Tuesday, May 03, 2005

On Relativism

The scourge of relativism has been much in the news of late. I was thinking about it today because of an online discussion elsewhere. It would seem that every right-of-center person with an opinion and a microphone awaits the day that relativism leads us down the road to perdition.

Relativism is simply the acknowledgement that different circumstances require different treatment. There is no absolute right or wrong, only murky uncertainties. Its opposite, absolutism, sees no uncertainty- regardless of circumstance, right is right and wrong is wrong.

This of course is nonsense.

Consider the two extreme hypotheticals of abortion politics- the rape victim and the woman who just doesn't feel like having a kid. An absolutist sees no difference between the two, while a relativist recognizes that there is a world of difference between the two. The circumstances are different, therefore they should not be judged by the same standard.

Absolutism has given us the likes of Eric Robert Rudolph and Fred Phelps, the Bolsheviks and al Qaeda. We really need to do away with it- absolutely.


Andrew said...

So let me get this straight: you insist that there's a difference between the rape-victim and the too-much-chardonnay abortions, but you see no distinction between the Bolsheviks, Erik Robert Rudolph, and the Pope.

Sorry, but if you're going to extol relativism, practicing selective relativism isn't going to fly.

BTW, I don't suppose that your distinction about the motivations for rape would lead you to advocating the restriction of abortions for the lesser motivation?

Charlie said...

Well, I only referred the Pope's sermon before the conclave- I certainly didn't accuse him of anything. As to the people I named specifically, of course there are distinctions to be made among them. Fred Phelps, for all his bile, has never killed anyone. He is, however, a fairly despicable person and without doubt an abolutist.

My point was that absolutism goes hand-in-hand with extremism- bombing abortion clinics certainly qualifies as extreme. Relativism, by its very nature, tends not to.

And as to your question- I don't know how I feel about abortion restrictions. I have never been a fan of abortion, for precisely the reasoning implicit in my example. On the other hand, I think abortion restrictions make for bad policy (without regard to its moral implication).

Abortion politics is itself a good example of why absolutism is bad. Each side acts as if the other is completely irrational, while in truth neither side is irrational. There is room for compromise (of course commpromise is bad for business).

Andrew said...

But you argue that the different cases deserve different judgement, while saying that applying that judgement is "bad policy". How does this not equal a de facto absolutism, since it rewards the position of one side of the debate, in everything they want?

Is it your position that the Pope is an "absolutist"? If so, is his kind of absolutism so noxious that it deserves elimination, "absolutely" as you put it?

Sorry for all the questions, I'm just trying to understand your position.