Moral Relativism is Incoherent


In a recent post, James Chastek reminded me of Paul Boghossian’s excellent argument denying the coherence of moral relativism. You can read Boghossian’s argument here or listen to him here. The argument, simply put, is that attempts to relativize morality in fact do nothing other than eliminate morality. The claim that different periods or different locations had different moral beliefs (approved of X, disapproved of Y) is simply a descriptive (historical or sociological) claim which says nothing for or against the claim that absolute moral facts exist. In fact, as both Chastek and Boghossian point out, both the purported moral relativist and moral absolutist can agree, for example, that Hindus believe that eating beef is wrong, without in fact accepting that eating beef is wrong, since all the moral absolutist is agreeing with is a claim about what Hindus believe in this respect but not in respect of whether eating beef is wrong. Consequently, as Boghossian points out, the choice is not one between moral absolutism or relativism but one between moral absolutism or nihilism; there is simply no half-way house inbetween.

Picture: Antigone in front of dead Polynikes (1865) by Nikiforos Lytras

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