Are these statements examples of "moral relativism"?


#1

If someone says:

  1. Morally speaking, an individual's actions should be judged based on the time in which she lived, rather than a standard that transcends time.

  2. Morally speaking, an individual's actions should be judged based on what those in power say, rather than a standard that transcends men.

  3. Moral standards should change over time, as we learn more.

Are these examples of "moral relativism"?


#2

Without any context they are all sort of vague, open to interpretation, and some of them might possibly be given an orthodox interpretation (though that is hard to do with the first two), but if forced to interpret them on face value and make a judgment, I'd say relativism. Especially due to the "rather than" phrases in the first two, which rule out what is most essential.

The last one is the most vague, because "change" could mean change in formulation or precision (i.e. doctrinal development), but without this clarification, "change" is too open to meanings like "essential change."


#3

I think there is a further complication. When we speak of morals, there is the objective morality of an act, and the subjective morality attributed to the individual (culpability). I’m not certain what you refer to.

I think many acts are objectively immoral, but that there is minimal or no culpability for the individual due to circumstances, knowledge, etc. Those circumstances certainly change, so the time in which someone lives is a factor in their culpability.


#4

Any time you say something is moral/immoral "now" but not "then" or "in this case" but not "in that case" you're talking relatively.


#5

Vatican City used to have an official executioner, up to sometime in the 19th Century (you can look it up). Now, the Church is against the death penalty. The Church has also consistently taught "Thou shalt not kill." (We won't even bring up Julius II leading the papal army into battle.). Moral relativism or "standards of the time?"


#6

Hi Veritas, I'm not sure all those statements are clear instances of moral relativism, though some kind of relativistic approach to ethics might lie behind each.

  1. Morally speaking, an individual's actions should be judged based on the time in which she lived, rather than a standard that transcends time.

This is both true and false, depending on what you're saying. With regards to personal culpability, it is in some senses true; with regards to the inherent goodness of an act, it isn't. So when you say "an individual's action should be judged", I think we have to take into account culpability, and so that's why this statement if kind of true and not completely relativistic (at least on a moral level).

  1. Morally speaking, an individual's actions should be judged based on what those in power say, rather than a standard that transcends men.

This is definitely some form of moral relativism, although the culpability issue can be raised again. How? Those who are in power often write the law. If law is held (as it is generally held throughout history) to reflect moral good, then someone who follows the law might not be as culpable for his actions.

  1. Moral standards should change over time, as we learn more.

This is also a form of relativism, but notice it is also self-refuting, stating that moral standards are not absolute, and yet holding a moral absolute that "moral standards should change over time", presumably because it is good (more true and just) for them to change.


#7

[quote="Tarpeian_Rock, post:5, topic:323437"]
Vatican City used to have an official executioner, up to sometime in the 19th Century (you can look it up). Now, the Church is against the death penalty. The Church has also consistently taught "Thou shalt not kill." (We won't even bring up Julius II leading the papal army into battle.). Moral relativism or "standards of the time?"

[/quote]

"Thou shalt not kill" (more precisely, "murder") has never applied directly to either capital punishment or warfare. The Mosaic Law includes a considerable number of capital crimes despite the Fifth Commandment, and all of Joshua's wars in Canaan took place long after the giving of the Commandments.

Likewise, even today the Church does not denounce capital punishment or war as concepts, though she applies restrictions that, one could very well argue, classify every actual execution or war that we experience as being at best questionable if not outright immoral.

Usagi


#8

I voted all 3 are, since in their everyday sense, unadorned by nuance, they are.


#9

[quote="Tarpeian_Rock, post:5, topic:323437"]
Vatican City used to have an official executioner, up to sometime in the 19th Century (you can look it up). Now, the Church is against the death penalty. The Church has also consistently taught "Thou shalt not kill." (We won't even bring up Julius II leading the papal army into battle.). Moral relativism or "standards of the time?"

