Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Common Day of Learning: Moral Relativism

Today was "the common day of learning" (this year titled, "Walk in Wisdom") at APU, which is better understood by most students as the "common day of not-going-to-class." They do sessions, classes of sorts, throughout the day on from almost every department on various subjects. I only attended one session. My good friend Danny was chosen to present some thoughts in the political science session called "Moral Relativism: social effects and implications for the future." Specifically, Danny discusses education. Is education about teaching right answers or finding better ways of thinking? He suggests the idea of "unity of truth." Weather or not we are looking for some objective truth, we shouldn't look for it in one specific place alone. Education and truth are all about dialogue, sitting down together; mathematicians, philosophers, musicians, writers, artists, theologians, historians and economists all together at one table looking for the truth which emerges between all the subjects. I really appreciated Danny's thoughts. 

There was one other presentation I was particularly interested in. A good friend of mine, Brandon, did a presentation more specifically on moral relativism and moral correction. His presentation was basically a warning against relativism. He argued that implicit in moral relativism, the view that my morals all come from within me and not from any outside objective source, is a sort of anarchy where moral correction is impossible. In order to correct someone morally, he asserted, we need to have a belief that our morals are objective. Objective meaning that the morals are somewhere outside the conversation, imposed by some absolute law. Though I really appreciated Brandon's thoughts and I found them to be well thought out and very helpful, I think there are presumptions in this perspective. 

Can we not correct each other unless our corrections are objective? Can our corrections still be subjective? Moral relativism doesn't mean abandonment of dialogue and abandonment of moral correction, this is just moral irresponsibility. We can still dialogue and correct without appealing to some objective truth to which every logical person must agree. We can judge moral action based on our "subjective" interpretation of experience. This interpretation is naturally informed by many outside sources but ultimately we are still in the realm of interpretation, we are still bound to our experience. When I correct someone, or call them out, I am inviting them to accept my interpretation of what is right and wrong. Society can correct people morally based on the societies interpretation. As Christians we will presuppose (and everyone has presuppositions) God and the authority of Scripture. We will be especially informed by these realities. We can believe in moral relativity and still be a voice of correction and a voice inviting people to see the world as we do. We can call people into our narrative, realizing that this is not a conclusion to which every rational person should come to, but that there are better and worse ways to interpret experience and our way, the christian narrative, is the best expression of truth and morals. We can continually ask the world to see through our lens and if we trust that our truth is trustworthy, then others will probably follow. It's all about dialogue. We can still correct, but we are always doing it within a narrative. 

2 comments:

robin dugall said...

I agree with you on your friends insights on shared/communal truth...we have become too individualistic in our pursuit of an experience of truth...it is something "I" know not something "WE" share and discover...these are important thoughts...keep going bro!

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks for the comment Rob. That, individualism, is the key element. Danny's thoughts are helpful.