Saturday, January 12, 2019

Does relativism lead to tolerance?

Not necessarily.  And should we be tolerant of, say, female genital mutilation? China's one-child policy? The Hindu caste system? The unwillingness of some cultures to educate girls? Executing people for committing adultery? Racial discrimination, if it occurs in another culture? What we are often asked to tolerate are themselves intolerant practices.

40 comments:

Legion of Logic said...

Relativism destroys the ability to justifiably condemn other cultures' moral failures. Also removes the same justification to criticize one's own culture, but that doesn't seem to slow anyone down.

Hugo Pelland said...

"What we are often asked to tolerate are themselves intolerant practices."
Often? By whom?

Plus, the series of questions looks more like a caricature than a rational argument; was that the goal?

Victor Reppert said...

Relativism entails that all those practices are not objectively morally wrong. That isn't a caricature, that is just what the position entails.

Hugo Pelland said...

Of course Relativism wouldn't state that they are objectively morally wrong; nothing is, by definition, under Relativism!

The caricature is to pretend that these things are part of a list of things "we are often asked to tolerate".

Who is often asking you to be tolerant of these things?

Legion of Logic said...

The caricature is to pretend that these things are part of a list of things "we are often asked to tolerate".

Who is often asking you to be tolerant of these things?


I don't think his point is that the things on the list are the things that are "often asked to be tolerated". Rather, he looks to be pointing out the problem with moral relativism by asking if these extreme(ish) examples would fall under the scope of "things we should tolerate" if relativism is correct - if there is no objective moral truth.

And then the final sentence, following that extreme list, illustrates that relativism fails due to having no method of separating things that SHOULD be tolerated from those that shouldn't. So under moral relativism, indeed his list of negative behaviors would fall under "things we should tolerate". At least that's how I read it.

Of course, moral relativism and intolerance go hand in hand in practice, even though they are logically incompatible.

Victor Reppert said...

Who is often asking you to be tolerant of these things?

How can I argue against a culture I haven't tried to understand? Is it relevant that I, an outsider, may find [clitorectomies] cruel? As hard as it is for me to admit, the answer is no. To treat the issue as a matter of feminist outrage would be to assume that one society, namely mine, has a privileged position from which to judge the practices of another.—Andrea Park-1992.

I think Park is asking us to be tolerant on clitorectomies.

Hugo Pelland said...

Victor Reppert said...
"I think Park is asking us to be tolerant on clitorectomies."
I am not sure that's what's being asked here nor am I sure that's a good example (since we don't have the full context), but it is certainly not an answer to my question... Who is "often" asking "you" to be tolerant of such things?

Hugo Pelland said...

Legion of Logic said...
What I am trying to get at here is I don't think Relativism is as relevant as it may seem. One's view of the philosophical question of whether there is such a thing as objective moral truth has little to do with actual, practical views of what is morally acceptable.

Legion of Logic said...

Sure. Believing in objective moral truth won't guarantee a common moral system between those believers. But only people who believe in an objective moral truth, independent of cultural differences, have any sort of justification for criticizing others on a moral basis. My point is that relativism leaves no room for intolerance of any sort. You have to draw a line somewhere that x behavior is actually wrong in order to no longer tolerate it.

One Brow said...

Victor Reppert said...

How can I argue against a culture I haven't tried to understand? Is it relevant that I, an outsider, may find [clitorectomies] cruel? As hard as it is for me to admit, the answer is no. To treat the issue as a matter of feminist outrage would be to assume that one society, namely mine, has a privileged position from which to judge the practices of another.—Andrea Park-1992.

I think Park is asking us to be tolerant on clitorectomies.


Pointing out an invalid reason for opposing clitorectomies is not the same thing as saying we need to tolerate them. If anything, Paek is here arguing against relativism, saying we can't use our own cultural experiences as an objective moral standard.

Legion of Logic said...

If anything, Paek is here arguing against relativism, saying we can't use our own cultural experiences as an objective moral standard.

Isn't that what relativism says? That we can't use our morals as a basis for objective morality?

Hugo Pelland said...

Legion of Logic said...
"But only people who believe in an objective moral truth, independent of cultural differences, have any sort of justification for criticizing others on a moral basis. My point is that relativism leaves no room for intolerance of any sort."

That's exactly what I have a problem with. It seems to me that this "could" be used as distraction when trying to discuss some complex moral dilemma. And that's more or less what the OP was about. Instead of discussing a specific issue, the OP and your claim that Relativism leaves no room for intolerance just shuts down the discussion. It might exclude some individuals from a specific discussion because of a philosophical position that doesn't necessarily (ever?) matter.

