April 4, 2021•712 words
I didn't intend for the first real post to come so late, but better late than never I suppose. I've wanted to explore the idea of moral relativism for a long time now. By explore, I mean to go beyond the simple definition of it. In simplest terms, moral relativism can be defined as the idea there is no universal or absolute set of moral principles. Let's briefly talk about this definition first. While I understand what many mean when they say this, I don't fully agree. It's true that what one culture may deem "right" or correct may seem wrong to another, but this distinction only shows up once you start discussing specific actions or principles. One culture or nation may be completely supportive of recreational drug use for example, while another punishes it by law - sometimes harshly. However, I do think there can be a set of abstract moral principles that can most certainly be universal. A part of being a doctor is taking the Hippocratic Oath, and as a result, vowing to do no harm. This principle has existed for centuries, and I doubt any group, culture, or nation had any serious qualms with it. The extent to which this principle was practiced however, and the extent to which it was followed throughout history, is another question entirely. Regardless, I do think abstract moral principles such as "treat others like you wish to be treated", or honesty can be considered universal. At the very least, I'm not aware of any serious debate or controversy around whether these principles are worth upholding to some degree anywhere in the world.
My main point of interest isn't in the definition, at least not directly. It's more so a focus on how it could be practiced uncontroversially. The social media age has generated a lot of talk around censorship, free speech, and what it means to be considered a "good person". Also, just to get it out of the way, the concept of "cancel culture" has definitely influenced my desire to write this blog. I'm not touching that topic though! But it did get me thinking about what it means to be objectively "virtuous", if that's even possible. Looking back on certain actions of people even a few years ago and finding them appalling or abhorrent is genuinely a good thing. It means we've grown as humans enough to understand how these actions can do harm. However, there has to be a point where you cannot fault a person for a certain action or behavior, simply because it's unreasonable to do so. We've all heard the phrase, "so-and-so was a person of their time". I think people need to start taking this idea more seriously. There is no sense in getting upset or angry at someone for something when you reasonably cannot expect them to know better. This is most obviously the case if they grew up and matured in an era where a certain action was completely normalized. As such, judging them from the perspective of an era where it has been denormalized is not productive, or useful. This attitude also seems to imply a philosophy that is rather unsettling to me. By this token, people assume that human beings have always possessed perfect moral compasses. As such, any perceived failure to abide by that compass throughout history is thought of as a sin and an example of humans falling short of themselves. This is extremely cynical and pessimistic, to say the least. Human beings began as savages, and the vast majority of our emotional and spiritual growth as a species was filtering out - at an excruciatingly slow pace - the kind, compassionate from the base, and animalistic. This is not to say that you should expect people from a certain era to behave a certain way. Rather, there's simply no reason to be surprised, shocked, or outraged when they do.
I genuinely hope this didn't come across as preachy. This was very close to a stream of consciousness, all things considered. These were just some of the main points I wanted to cover around this topic. If I ever come up with more, I'll make it clear that this is part of a series. But until then, signing off!