I am absolutely giddy because of this, because I also really hate moral relativism, because it is, in essence, a cop-out. I get what it’s trying to do and the principles behind it, which I think have some worth, but whenever someone drags a moral relativist position into a conversation what it really does is shut down the conversation, because there’s nothing you can really say in response to “well it’s all relative.” And that was exactly what this professor said.
It also turns out that a lot of our class identify as moral relativists, and I have a theory that one reason it’s common among people of my age group is that we’re taught to respect other people and all that, but the thing about moral relativism is that the fact is that you need to be able to say that some things are objectively wrong and others are objectively right, otherwise you won’t get anywhere and there is no way to enforce moral standards or take action against those that willingly break them.
Now, what you shouldn’t do is demean someone or treat them unfairly, as the Unitarian Principles put it, you should acknowledge their inherent worth and dignity, but if they do something wrong, you absolutely should call them out on it. In fact, I’d argue you’re required to. With moral relativism you can’t do that, because it’s all relative. It’s true that if we go too far and constantly put down people who don’t conform to our standards we become oppressors, but it’s a double-edged sword that does have a legitimate purpose, we just have to be careful how it’s applied.
I prefer to think of “right” and “wrong” more in terms of positive and negative consequences, since they can be objectively measured and it takes subjective judgments out of the equation. I hate to drag Godwin’s Law into it, but my professor did so I’m citing him here, but Adolf Hitler killed millions of people, despite what certain denier nutjobs will try to claim. Objectively, that was an extremely negative act, one if not the worst one in history. But if you’re going the relativist position, you can’t make that judgment, because it’s all relative.
So yeah, I am absolutely giddy that we’re going to spend the next week tearing this one down.