In other words, I don't know when the notion of Relativism would come up in practice. That's why I was asking about "who" is "often" asking to tolerate such things. It seems to me that is never relevant to bring up Relativism, except if the goal is to discuss it directly. It's an interesting philosophical question, sure, but if someone is trying to argue for or against something, anything, do we really need to ask them whether they believe there is such a thing as objective moral truth?

Legion of Logic said...

Well if I have finally understood your point (I usually get there eventually), it's that regardless of the philosophical merit of what I'm saying, the practical situations in which that merit would even be relevant are pretty rare.

Is that about right?

Hugo Pelland said...

Exactly, yes.

Legion of Logic said...

*sputters impotently*

One Brow said...

Legion of Logic said...
Isn't that what relativism says? That we can't use our morals as a basis for objective morality?

Yes, she's arguing against us using our morals as the standard for others, that is, against relativism. Do you think that your morality is somehow objective while everyone else's is subjective?

Legion of Logic said...

I must be misunderstanding something here.

The most succinct definition I found in a Google search was "Moral relativism is the idea that there is no universal or absolute set of moral principles."

Relativism opposes the use of a cross-cultural standard. But you seem to be saying that opposing the use of a cross-cultural standard (relativism) is actually opposing relativism.

Hal said...

Legion,
I don’t think the misunderstanding lies with you.

Hugo Pelland said...

One Brow said...
"Yes, she's arguing against us using our morals as the standard for others"
Right, but...
"that is, against relativism"
No, that is consistent with relativism.

At the same time though, this is what matters a lot more imho:
"Do you think that your morality is somehow objective while everyone else's is subjective?"
That does bring up an important point, which relates to why I said that I don't think the belief in objective moral truths matter.

Regardless of whether there are objective moral truths, we are all necessarily trying to figure out whether something is moral or not based on a lot of criteria and contextual details. That makes moral judgements "relative" to the situations.

Here's an interesting example we discussed in an ethics class a couple of years ago: is it morally acceptable for families to make their kids work in a factory instead of going to school full time? From our western's perspective, it's easy to jump to 'no'. However, there are some situations, even today, in which it makes more sense to have kids go to work, help their family, learn new skills and get an education at the same time, at their place of work.

Therefore, from a pro-Relativism's perspective, we can get a statement such as "it's not up to me to judge whether the parents are making the right choice". From an anti-Relativism's perspective, we can get "because of their particular context, these parents are not doing something morally wrong". And vice versa... the pro-Relativism's perspective could be "it's not up to me to decide whether it's moral and I don't care that they think it is moral; I find it unacceptable and we should stop the practice", or the anti-Relativism: "objectively, what they are doing is wrong, let's stop them."

In short, claiming there is some objective moral truths is useless (except when discussing that topic on its own obviously) because it doesn't mean that one's opinion of what these moral truths are is better just because they think they exist.

FWIW, I personally reject Relativism as I believe there is always a unique, objective set of qualifiers that apply to any moral situation.

One Brow said...

Legion of Logic said...
I must be misunderstanding something here.

The most succinct definition I found in a Google search was "Moral relativism is the idea that there is no universal or absolute set of moral principles."

Relativism opposes the use of a cross-cultural standard. But you seem to be saying that opposing the use of a cross-cultural standard (relativism) is actually opposing relativism.


There is a difference between being cross-cultural and being acultural or supracultural. A universal or absolute set of moral principle is one that would not rely on any culture to be true or knowable. In particular, you would not need to be part of Western European culture. Assuming that values specific to our culture are superior to all others is just another kind of relativism; the promotion of local values as opposed to objective values.

Hal said...

One Brow,

Then why did you claim:
Yes, she's arguing against us using our morals as the standard for others, that is, against relativism.

I googled the Andrea Park quote

This is what I found:

Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Ayanna Davis, a 22-year-old political science graduate, said she was improved by attending a course called Cultural Diversity and the Law, which focuses on cultural rituals. Thanks to the class, Davis was able to be "more open-minded" about female circumcision in Kenya. The procedure, customarily forced on young girls, often results in infections, tetanus, blood poisoning, hemorrhaging, inability to urinate, painful intercourse, scars, cysts, infertility, bladder stones, and greater susceptibility to AIDS. Maybe so, but as Davis explained, Western women have different standards than their counterparts in Kenya. "We can't just overpower their culture," she says, calling circumcision a woman's right.
Andrea Park grappled with the same question in an editorial in the Stanford Daily, December 1, 1992:

How can I argue against a culture I haven't tried to understand? Is it relevant that I, an outsider, may find [clitorectomies] cruel? As hard as it is for me to admit, the answer is no. To treat the issue as a matter of feminist outrage would be to assume that one society, namely mine, has a privileged position from which to judge the practices of another.