[/quote]

I believe you are mixing oranges and apples here, Julius II was yes the Pope of his day but was also a monarch of a territorial entity (Country).
After the fall of the Roman empire in the west due to the barbaric invasions of Europe there was a power vaccum.
The Church was more or less compelled to step in and try to salvage what was for them the known civilization.
The Pope waging war against enemies of the state was no different than what modern countries have to do to preserve themselves.

Could there have been abuses?
Of course there were, we are after all fallen humans..


#10

[quote="Tarpeian_Rock, post:5, topic:323437"]
Vatican City used to have an official executioner, up to sometime in the 19th Century (you can look it up). Now, the Church is against the death penalty. The Church has also consistently taught "Thou shalt not kill." (We won't even bring up Julius II leading the papal army into battle.). Moral relativism or "standards of the time?"

[/quote]

Moral relativism or "standards of the time?"

Neither. It is sin (that foreign word) of individuals.


#11

[quote="underacloud, post:3, topic:323437"]
I think there is a further complication. When we speak of morals, there is the objective morality of an act, and the subjective morality attributed to the individual (culpability). I'm not certain what you refer to.

I think many acts are objectively immoral, but that there is minimal or no culpability for the individual due to circumstances, knowledge, etc. Those circumstances certainly change, so the time in which someone lives is a factor in their culpability.

[/quote]

The real problem, from my humble observation, is that very few people actually understand how the words objective and subjective apply to real life.:sad_yes:

For general information, the dictionary is a good source.


#12

Morality or moral actions are based on the objective fact that the human person is worthy of profound respect.


#13

[quote="VeritasLuxMea, post:1, topic:323437"]
If someone says:

  1. Morally speaking, an individual's actions should be judged based on the time in which she lived, rather than a standard that transcends time.

  2. Morally speaking, an individual's actions should be judged based on what those in power say, rather than a standard that transcends men.

  3. Moral standards should change over time, as we learn more.

Are these examples of "moral relativism"?

[/quote]

I would say all 3 are examples of moral relativism. Morality is unchanging.

That said, the guilt for doing an action that is wrong may depend on circumstances/knowledge, which may in turn be influenced by the age and who's in power. So while "what most people think" does not influence what is actually right or wrong, being in a society where a certain thing is widely considered acceptable, even though it's not, may cause a person to think that it actually is, which may mitigate some the guilt for that action.

So it kind of depends on what you mean by "judge" for the first two. The third is definitely moral relativism, unless by it you mean "our understanding of morality changes over time, as we learn more," while not implying that morality itself is changing.


#14

I will vote two and a half. The first one sets up a dichotomy which does not always exist. Standards of morality do not change, but time is one of many factors that can affect their application resulting in differing actions. This is why the Catechism's explaination of the Ten Commandments takes up a fourth of its bulk, even then giving only guidelines.


#15

The operative word in the first two points is “transcends”. This word is evidence that the first two points are definitely relativism.


#16

[quote="grannymh, post:15, topic:323437"]
The operative word in the first two points is "transcends". This word is evidence that the first two points are definitely relativism.

[/quote]

Must have skipped over that. If the "rather than" were changed into an "in addition to", then it might work, from the perspective of subjective guilt rather than objective appropriateness, but then they'd be changed entirely. So they're pretty much all just wrong, as written.


#17

[quote="Iron_Donkey, post:16, topic:323437"]
Must have skipped over that. If the "rather than" were changed into an "in addition to", then it might work, from the perspective of subjective guilt rather than objective appropriateness, but then they'd be changed entirely. So they're pretty much all just wrong, as written.

[/quote]

We have had some good conversations in the past. I remember the dog being very smart.;)

When looking at moral relativism or moral anything, an objective (or universal) truth has to be present. Subjective guilt would not be able to change the objective statement of a truth. I am not sure what objective appropriateness is. From my position, I would guess the objective appropriateness would refer to a person using objective reasoning to get at the universal truth which would be the foundation for judging actions.

