I. Absolutism, Moral Absolutism, Moral Universalism,
V. Please download and save: Modern Moral Philosophy
From Thiroux & Krasemann:
Absolutism: "[T]he theory that morality is absolute rather than relative; that is, that that there are absolute moral truths to which we must adhere and which particular situations, people or places do not affect. Near or almost absolute are terms coined by the author of this book to describe basic principles in ethics" (431).
Relativism: "The opposite of absolutism in that those who who hold this point of view believe that there are no absolutes in morality, but rather that morality is relative to particular cultures, groups, or even individuals, and further that everyone must decide upon his or her own values and ethics because there are no absolutes" (436). [T]here are no absolute values at all and . . . all values are relative to time, place, persons, and situations" (78).
Kaplan: What are "values?" Is there such a thing as the study of values? See: Axiology, 1, 2
Arguments for relativism (79):
"1. Studies of both primitive and modern cultures reveal an extreme variation in customs, manners, taboos, religions, moralities, daily habits, and attitudes from culture to culture."
Kaplan: People across cultures have the ability to readily understand the cultures of others. Cultures vary, but do people themselves vary? That is, is variation here a function of culture, or of human nature itself?
"2. The moral beliefs and attitudes of human beings are absorbed essentially from their cultural environments, and people tend to internalize--at least a great deal of the time--what is socially accepted or sanctioned in their cultures."
Kaplan: People within any given culture nonetheless question and/or disobey their culture's beliefs and norms.
"3. People in different cultures tend to believe not merely that there is only one true morality, but also that the one true morality is the one they hold."
Kaplan: What then of the wide variety of ethical beliefs we are examining in this class? One true morality? Obviously no such unilateral ethical orthodoxy exists in our culture--and what ever our culture is?
Arguments for absolutism (79):
"1. Similar moral principles exist in all societies, such as those concerning the preservation of human life, governing sexual behavior, prohibiting lying, and establishing reciprocal obligations between parents and children."
"2. People in all cultures have similar needs, such as the need to survive, to eat and drink, and and to have sex."
"3. There are a great many similarities in situations and relationships in all cultures, such as having two parents of opposite sexes, competing with brithers and sisters, and participating in the arts, languages, religions and family."
"4. There are a great number of intercultural similarities in the areas of sentiment, emotion, and attitude, as with the jealousy, love, and the need for respect."
Kaplan: Do these similarities across cultures argue for philosophical/ethical "absolutes" or are they simply descriptions of commonalities amongst most members of the species?
Kaplan In fine, the relativistic/absolutist dichotomy is synthetic, dialectical, dialogical, academic, and theoretical. The authors attempt to resolve this underlying problem--while adhering to the validity/legitimacy of the dichotomy--by contriving the notion of "near" and "almost" absolutes.
Proposition: "A meaningful statement that asserts or claims something about reality and that has the characteristic of being either true or false. There are four types of propositions: analytic, such as 'All triangles are three-sided'; internal, such as 'I have a headache'; external, or empirical, such as "I see a table here before me"; and categorical (aesthetic, moral, political), such as 'Human beings should not kill other human beings'" (436). "[M]eaningful statements describing states of affairs and they must either be true or false" (80).
Kaplan: Conjecture: I am wondering if there is after all only one type of proposition that can either be true or false: analytic. The others are rather statements of a different order. Internal propositions do not describe anything that can be logically proven: whether they are true or false has no bearing upon our philosophical understanding or the description of actual reality. Rather such statements guide (or do not guide) our behavior. External propositions can be no more than descriptive. If descriptive statements are false then they are simply nonsense, and thus are not propositions; that is, the don't inform us about anything, except perhaps that a person who vocalizes them is stupid, blind, or a liar. Categorical (aesthetic, moral, political) propositions--or rather the expression of moral beliefs--are neither true nor false, they are simply statements about belief. The question is, are they persuasive?
Truth: "A proposition that describes a state of affairs that either occured in the past, is occuring in the present, or will occur in the future."
Falsity: "A proposition that describes state of affiars that did not occur in the past, that is not occuring now, or that will not occur in the future."
States of Affairs: "[A]n occurance, an event, or a happening. It is neither true nor false; it either occurs or does not occur" (80).
Anthropological "Facts" about Absolutism: (78)
Do absolutes exist?
"Near" and "almost" Absolutes: (86) "We are still confronted by the problem of matching propositions with the complexity of human thoughts, feelings and actions; to do this, we must move from the concept of absolutes to that of 'near or almost absolutes,' or basic principles'" (89).
"Because it is based upon an absolute moral proposition, a basic proposition or almost absolute should be adhered to unless some strong justification can authorize an exception to it" (89).