Re: MD Is Morality Relative?

From: Platt Holden (
Date: Wed Dec 08 2004 - 14:47:52 GMT

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    Hi Ham and Merry Christmas!

    > > Will someone please explain why the word "absolute" is considered to be
    > > anathema?

    > Let me try to answer that in my own simple way, Platt.
    > Most of us were raised under "absolutist" rules. "Don't touch that."
    > "Don't walk on the grass." "Eat your spinach." Absolute authority is
    > intimidating, and we tend to react negatively to it. I started school when
    > my mother was in the hospital delivering a baby sister. I had only one
    > concept of school: it was a place where one had to obey the teacher. I was
    > shown to a desk by old Ms. Hillman -- a gray-haired spinster who had now
    > become my absolute authority. Everyone was quietly occupied cutting
    > rabbits out of brown paper. I knew I was required to do the same. On my
    > desk were paper and scissors. I had never held a pair of scissors in my
    > hand before, nor cut out a paper pattern. It was terrifying, but I had to
    > do what authority demanded. So I did.
    > God represents that kind of authority if you grew up Catholic or are
    > religiously inclined. "Thou shalt not" is an absolute mandate no matter
    > what follows it. When we become adults we are usually able to "put away
    > childish things"; yet many of us cling to them. When we grow up and
    > formulate our own morality system, there's a residual voice of authority
    > that seems to be telling us what we "ought" or "ought not" do. The Unknown
    > holds that power over us. None of us knows the length of our days or what
    > lies beyond. None of us knows how we should decide or act in a given
    > situation. But back of it all is the notion that there is a "right" and a
    > "wrong", and that we are held accountable.

    Anathema to absolutes is caused by youthful rebellion against parental
    authority? I think you're on to something. But, perhaps it's time to grow
    up and concede that there are absolutes of right and wrong, as Pirsig

    > I think much of philosophy is authoritative because it addresses the
    > Unknown in postulates and axioms that seem to be absolutes. And there's
    > your "anathema". It forces us to separate truth from speculation and try
    > to fathom just what absolutes there are.

    I agree. We don't like to face the truth that "truth exists" even if we
    don't always know what it is.

    > In the sense that you and I
    > believe in an Absolute Source (call it Quality or Essence), we are
    > "absolutists". I see this discussion as a debate about the point (or
    > level) at which man partakes of the Absolute. It is not-- at least it
    > shouldn't be--an argument between believers and non-believers.


    > To seems to me that we have the capacity to realize the Absolute through
    > our experience of its Value. This realization comes to us by way of our
    > sensibility, which is closer to "intuition" than to rational intelligence
    > or empirical knowledge.

    Yes. I realize the Absolute through my "sensibility" to beauty which is
    more intuitive than rational. An observation by French playwright Jean
    Anouilh fits here I think: "Beauty is one of the rare things that do not
    lead to doubt of God."

    > In your list of absolutes above, I would cite
    > "There is an Absolute" as no.1, followed by a corollary that "Existence is
    > relative". Even a physical law or mathematical "truth" is relative to
    > existence. If "existence is relative" is an absolute truth, as I'm
    > inclined to believe, it follows that morality is relative. (By "morality"
    > I of course refer to the term as commonly applied to human behavior.) Do
    > you see a conflict in being philosophically absolutist and morally
    > relativistic? If this constitutes a logical contradiction, then my concept
    > of the immutability of the Absolute is flawed. But I don't think so.

    I would say "Existence exists and is immutable" is an absolute. I see no
    distinction between an absolute and existence, nor do I seek as you do a
    source of existence because existence requires no source. It is what it is
    is, for ever and ever, Amen. If you posit an Essence as the source of
    existence the question arises,"What is the source of the Essence?" and the
    question never stops. Such is the limit of causation and logic.

    Here we get into the "word game" controversy which is amusing in a way
    because all language is a game we play as we try, always unsuccessfully,
    to explicate direct experience. But, best to save that discussion for
    another day.

    As usual, you give us ideas to ponder, Ham. For that, much thanks.


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