Colville Public Library.
Copyright © 2006 Barry G. Moses.
My students and I took a little field trip to the Colville Public Library to participate in the first in a series of public lectures to be offered this summer. Each lecture will cover a different topic and will feature a variety of local experts.
Today's lecture addressed the issue of ethical decision-making and was presented by Whitney Edwards, local librarian and Whitworth professor.
Edwards presented the bare bones of philosophical discourse and introduced the main schools of thought within the field. At one point she drew a diagram of two polar opposites of philosophical thinking: relativism and objectivism. On one end, relativists believe all ethical values reside within the individual; or in other words, things are right or wrong simply because we say they are. On the other extreme, moral objectivists believe God, nature, or some other external source determines ethical truth.
As she described the conflict between relativism and objectivism, I commented to the class how her diagram perfectly captures the so-called culture wars of our times. Some segments of our society insist there is no one-size-fits-all moral truth for everyone, while others are so convinced they know the absolute truth, they have no problem telling everyone else they're wrong, and they will even attempt to draft legislation to reflect their moral convictions.
As emotional and shrill as the conflict sometimes appears, it's interesting to know this argument has been going on since the days of ancient Greece.
As the discussion progressed, I found myself tending toward moral relativism, but then the presenter challenged my viewpoint somewhat. I stated that I believe in relativism, but that certain things just work better if we have social agreements regarding how to treat one another. I would have considered myself a pure relativist, but she said some might argue my belief in a greater social good may fall slightly under the objectivist banner.
Interesting, isn't it? Philosophy is never so simple.