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brian0918

The best response to relativism

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I am trying to construct the pithiest response to moral and epistemological relativism. I'm looking for something that doesn't merely say "you contradict yourself in your very statement" (which is true but not necessarily persuasive), but that also leaves a sort of consciousness-raising effect on the reader. For this, I would need to make it personal and universally applicable, incontrovertible, as well as highly persuasive in its own right - all while keeping it as brief as possible (no more than a couple sentences).

Any takers? ;)

Edited by brian0918

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What are 2 or 3 examples of pithy (but varied )things your "opponent" might say, and to which you want to respond?

Typically the discussion might start with religion and its "absolute morality". Once religion is discarded, the respondent usually assumes that morality is discarded as well. The more dire responses are along the lines of "everyone will kill everyone, total chaos", but they need not be. They could be as simple as, "what then is your basis for morality?", or any question along those lines. Sometimes the discussion switches over to something like, "you can't know anything for sure, you can't prove anything", etc.

I am hoping to keep such a statement as universally-applicable as possible, though, so I would not stick to just responding to those few quotes I have given you.

Edited by brian0918

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Those who deny the first principle [Law of Noncontradiction] should be flogged or burned until they admit that it is not the same thing to be burned and not burned, or whipped and not whipped. - Avicenna from Metaphysics, Book I

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Look, you shouldn't be looking for the perfect refutation of anything. If you truly understand the truth of the matter, than any falsehood swung your way is easily dismissed. If you understood gravitational theory perfectly, and someone claimed that the rate of fall of an object was entirely dependent on its colour, you wouldn't need to formulate some refutation in advance.

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In your own mind you certainly can dismiss anything you believe not to be true. I would suggest if you feel annoyed or personally afronted by the fact that someone else doesn't see your point perhaps you should reassess your need for agreement with others, recognition by others, or correctness of knowledge held by others. In otherwords take stock of your own psychological "independence" or "dependence" upon/with others.

If on the other hand you feel some sort of intellectual empathy for said other and wish to pass on a truth which you hold of value and wish the other also to gain, then perhaps that is the starting point for how you approach persuading/enlightening the other.

My personal belief is that it is not difficult to argue against epistimelogical relativism. I suggest Science is your strongest ally in that it is the best tool known to man for rationally understanding reality as it is.

As for moral relativism, I think Objectivism can be of use up to a point (survival). I think it is quite impossible to argue for moral objectivity in every arena others may define as being "moral". In other words a moral relativist and quite possibly most laypersons may assert a certain question is a moral one when in fact it is amoral. By way of example your best argument may be that rationality and Objectivism does not weigh in on the question of whether it is true that Blue is good and Red is bad or whether the converse is true, not because such a question is morally relative, but instead because such a question is amoral, it has no bearing on obtaining values needed to sustain life (and self-esteem etc). Your answer may be that the question so asked as having two possible alternative answers, is incorrect, and that in fact both Blue and Red are neither good nor bad.

Be careful, however, of trying to extend Objectivism into areas which appear to be rationally connected with objective morality but are in fact amoral and are not subject to moral judgement. In such areas, I suggest not attempting to show that there is one objective moral answer (indulging in the irrational excercise of creating an unsupported assertion), but instead that the hypothetical question is not a moral one although it seems to be. As a rational being you need to be extremely careful of letting your feelings that question A "should" be a moral one with a "right" answer influence your logic. If by pure rationality and objective reasoning you cannot arrive at the conculsion that question A is a moral question with a right answer, you must assert and accept that it is amoral no matter how you feel.

Perhaps you could try proving that moral relativism is merely the mislabelling of amoral questions as moral?

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My response to relativism would simply be that the pursuit of one's own happiness is fundamental to the nature of man and is what all human beings are engaged in, no matter what moral system they adopt in order to achieve it. So there is at least one moral absolute.

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My response to relativism would simply be that the pursuit of one's own happiness is fundamental to the nature of man and is what all human beings are engaged in, no matter what moral system they adopt in order to achieve it. So there is at least one moral absolute.

One argument I've heard is that Objectivism is based on relativism because each person is pursuing their own happiness. Since happiness is relative, then Objectivism is relative.

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If you want to live, to stay in existence, then you can't just do anything you want. Poison will kill you. Food will give you sustenance.

That's a short response to the relativism question. I preface it with "If you want to live", because that's the precondition of a code of morality.

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In all seriousness, Thales has summed up the issue very quickly.

However, I can imagine the rebuttal: "Who's talking about poison or life and death? I am talking about whether it's okay to grab some towels from the hotel I was at, since they charge too much anyway!"

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One argument I've heard is that Objectivism is based on relativism because each person is pursuing their own happiness. Since happiness is relative, then Objectivism is relative.

While each person's notion of how to attain happiness may be different (and thus relative to each person), as I understand it, Objectivism's notion of happiness refers more to the fundamental kind of happiness which all people ultimately seek in everything they do, and which it's in man's nature to seek.

After rereading the OP, I suspect that moral relativism wasn't the kind of relativism the OP was attempting to refute after all, though, so I think I'll refrain from any further interpretations of Objectivism here.

Edited by Rounin

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