let us be clear what we mean by tolerance. Tolerance is a quality of people,
not of ideas. Ideas can be confused, or fuzzy, or ill defined, but that does not
make them tolerant, or intolerant, any more than clarity or exactness could make
If a carpenter tolerates 3/16 of an inch deviation from plane, he is three times more tolerant than one who tolerates only 1/16 of an inch, but he is no less clear. One teacher may tolerate no dissent from his fuzzy and ill-defined views -- a Marxist, let's say -- while another, say Socrates, may tolerate much dissent from his clearly defined views.
- Second, the relativist's claim is that absolutism, belief in universal, objective, and unchanging moral laws, fosters intolerance of alternative views. But in the sciences, nothing like this has been the case. The sciences have certainly benefited and progressed remarkably because of tolerance of diverse and heretical views. Yet science is not about subjective truths, but about objective truths. Therefore, objectivism does not necessarily cause intolerance.
- Third, the relativist may further argue that absolutes are hard and unyielding and therefore the defender of them will also be hard and unyielding. But this is another non-sequitor. One may teach hard facts in a soft way, or soft opinions in a hard way.
- Fourth, the simplest refutation of the tolerance argument is its very premise. It assumes that tolerance is really, objectively, universally, absolutely good. If the relativist replied that he is not presupposing the objective value of tolerance, then all he is doing is demanding the imposition of his subjective personal preference for tolerance. That is surely more intolerant than the appeal to an objective, universal, impersonal, moral law. If no moral values are absolute, neither is tolerance. The absolutist can take tolerance far more seriously than the relativist. It is absolutism, not relativism, that fosters tolerance.
fallacy: It is relativism that fosters intolerance. Why not be intolerant? He
has no answer to this. Because tolerance feels better? Or because it is the
popular consensus? Well suppose it no longer feels better. Suppose it ceases to
be popular. The relativist can appeal to no moral law as a dam against the
flood of intolerance. We desperately need such a dam, because societies, like
individuals, are fickle and fallen.
What else will deter a humane and humanistic Germany from turning to an inhumane, Nazi philosophy of racial superiority? Or, a now-tolerant America from turning to a future intolerance against any group it decides to disenfranchise. It is unborn babies today, born babies tomorrow. Homophobes today, perhaps homosexuals tomorrow. The same absolutism that homosexuals usually fear because it is not tolerant of their behavior is their only secure protection against intolerance of their persons.
- Sixth fallacy. Examination of the essential meaning of the concept of tolerance reveals a presupposition of moral objectivism, for we do not tolerate goods. We only tolerate evils in order to prevent worse evils. The patient will tolerate the nausea brought on by chemotherapy in order to prevent death by cancer. And a society will tolerate bad things like smoking in order to preserve good things like privacy and freedom.
- Seventh, the advocate of tolerance faces a dilemma when it comes to cross-cultural tolerance. Most cultures throughout history have not put a high value on tolerance. In fact, some have even thought it a moral weakness. Should we tolerate this intolerance? If so, if we should tolerate intolerance, then the tolerance objectivist had better stop bad-mouthing the Spanish Inquisition. But if we should not tolerate intolerance, why not? Because tolerance is really good, and the Inquisition was really evil? In that case, we are presupposing a universal and objective trans-cultural value. What if instead, he says it is only because of our consensus for tolerance? But his history's consensus is against it. Why impose on ours? Is that not culturally intolerant?
- Eighth, finally, there is a logical non-sequitor in the relativist argument too. Even if the belief in absolute moral values did cause intolerance, it does not follow that such values are not real. The belief that the cop on the beat is sleeping may cause a mugger to be intolerant to his victims, but it does not follow that the cop is not asleep. Thus, there are no less than eight weaknesses in the tolerance argument.
quarta-feira, 29 de maio de 2013
Argument for Relativism: Social ConditioningA third argument for relativism is similar to the second, but is more psychological than anthropological. This argument is also supposedly based on scientifically verifiable fact. The fact is that society conditions values in us. If we had been brought up in a Hindu society, we would have had Hindu values. The origin of values thus seems to be human minds themselves, parents and teachers, rather than something objective to human minds. And what comes from human subjects is, of course, subjective, like the rules of baseball, even though they may be public and universally agreed to.
This argument, like the previous one, also confuses values with value opinions. Perhaps society conditions value opinions in us, but that does not mean society conditions values in us, unless values are nothing but value opinions, which is precisely the point at issue, the conclusion. So the argument again begs the question.
There is also a false assumption in this argument. The assumption is that whatever we learn from society must be subjective. That is not true. We learn the rules of baseball from society, but we also learn the rules of multiplication. The rules of baseball are subjective and manmade. The rules of multiplication are not. Of course, the language systems in which we express any rules are always manmade. But the human mind creates, rather than discovers, the rules of baseball, but the mind discovers, rather than creates, the rules of multiplication. So the fact that we learn any given law or value from our society does not prove that it is subjective.
Finally, even the express premise of this argument is not fully true. Not all value opinions are the result of social conditioning. For if they were, then there could be no non-conformity to society based on moral values. There could only be rebellions of force, rather than principle. But, in fact, there are many principle non-conformists. These people did not derive their values wholly from their society, since they disagree with their society about values. So the existence of moral non-conformists is empirical proof of the presence of some trans-social origin of values.
Argument for Relativism: FreedomA fourth argument is that moral relativism alone guarantees freedom, while moral absolutism threatens freedom. People often wonder how they can be truly free if they are not free to create their own values. Indeed, our own Supreme Court has declared that we have a fundamental right to define the meaning of existence. This is either the most fundamental of all rights if it is right, or the most fundamental of all follies if it is wrong. This is either the wisest or the stupidest thing the court has ever writ. This was the Casey decision. Please remember what Casey did in Casey At The Bat.
