Thursday, January 07, 2010

Relativism and the possibility of tolerance

Tolerance has to do with how we treat people who either behave in ways we don't approve of, or believe things we disagree with. If there are no disapprovals, and no disagreements, tolerance is impossible. Therefore relativism does not promote tolerance, it makes tolerance logically impossible. If relativism is true, there's nothing to tolerate.

8 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Some chess players have one style of play, and other chess players have a different style of play.

If we can tolerate different styles of play in chess, and say that you can be world champion and have a different style of play to other world champions, can we disapprove of chess players who open 1 e4 e5 2 Ba6 , and say that that is objectively bad chess ?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, this has got to be the worst post I've ever read of yours. It's so simplistic it surprises me.

Maybe you could try to flesh this out in a more sophisticated way because as it stands it does not deserve a response.

For instance, a relativist is not that brain dead to think there are no disagreements. His theory understands this and accounts for them. Of course we disagree.

Sorry.

Victor Reppert said...

Steven: In the area of chess styles, there are different legitimate styles which are equally good depending on the player, and then some that are unacceptable. In morality, I can go to the movies or watch the NFL playoffs on TV, and neither action will be wrong. So the chess situation parallels the moral situation as understood by people who believe in objective moral values.

John: To disagree is to say for one person to think and say that P is true, while someone else believes that not-P is true. If I like McDonald's burgers better than Burger King's, and you prefer Burger King's, we don't literally disagree. That is because statements like "McDonald's burgers are better than Burger King's" have suppressed "for me" clauses. Similarly, most of us think that when we say "Belching after dinner is rude," there is a suppressed "in this society" clause. So someone from a different society wouldn't be contradicting us if they contended that belching after dinner is obligatory from the standpoint of etiquette.

So with respect to something we consider to be relative, the aren't real disagreements.

If you thought that belief in God or Christianity was simply an "attitudinal stance" toward the world which one can choose or not choose to adopt, (a position some philosophers have actually taken) then we could not really say that Christians and their opponents disagree.

Mark Frank said...

I agree with John, this is a very weak argument. A relativist may be very much affected by others people's relativist beliefs and have to tolerate them.

Subjective opinions can lead to sconflict, argument and require tolerance. To take a very trivial example. We decide to go out to eat together. I prefer Chinese, your prefer Indian. One of us is going to have to tolerate the other's subjective preference.

John W. Loftus said...

Yes, Mark, but with a more serious example, a relativist with a child and a relativist who is a child molester have a very serious problem. The disagreement is over what each of them thinks should happen to that child, and this is not a trivial matter. There are millions of such examples.

Anonymous said...

So does the relativist parent tolerate the relativist child molester? -- Bilbo (it's not accepting my password, right now)

Victor Reppert said...

If one person believes

a) It is wrong for this child to be molested.

and another believes

b) It is not wrong for this child to be molested

then they aren't relativists, since both seem to be acknowledging the existence of moral truths, namely, a and b respectively. There is a disagreement unless you relativize it. If A really means

1) Child molestation is wrong for Smith

and B means

2) Child molestation is not wrong for Jones

then these are expressions of the parties' feelings on the matter, but there is no real disagreement.

Mark Frank said...

If A really means

1) Child molestation is wrong for Smith

and B means

2) Child molestation is not wrong for Jones

then these are expressions of the parties' feelings on the matter, but there is no real disagreement.


In one sense there may not be a disagreement but they still either tolerate or do not tolerate each other's beliefs and it makes a big difference. That's why I like to use the trivial example of Indian or Chinese. Pretty much everyone would accept that meal preference is relative - but if we are to eat together then your preference and mine come into conflict and either one of us tolerates the other's preference or we are in dispute. It is in the nature of moral judgements that they lead to action. If Brown thinks child molestation is OK then he is likely to molest children and encourage others to do so - at the very least fail to prevent it taking place. This brings him into immediate and strong conflict with Smith who will actively try to prevent it happening because of his relative but strong feelings about the matter. Potentially one of them could tolerate the other.