Seems pretty clear that Ayanna Davis and Andrea Park are cultural relativists and that is why they can't rely on their culture's morals to judge another culture's.

That is hardly an argument against relativism!

One Brow said...

Hal,

It is no more objective to claim that our culture has the correct moral principals than to claim the culture of Kenya has the correct moral principals. Objective moral principals don't need a cultural impetus to back them up. Saying "my culture is correct" is just as relative as saying "every culture is correct".

While Hugo Pelland makes an interesting point on the applicability of the topic, I do accept objective moral values might be found (though I don't know of any process to find them). They won't be found by saying "American values, right or wrong".

Hal said...

One Brow,

You didn't answer my question.

So, again, why do you think Andrea Park was making an argument against cultural relativism?

bmiller said...

In the first sociology course I took the professor told us the story of Margaret Mead’s study of Pacific Islanders and how their culture had different ideas of what was “right” and “wrong”. He went on to conclude that since different cultures were proven to have different ideas of “right” and “wrong”, there was no such things as “Right” and “Wrong”. I decided then that sociology was not for me if it reached such fallacious conclusions from those premises.

C.S. Lewis had it right in The Abolition of Man where he pointed out the universal “Tao” held across time and cultures. It’s apparently taken academia a while to catch up:

See #4 here, but really, read the entire thread for completeness.

Oh, and as for Margaret Mead, not only did the conclusions not follow from her research, her research was bunk.

One Brow said...

Hal said...
So, again, why do you think Andrea Park was making an argument against cultural relativism?

To my understanding, we have been discussing moral relativism, not cultural relativism. Park's statement is certainly consistent with cultural relativism. It's a statement against moral relativism.

Hal said...

One Brow,

Thanks for the answer.

But, like Legion of Logic, I am left wondering how you can see Park's statement as being against moral relativism.

Her statement appears to be consistent with cultural and moral relativism.

One Brow said...

Moral relativism is saying that each culture/group/person decides for itself/themself what is right or wrong. Park said she should not use her own culture to decide what was right or wrong.

Hal said...

One Brow,

Yes, Park is not using her own culture's moral system to critique another culture's morals. That is completely consistent with moral relativism. I still don't see why you think she was attacking moral relativism with that statement.

If she had said she was not opposing the other culture's morals on account of her culture's morals but rather that she was opposing them because they were objectively wrong regardless of one's culture, then I could see her statement being against relativism. But she doesn't do that.

One Brow said...

Hal,

You still seem to be confusing moral relativism and cultural relativism. Saying you can't use your own culture to to inform your morals is a stance against moral relativism. "... she was not opposing the other culture's morals on account of her culture's morals" is exactly what she said.

bmiller said...

Sounds like the disagreement is in the definitions.

Does this help?

Hal said...

Bmiller,

Thanks for that link. Seems to be in accord with my understanding. If one is a relativist, then one can’t critique another person’s or another culture’s morals because of one’s own morals or one’s culture’s morals.

I can’t see anything in Park’s statement that would indicate she is against relativism. Actually it is the reason for her not critiquing the other culture.

One Brow said...

Blogger Hal said...
Thanks for that link. Seems to be in accord with my understanding. If one is a relativist, then one can’t critique another person’s or another culture’s morals because of one’s own morals or one’s culture’s morals.

Descriptive moral relativists critique the morals of other cultures with no cognitive dissonance at all.

I thought that, at this point, it was time to check up on our differing interpretations of the snippet of park's words. Did she say that clierodectomies are not wrong?

https://stanforddailyarchive.com/cgi-bin/stanford?a=d&d=stanford19921201-01.2.23&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN-------

How can I argue against a culture I haven't tried to understand? Is it relevant that I, an outsider, may find the practice cruel?

As hard as it is for me to admit, the answer is no. To treat the issue as a matter for feminist outrage would be to assume that one society, namely mine, has a privileged position from which to judge the practices of another.

I believe that women have a right to make their own choices. But this is an idea imbedded in my own cultural experience. While I find the practice of female genital alteration disturbing, I can't extrapolate that it is a practice that African and Asian women want to abolish, or that they would need my help in doing so.

It's easy for groups like the World Health Organization to recommend that governments outlaw the practice. It's easy to take charge and impose decisions as if we are some kind of omnipotent Big Sister.

I could even say that I would accept whatever choice a woman made, as long as the choice was her own, or suggest that women deserve access to education and medical information so as to make an informed choice.

Nevertheless, my influence would also necessitate changes in a whole system of beliefs — about marriage, medicine, religion, education and women's roles in these other cultures. And I'd still be passing a judgment. Who am I to define anyone else's rights? The women of the world are more different than similar. It wasn't difficult to practice cultural sensitivity until it forced me to temper the feminist views I value most.


