accept my own moral system as
> privileged above all others.

This is likely how the above relativists do it.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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