Thursday, October 16, 2003

In anticipation

I find it vastly amusing that the right's favourite reaction to any demand for consistency on their part (or indeed any ethical criticism at all) is to accuse people of moral relativism. For those not familiar with basic ethical terminology, moral relativism is "the viewpoint that moral standards are not absolute, but instead emerge from social customs and other sources". It denies the existence of any privileged standpoint to compare different moral schemes, which in practice means that moral relativists cannot (consistently) criticise those in other moral paradigms for behaviour they consider immoral. Depending on what level you take it at, this may mean not criticising other cultures ("it's fine for China to kill dissidents; that's just the way they do things there"), or even other people (the oft-repeated call by stupid Americans - "Don't judge me! You don't know me!" - is a demand to be treated in this way).

Generally speaking, if someone engages in ethical criticism, then they are probably not a moral relativist. To be charged with it says more about the accuser's ignorance of the meaning of the term than the accused's moral beliefs.