Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sam Harris on Moral Relativism

I am currently reading Sam Harris' book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. Harris is an atheist possessed of what seems to be unlimited faith in science. But while the book has much that is objectionable from a Christian perspective, it is also filled with gems of sense floating around like bits of confetti without any foundation. Listen to what he says about relativism:

"While few philosophers have ever answered to the name of 'moral relativist,' it is by no means uncommon to find local eruptions of this view whenever scientists and other academics encounter moral diversity. Forcing women and girls to wear burqas may be wrong in Boston or Palo Alto, so the argument will run, but we cannot say that it is wrong for Muslims in Kabul.... Moral relativism, however, tends to be self-contradictory. Relativists may say that moral truths exist only relative to a specific cultural framework - but this claim about the status of moral truth purports to be true across all possible frameworks. In practice, relativism almost always amounts to the claim that we should be tolerant of moral difference because no moral truth can supersede any other. And yet this commitment to tolerance is not put forward a simple one relative preference among others deemed equally valid. Rather, tolerance is held to be more in line with the (universal) truth about morality than intolerance is. The contradiction here is unsurprising. Given how deeply disposed we are to make universal moral claims, I think one can reasonable doubt whether any consistent moral relativist has ever existed."
Further Reading

Robin Phillips' Review of The Moral Landscape


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