Sunday, October 19, 2014
Saturday, October 18, 2014
I don't think there is a way to break through the thick skulls of many Christians on this, but let's try again. When it comes to morality, overwhelming numbers of people hold to basic ethics (as opposed to dilemma ethics), expressed even by C.S. Lewis in his book, The Abolition of Man (even though I disagree with his conclusions). What best accounts for this? Certainly not any given provincial deity. Otherwise everyone should embrace the rest of the moralities commanded by these deities. Yet they conflict with each other over a wide assortment of moral issues (theocracy, homosexuality, marriage and divorce, chauvinism, war), and religious issues as well (praying five times a day facing Mecca, genuflecting, washing in the river Ganges, wearing burkas, eating habits, fasts, hair length), since after all, they are also required by these same deities. Moreover, within the Christian tradition itself, the one I know the best, there are serious disagreements in justifying a specific kind of Christian morality that go beyond what most everyone accepts as basic morality. In order to become informed of this there is no better book to read than J. Philip Wogaman's Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction. You see, Christians cannot come to an agreement about ethical theory much less the additional moral duties themselves. Come on, before you spout off the phrase "Christian morality" again, look at the facts. Stop your special pleading. Stop begging the question. There is no such thing as "Christian morality." Never has been. Probably never will be.
The best explanation for our mutually shared basic morality is that it helps us get along in our respective cultures better than not having it. All you have to do is consider what a society would look like without this mutually shared basic morality. To be in a society demands that we have moral rules for living, so morality is forced upon us. We have no choice if we want to live in a society, any society, and we are by nature social beings who need one another. In some ways it’s better to have bad moral rules than none at all, for then we at least know what is expected of us. We’ll have moral rules whether we like them or not, whether we agree with them or not, and whether they can be justified or not. But guess what? As social beings we overwhelmingly agree on some important basic moral rules. Folks, this is not surprising in the least.
The fact that we agree on basic moral rules is completely consistent with cultural relativism. We wouldn't expect there to be complete moral disagreement between us simply because we are describing the adopted moral rules of the same species, human beings. We have evolved to have the same needs and wants. If cultural relativism is the case then this also explains why philosophers have so much trouble coming up with ethical theories that can justify human morality. I taught ethics in college classes and there are some serious intellectual difficulties with every ethical theory, except for one, cultural relativism. In other words, there is nothing internally inconsistent with cultural relativism. We may not like the conclusion but that's not a reason to reject it. [No, it does not reduce to individual relativism either. That is a non-sequitur, simply because we are by nature social beings who need one another.] But just like with social contract theories, cultural relativism offers no specific guidance as to which moral rules a given society should adopt either.
Since morality evolves with the human species I am tentatively embracing Michael Shermer's principle for morality based in democracy, which is to simply ask the people affected, with science leading the way. Why can't science inform us of what makes human beings happy? What's the alternative? Faith is no answer. With faith anything can be justified.
Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human's beliefs and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual's own culture. This principle was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century and later popularized by his students. Boas first articulated the idea in 1887: "...civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes." but did not actually coin the term "cultural relativism."
The first use of the term recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary was by philosopher and social theorist Alain Locke in 1924 to describe Robert Lowie's "extreme cultural relativism", found in the latter's 1917 book Culture and Ethnology. The term became common among anthropologists after Boas' death in 1942, to express their synthesis of a number of ideas Boas had developed. Boas believed that the sweep of cultures, to be found in connection with any sub species, is so vast and pervasive that there cannot be a relationship between culture and race.
Cultural relativism involves specific epistemological and methodological claims. Whether or not these claims necessitate a specific ethical stance is a matter of debate. This principle should not be confused with moral relativism.
(Above definition copied from Wikipedia)