I am not sure about "in addition to". I keep thinking that one is adding something to something.:o


#18

I remember having other good conversations as well. The dog is indeed pretty smart - she not only knows what all kinds of commands mean, but also how to pretend she didn’t hear them when she doesn’t want to follow them.

But in this case I think we may be misunderstanding each other a little bit. I don’t suspect we disagree very much.

For example, for a Christian to marry (another baptized Christian), then divorce, then remarry (assuming the first marriage was unquestionably valid) is objectively wrong. However, this person may not be in sin if they are of a denomination and culture which does not know this, have not figured it out themselves, and don’t have strong reason to know that it is true. The person would be doing something objectively wrong, but may be free, or nearly free, of “subjective” guilt.

By objectively wrong, I mean “against the moral standard,” or perhaps “what a person who has perfect knowledge of morality would say is immoral.” A person who does such an objectively wrong thing has inarguably done a bad thing, but may or may not be guilty of choosing badness. Which is more or less what I mean by “subjectively wrong.”

The determination of whether an action was bad in itself, and whether the person who did it has purposefully ignored what is moral for their own ends are slightly separate, though related, and it is this second question which may be influenced by such things as “the times” - even if morality itself, whether the action was good or bad in itself, is not.

So, in line with the original statements:

“An action is either good or bad insofar as it agrees or works against the timeless standards of morality, and all people are bound to do their best to understand these standards and act on them, however a person who honestly and through no fault of their own is mistaken about what these standards are may not be guilty of “being purposefully immoral” - may not be able to be accused of sin - when he fails to follow them. ***Whether or not such a person does incur such guilt depends not only on whether his actions objectively contravene the standards, but also on what he knows, which may be influenced by the time in which he lives etc.***” (Essentially, the “full knowledge and full consent of will” part of sin.)

Of course, the fact that knowledge affects guilt is actually part of the universal timeless moral law anyway, so it’s more of a underlining a part of universal morality so that we don’t accidentally overlook it than a saying there’s something outside of it that matters too. That we should generally do what we believe to be right (with the standard qualifications of “make sure your conscience is well formed”) is part of morality.


#19

[quote="Tarpeian_Rock, post:5, topic:323437"]
Vatican City used to have an official executioner, up to sometime in the 19th Century (you can look it up). Now, the Church is against the death penalty. The Church has also consistently taught "Thou shalt not kill." (We won't even bring up Julius II leading the papal army into battle.). Moral relativism or "standards of the time?"

[/quote]

Neither, the church has always and still does teach thou shalt not kill. The church has also always and still does teach that it is not a violation of the commandment for a prisoner to be executed. That's right, it is not a matter of catholic doctrine that one must be against the death penalty, certainly not in all cases.

Rather, the administering of such penalty is in the purview of the lawful government authority, and such authority is taught to prefer punishments which do not include death. This is why the Vatican City no longer has an executioner and indeed (per what you say here) has not had one longer than the church has really made the death penalty that much of an issue.

The church however does recognize that while the Vatican City might not have need of an official executioner, Uganda might because that nation can not as reliably keep prisoners separated from the general population. The Vatican might encourage the USA not to have a death penalty, but it might not make the same suggestion to my birth nation of Peru which also has difficulties offering safe and effective long term incarceration.

Teaching the preference of mercy, which offers the greatest chance of repentance never undid the doctrine of the church that the death penalty is lawful.


#20

It seems to me that you are coming from the position of the doer of the deed. What you say makes sense.

On the other hand, I am coming from an universal or objective truth which is simply – the human person is worthy of profound respect. This truth flows from human nature per se and does not depend on personal actions. A person who does evil things is still a person whose nature is an unique unification of both the spiritual world and the material world. With the spiritual soul, a person is still created in the image of God. . Even serious mortal sin does not destroy the soul per se. Our soul is immortal.


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