Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Relativism and Human Rights

Relativism is incompatible with an idea that many of us hold dear, the idea of inalienable human rights. If relativism is true, we are endowed by our culture, not our creator, with certain rights, and if the culture denies those rights,  as in cases like slavery or female circumcision, then there is nowhere to go to justify a claim that, contrary to what the culture has decreed, our rights are being violated. 

19 comments:

SteveK said...

It really is that simple.

B. Prokop said...

Nothing to add, Victor. You've said it all.

Anonymous said...

there you go again saying all the right things and misspelling words.

Crude said...

There's an easy solution to this: Be completely inconsistent. Consistency isn't much of a virtue on relativism anyway.

So there: We can say there are inalienable human rights, and also say that relativism is true.

Man, philosophy is easy.

finney said...

I like how you condense and distill the ingredients of a big argument into a bite-sized blog.

One Brow said...

Technically, would it not be more accurate to say relativsim is incompatible with the notion that inalienable rights are founded on objective criteria? I'm not sure of the contradiction between stating a belief that certain right are unalienable and the recognition that not every culture will acknowledge those rights.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Reminds me of Rorty's influential essay on the subject.

Ilíon said...

Yes, it's that true and that simple ... and the logic of it will not at all phase very many of the persons, and they are legion, who contradictorily affirm both relativism and absolutes. ... The sad truth is this: most people do not wish to be logical and rational.

Ryan Anderson said...

In reality, doesn't culture actually deny us many, many rights? Or do you just define "inalienable human right" to be the stuff that is not denied by your culture?

John W. Loftus said...

Cultures change with dissent from the inside and from interaction with other cultures from the outside. So cultures change and evolve throughout their history.

So until you specify what rights you think people should have, yours is a rather empty claim without any content to it.

Let me put it to you this way, individuals make up a culture and they have a say in what rights a given culture should have. If they can persuade others of their position then they have won the day, and their arguments usually come from personal self-interest but also from some culturally accepted ethical theory.

This is all we ever see anyway, people making their arguments. We don't see a creator doing this. All we have in the case of Christianity is a culturally conditioned set of uninterpreted texts along with historically conditioned interpretations of them made BY PEOPLE. And we see where believers have been wrong plenty of times, and are still wrong today, as I've argued here.

Take freedom of speech. There is no such thing. It's a political prize won by the diligent, as Stanley Fish has argued. That's why there is something called "politically correct speech" in the first place!

I respectfully and honestly think you have never tried to really understand cultural relativism. Vic, do you teach an ethics class?

Let the personal attacks come, sheesh.

SteveK said...

>>> Let me put it to you this way, individuals make up a culture and they have a say in what rights a given culture should have.

Who are you arguing against, John Loftus? Victor concluded the same thing. It's a short post. Please read it again.

B. Prokop said...

I agree with SteveK, John. You've basically restated what Victor wrote, and then disagreed with what you yourself just said.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic wrote:

"if the culture denies those rights, as in cases like slavery or female circumcision, then there is nowhere to go to justify a claim that, contrary to what the culture has decreed, our rights are being violated."

Am I mistaken to think Vic said that individuals within a culture cannot criticize their own culture, or that interacting with other cultures doesn't change one's own?

Where does his statement admit of dissenters who change their cultures? people claim their rights are violated all of the time from within a culture. I didn't see it. They do it all the time. Sometimes they do so from within the their own culture, and sometimes they do so by finding truths in a different culture which seems to be working fine for them. This is how cultures evolve.

Vic's is basically an empty claim. That was my main point.

Ilíon said...

Loftus, paraphrased: "[There are no *transcendant* rights; there are no *inalienable* rights. The only "rights" any person has are those that the people around him (and especially those who control government) will grant him ... or that he can secure for himself by force against those others.]"

SteveK: "Who are you arguing against, John Loftus? Victor concluded the same thing."

Actually, VR *didn't* conclude either that:
1) there are transcendant and inalienable rights;
2) there are no transcendant and inalienable rights;

What he concluded is: You can't have it both ways; either:
1) there *are* transcendant and inalienable rights -- and thus, relativism is false;
2) relativism is true -- and thus, there are no transcendant and inalienable rights.


Loftus, ps, paraphrased: "[VR isn't thinking clearly, and is asserting a pointless claim.]"

SteveK: "... It's a short post. Please read it again."

Indeed.

John W. Loftus said...

On this point I have said twice that it's an empty claim.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

Lol! Loftus just jibbers. Does he even know what he's saying? He's so out of his depth it's painful.

Ilíon said...

"Lol! Loftus just jibbers."

Indeed.

Anonymous said...

This line of thinking contains a trap.
To me, the notion of "inalienable rights" is more a reflection of, and encoding of, our natural valuing of ourselves against others imposing on us. We feel it passionately.
It is a weapon, and defence, in a fight for standing and survival in the world of humans. Pretty obvious in a child's playing for example. 'Not fair!" -- because it affects me.
Of course the weapon is double edged. To have "fairness" work for you, and work in the community at large, you have to grant fairness to others.

Just because some cultures can be subject to ignorance, dominance by one power position, or one outlook on what is the reality of the universe; or even on what is mere fashion or acceptable "taste" , makes no difference.
When one claims your rights are being violated in such a culture, you have no need to justify your complaint beyond the effect it has on you.
It is more that you have to show (the impossible) to your "judging community" :- that they are stupid, or totally biased by beliefs, or are inflicting power on you to sustain theirs. Hah! good luck.

What more do you need to justify the feeling that your rights are being violated?
Oh of course, how silly of me. You could say that God himself has carved in the temple of all souls that these are your rights. ( and obligations)
That should close the case against all opposition. And of course it logically follows that a God really exists ?

Hmm.. don't think so. Rather, our great desire for life and fulfillment means that we will embrace and support any community rule, idea or practice which seems to enhance that for us.

regards. DL

SteveK said...

>>> Am I mistaken to think Vic said that individuals within a culture cannot criticize their own culture, or that interacting with other cultures doesn't change one's own?

Yes, you are mistaken.

>>> Vic's is basically an empty claim. That was my main point.

He never made this claim, John Loftus. It's a short post, please read it again. But this time notice that Victor is saying:

- "If relativism is true, we are endowed by our culture, not our creator, with certain rights", and

- "there is nowhere to go to justify a claim that, contrary to what the culture has decreed, our rights are being violated".

Please note that the word *justify* is not the same as criticize.

Your claim is empty.