The most effective reply to this argument is often an "ad hominem." Say to the person who demands the right to be free to create his own values that you too demand that right. And that the value system that you choose to create is one in which his opinions have no value at all. Or, a system in which you are God, and rightly demand total obedience from everyone else. He will quickly protest in the name of truth and justice, thus showing that he really does believe in these two objective values after all. If he does not do this, if he protests merely in the name of his alternative value system, which he has created, then his protest against your selfishness and megalomania is no better than your protest against his justice and truth. And then the argument can only come down to brute force. And that is hardly a situation that guarantees freedom.
A second refutation of the relativist's argument from freedom is that freedom cannot create values, because freedom presupposes values. Why does freedom presuppose values? Well, first because the relativist's argument that relativism guarantees freedom must assume freedom is really valuable, thus assuming at least that one objective value. Second, if freedom is really good, it must be freedom from something really bad, thus assuming some objective good and bad. And third, the advocate of freedom will almost always insist that freedom be granted to all, not just some, thus presupposing the real value of equality, or the Golden Rule.
But the simplest refutation of the argument about freedom is experience. Experience teaches us that we are free to create alternative mores, like socially acceptable rules for speech, or clothing, or eating, or driving. But it also teaches us that we are not, in fact, free to create alternative morals. Like making murder, or rape, or treason right. Or making charity or justice wrong. We can no more create a new fundamental moral value than we can create a new primary color, or a new arithmetic, or a new universe. Never happened, never will. And if we could, if we could create new values, they would no longer be moral values. They would be just arbitrarily invented rules of the game. We would not feel bound in conscience by them, or guilty when we transgressed them. If we were free to create "Thou shalt murder" or "Thou shalt not murder" as we are free to create "Thou shalt play nine innings" or "Thou shalt play only six innings," then we would feel no more guilty about murder than about playing six innings.
As a matter of fact, we all do feel bound by some fundamental moral values, like justice, the Golden Rule. We experience our freedom of will to choose to obey or disobey them, but we also experience our lack of freedom to change them into their opposites. We cannot creatively make hate good, or love evil. Try it, you just can't do it. All you can do is refuse the whole moral order. You cannot make another one. You can choose to rape, but you cannot experience a moral obligation to rape.
Argument for Relativism: ToleranceA fifth argument, equally common today, is that moral relativism is tolerant, while absolutism is intolerant. Tolerance is one of the few non-controversial values today. Nearly everyone in our society accepts it. So it is a powerful selling point for any theory or practice that can claim it. What of relativism's claim to tolerance? Well, I see no less than eight fallacies in this popular argument.
Argument for Relativism: SituationalismA sixth and final argument for relativism is that situations are so diverse and complex that it seems unreasonable and unrealistic to hold them to universal moral norms. Even killing can be good if war is necessary for peace. Even theft can be good if you steal a weapon from a madman. Even lying can be good if you're a Dutchman lying to the Nazis about where you're hiding the Jews.
The argument is essentially this: Morality is determined by situations, and situations are relative; therefore, morality is relative. A closely related argument can be considered together with this one that morality is relative because it is determined by motive. We all blame someone for trying to murder another, even though the deed is not successfully accomplished, simply because its motive is bad. But we do not hold someone morally guilty of murder for accidentally killing another. For instance, like giving sugary candy to a child he has no way of knowing is seriously diabetic. So the argument is essentially that morality is determined by motive, and motive is subjective, therefore morality is subjective.
So both the situationist and the motivationist conclude against moral absolutes. The situationist because he finds all morality relative to the situation, the motivationist because he finds all morality relative to the motive.
We reply with a common-sense distinction. Morality is indeed conditioned, or partly determined, by both situations and motives, but it is not wholly determined by situations or motives. Traditional common sense morality involves three moral determinants, three factors that influence whether a specific act is morally good or bad. The nature of the act itself, the situation, and the motive. Or, what you do; when, where, and how you do it; and why you do it.
It is true that doing the right thing in the wrong situation, or for the wrong motive, is not good. Making love to your wife is a good deed, but doing so when it is medically dangerous is not. The deed is good, but not in that situation. Giving money to the poor is a good deed, but doing it just to show off is not. The deed is good, but the motive is not.
However, there must first be a deed before it can be qualified by subjective motives or relative situations, and that is surely a morally relevant factor too. The good life is like a good work of art. A good work of art requires all its essential elements to be good. For instance, a good story must have a good plot, and good characters, and a good theme.
So a good life requires you do the right thing, the act itself; and have a right reason or motive; and that you do it in the right way, the situation. Furthermore, situations, though relative, are objective, not subjective. And motives, though subjective, come under moral absolutes. They can be recognized as intrinsically and universally good or evil. The will to help is always good, the will to harm is always evil. So even situationism is an objective morality, and even motivationism or subjectivism is a universal morality.
The fact that the same principles must be applied differently to different situations presupposes the validity of those principles. Moral absolutists need not be absolutistic about applications to situations. They can be flexible. But a flexible application of the standard presupposes not just a standard, but a rigid standard. If the standard is as flexible as the situation it is no standard at all. If the yardstick with which to measure the length of a twisting alligator is as twisting as the alligator, you cannot measure with it. Yardsticks have to be rigid. And moral absolutists need not be judgmental about motives, only about deeds.
Peter J. Kreeft