Concept Of Truth Relativism And Subjectivism Philosophy Essay
Truth relativism is the concept that all points of view only hold relative, subjective value, which depends on the different perceptions of a given situation. Subjectivism is a type of truth relativism that deals within the confines of moral truth. In contrast to objectivism, subjectivism states that the same morals do not apply equally to everyone in a given situation. Subjectivists believe that different individuals or cultures are held to different moral standards. As such, subjectivism holds that different people have different moral duties, and goes further to say that different people have these different moral duties in the same or similar situations. Basically, subjectivism maintains that the objective features of a particular situation do not fasten the moral facts, but that the particular individuals or group in a given situation do; morality all depends on who is in a certain situation at a given time. There are two arguments that support this theory: the argument from disagreement and the argument from flexibility.
The argument from disagreement holds that the disagreements of morals among various groups themselves imply moral relativism. When one looks at the various cultures and people around the world, one will find that there are many different moral codes. This in and of itself is proof that there is no sole moral code. Therefore, this argument of disagreement proves that morality derives from personal opinion or culture and thus that there can be no one true morality. There are conflicting moral codes within different religions, governments, and systems of law all over the world. These are practiced and respected by many different people. If there was one sole moral code, all of these religions, governments, and systems of law would cease to exist, which is clearly not the case.
The argument from flexibility is the argument that considers why different people have different moral duties in different and similar situations. There are no absolute moral rules in moral relativism. According to the argument from flexibility, we should recognize that morality differs depending on certain conditions. For example, most would agree that killing is morally wrong -- but killing in self defense is acceptable. Or take for example the widely held view that stealing is morally wrong. However, if one is poor and has to feed one’s family, stealing is then ok to that individual because it is a last resort. So in these cases there are exceptions to moral rules based on different circumstances. It’s all circumstantial, hence subjectivism is proven.
According to ethical subjectivism, there is no goodness or badness in any abstract action. In order to measure an action as good or bad, one has to look at in a specific context. The argument from tolerance is another argument that needs to be considered when analyzing moral subjectivism. Although it’s main purpose is not to prove subjectivism, it does so when following its true course of action, which is disproving moral absolutism. This argument states that we should be tolerant of others to whom we disagree with (whether from different countries, different backgrounds, etc.). If this is true, moral relativism is the only belief consistent with this concept because they (others who one disagrees with) would hold different beliefs and moral codes, thus disproving absolutism, and consequently proving subjectivism.
There are problems that I’ve found with all of these arguments for moral subjectivism, however. Although each was presented clearly and logically, they all seem to have loopholes or inconsistencies. While some of the points that follow do not fully discredit the arguments for subjectivism, they do bring up good reasons to doubt these arguments.
The argument for moral disagreement is quite simply just exaggerated. Sure there are minor differences in worldwide society. Religions differ, political systems differ, and systems of law differ, but there are some major agreements among world-wide cross-culture. The values of compassion, courage, bravery, etc. are all measured as world-wide views of morality. In this case, it is not the differences, but the similarities between different cultures and individuals. Moral disagreement is not as heavy as one would imagine; there is a lot of mutual respect and support between cultures around the world. There is actually enough consensus to propose that there some kind of universal standard that all follow. Also, does this idea of moral disagreement truly imply relativism? Just because there are different beliefs about what is right and wrong, who’s to say that one group is correct and the others aren’t? For example, take the simple idea of the shape of the Earth. At one point it was thought to be flat world-wide. After discovery, it was proven that the world was actually a sphere. Now before it became a known fact there must have been a great deal of controversy within individual opinions. Clearly, however, some of these opinions were wrong and some were right. Therefore, moral disagreement does not imply that there is no absolute moral code. We cannot state for a fact that each group is equally wrong in their assessments solely based on opinions. With that being, said the argument for moral disagreement clearly has some faults, but again is not fully discredited.
The argument from flexibility is a good argument but is rather oversimplified. Sure there are exceptions when it comes to killing and stealing but does that necessarily prove that there are no moral laws with exceptions? In actuality, it only proves that there are exceptions in these specific laws. A moral objectivist doesn’t believe that everyone must act the same way in any given circumstance. All they are really saying is that everyone, in similar situations, holds the same moral codes. They do not believe that morality treats everyone in the same manner. In the argument from flexibility, proving that some laws do not always apply does not show that there are rules that don’t always apply. They are just simplifying the argument and pointing out a few individual laws. For example, there can be modifications within these rules that could make these rules absolute. Suppose that the moral rule “do not kill” is changed to “do not kill unless in self defense, during war, etc.” This rule can now be for the most part absolute. If every rule that the argument from flexibility brings up as lacking absolutism was changed, we would eventually have moral rules without exceptions. The argument for flexibility is just oversimplified.
The argument from tolerance is within itself contradictory. It tells us that criticizing the morals of others is morally wrong. Is that itself not an absolute moral code? They are contradicting themselves, because they are admitting that there is a code of tolerance to be followed, hence an absolute moral code. But if subjectivism is correct then, their argument must be false because no moral codes exist. Subjectivism completely denies itself through the argument of tolerance. Also in this argument from tolerance there seems to be loopholes. Take for example someone breaking into your house. You have every right to criticize them for that, instead of sitting back realizing that different people are held to different standards because although it seems wrong to you, it may seem right to them in their particular situation. In this case, tolerance is not always morally acceptable. A final criticism of the argument from tolerance is that if moral relativists believe that all moral view are equally accepted then how can they be tolerated? The word tolerate is defined as respecting someone who one disagrees with. One cannot disagree with a moral code that is just as equally acceptable as theirs. If they could, then these views would not be considered equally valid. As a result, the argument from tolerance doesn’t really make sense in the way it is presented, and is contradictory.
Subjectivism is the theory of truth relativism that presents the most logical argument but is full of loopholes and inconsistencies. Subjectivism holds some truths about moral relativism and is argued by two main facets: the argument from disagreement and the argument from flexibility. It is further supported by the argument from tolerance. The problem however is that these three arguments are also full of loopholes and contradictions which forces one to question ethical subjectivism, and truth relativism as a whole.
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