relativism vs equivalidity

From: Wei Dai (
Date: Tue Nov 06 2001 - 23:03:45 MST

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

Strict moral relativism says there is no objective morality. Moral values
are relative to individuals, and there is no way to compare two moral
systems except subjectively. No argument exists which can convince a
person to change his morality (assuming it's well defined and does not
contain internal contradictions) by appealing solely to his rationality.

Moral equivalidity goes further and says that because there is no
objective morality, all moralities are equally valid. Therefore we should
treat all moral systems symmetrically. For example we should never mention
that something is considered good in one moral system without also
mentioning that it is considered evil in another moral system.

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.

Someone might argue that strict moral relativism leads logically to moral
equivalidity, therefore strict moral relativism is also a contradiction. I
would say that's not the case, that in fact moral equivalidity is an
example of the naturalistic fallacy. Just because moralities are symmetric
in some objective sense, doesn't mean we ought to treat them symmetrically
for the purposes of guiding our own actions. 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.

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