Parkes argues that "women have a right to make their own choices" is an objective moral good. She argues against the assumption that we should decide for others what is best for them. She discusses the difficulties that would ensue from forbidding cliterodectomies, but as no point refers to them as a good thing in the context of their culture. At most, in acknowledging that other people don't have the same views, she descries an obvious fact.

Hal said...

One Brow,

Thanks for posting that extended quote. However, I see nothing in it to indicate she is against relativism. Arguing, as she does, that she can’t “define anyone else’s rights” is a basic tenet of relativism.

You do make a good point that some relativists do act inconsistently with their belief in relativism when they critique the morals of others.

Hal said...

One Brow,

Parkes argues that "women have a right to make their own choices" is an objective moral good.

Nope. She states it is a result of her cultural experience . Here is the full quote:

”I believe that women have a right to make their own choices. But this is an idea imbedded in my own cultural experience.”

This is quite consistent with relativism.

One Brow said...

Hal said...

Thanks for posting that extended quote. However, I see nothing in it to indicate she is against relativism. Arguing, as she does, that she can’t “define anyone else’s rights” is a basic tenet of relativism.

Please clarify if you are referring to cultural or moral relativism here.

You do make a good point that some relativists do act inconsistently with their belief in relativism when they critique the morals of others.

Whom did you have in mind, and what type of relativism did you mean?

Nope. She states it is a result of her cultural experience . Here is the full quote:

”I believe that women have a right to make their own choices. But this is an idea imbedded in my own cultural experience.”

This is quite consistent with relativism.


We could argue about the referent for "this", or whether any relativism implied is descriptive or normative, but Parkes clarifies that issue for us, if you add in the next sentences to your "full quote".

I believe that women have a right to make their own choices. But this is an idea imbedded in my own cultural experience. While I find the practice of female genital alteration disturbing, I can't extrapolate that it is a practice that African and Asian women want to abolish, or that they would need my help in doing so.

Parkes believes women choosing is an objective good,but recognizes cultural differences and difficulties. That is not moral relativism.

bmiller said...

I believe that women have a right to make their own choices. But this is an idea imbedded in my own cultural experience. While I find the practice of female genital alteration disturbing, I can't extrapolate that it is a practice that African and Asian women want to abolish, or that they would need my help in doing so.

This is interesting but also a statement that says pretty much nothing.

Parks says she believes one thing, but that other people believe something else.

Hal said...

One Brow,

Parkes believes women choosing is an objective good,but recognizes cultural differences and difficulties.

Nope. She says the right to choose is “an idea embedded in my own cultural experience.” And later she adds: ”Who am I to define anyone else's rights?”
This is completely consistent with moral relativism. Nowhere in her article does she state that it is an ‘objective good’. Nowhere does she make a claim opposing moral relativism.

You claimed earlier that she was making a statement against relativism (moral relativism, if I understand you correctly). I’ve been asking you to show where in that article she does that. Yet all you’ve done so far is quote sections of the article that are quite consistent with moral relativism.

Hal said...

One Brow,

As far as I can understand it, your basic position is that being a cultural relativist implies one is opposed to moral relativism. And that is why you think Parkes is against moral relativism.

While I see no incompatibility with a cultural relativist also being a moral relativist.

One Brow said...

bmiller said...

This is interesting but also a statement that says pretty much nothing.

Parks says she believes one thing, but that other people believe something else.


If descriptive moral relativism is nothing, why are you opposed to it?

One Brow said...

Hal said...
Nope. She says the right to choose is “an idea embedded in my own cultural experience.” And later she adds: ”Who am I to define anyone else's rights?”

I did notice you had to carefully choose where to start your quoting, and you omitted the ellipses when quoting only the latter part of a sentence. The sentence was "But this is an idea imbedded in my own cultural experience.", and as I explained, her "this" did not refer to the right, but to her outrage and her ability to decide for others how that right should be implemented.

This is completely consistent with moral relativism. Nowhere in her article does she state that it is an ‘objective good’. Nowhere does she make a claim opposing moral relativism.

If your misunderstanding of her writing were correct, I would agree.

You claimed earlier that she was making a statement against relativism (moral relativism, if I understand you correctly). I’ve been asking you to show where in that article she does that. Yet all you’ve done so far is quote sections of the article that are quite consistent with moral relativism.

Do you understand the difference between claiming something is good and saying that we should force everyone to comply with it is good?

As far as I can understand it, your basic position is that being a cultural relativist implies one is opposed to moral relativism. And that is why you think Parkes is against moral relativism.

Hopefully, you can now understand it better.