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The argument from disagreement is overrated (cf. moral relativism)

Think Christianly: The argument from disagreement is overrated (cf. moral relativism)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The argument from disagreement is overrated (cf. moral relativism)

It is often claimed that since so many individuals and cultures disagree regarding moral issues, then the obvious conclusion is that there must be no objective moral values. But as Francis Beckwith points out, “relativism does not follow from disagreement.”[i] Simply because people disagree, doesn’t mean there is no fact of the matter. Suppose you run into a member of the “flat earth society,” and find yourself in a heated discussion about whether the earth is indeed flat. At the end of the debate, you still disagree. Does that mean that there is no objective fact of the matter concerning the earth? If anything, disagreement ought to motivate us to understand why we disagree; not giving up on the conversation all together.

[i] Francis J. Beckwith, "Why I Am Not a Moral Relativist," in Why I Am a Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 19.


Blogger Barry said...

I agree that there is some objective morality out there but I don't think it is simple enough to fit inside our theologies or philosophies. Often, I think we are all seeing different sides of what is a highly complex picture.
But I think moral relativism is helpful in that it requires us to respect each other as moral equals. While some of those values might be flawed, giving respect to each other opens doors of communication and better understanding. This also requires a certain sense of humility too. Allowing that we could be wrong and seeking to learn from others, even those who are completely different from ourselves.

July 23, 2008 at 11:27 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Morrow said...

Thanks for dropping in Barry! How is the Divine Conspiracy treating you?

I appreciate your thoughtful are a couple of thoughts.

1. I want to distinguish between the metaphyisical (i.e., what is real) question and the epistemological (i.e., how we know what is real) question. this post has to do with the claim that since people disagree about moral claims, there is no fact of the matter. Objective Reality is the way it is regadless of whether we agree. now, how we know what is real is sometimes challenging to figure out (complex to use your words). and this should lead us to genuine humility (a posture of be willing to learn). But more and more, humility is being manifested in a reluctance to ever sharing a conviction about what is true.

2. regarding your comment "But I think moral relativism is helpful in that it requires us to respect each other as moral equals" is a good one; but you are describing classic tolerance. so I would encourage your to use the word "tolerance" instead of moral relativism just so that you are not misunderstood.

3. you are absolutley correct that we need to grow in our understanding and respect for others. and we certainly need more of this in our relationships.

thanks barry for weighing in!

July 24, 2008 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

The Divine Conspiracy is awesome. The chapters are really long though. His chapters start out describing the situation he is setting up and take their time getting into it and, next thing you know, you're convicted. Pretty sweet. The chapter on the Beatitudes was beautiful.
I think I often have a reluctance to share truth, but not always because I'm scared of the confrontation. Often I really don't know if it is truth. I feel like truth is that one clean pair of underwear in a mountain of dirty underwear. No one wants to wear dirty underwear, so you have to smell every piece in the pile. It's like a treasure hunt. Some are super gross and you can toss them immediately but others are harder to tell. Maybe you didn't wear them that long or maybe you didn't sweat that much that day. Whatever the case, finding truth is messy, often disgusting and hard. I communicate my faith by communicating this. I let them know that I don't know much but I do know Christ and that he is seeking them. That is, I admit, vague but it isn't an attempt to run from the truth but to freely acknowledge that truth is outside of me.
Oh and thanks for the definitions for metaphysical and epistemological. I wasn't sure what they meant.

July 24, 2008 at 3:56 PM  

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