Monday, February 12, 2007

Bad Philosophy

How the heck did Stephen Law get a Ph.D? I haven't seen such a poorly constructed argument since I was debating cretinists creationists on Internet Infidels.

Law gives us two fallacies for the price of one, "rebutting" a straw-man argument and employing the fallacy fallacy by drawing conclusions about moral objectivism from the failure of the "argument" for relativism.

I also find his use of quotation marks inappropriate: Scare quotes are one thing, but I think we can leave invented dialog to the writers of fiction.

If this is the level of argumentation that he's teaching his students, it's no wonder they might actually fall for the bullshit he presents as "moral relativism": They would lack the critical thinking skills to do anything more than pick an authority and mindlessly parrot his or her views.

Update: I'm being too hard on Professor Law here; his continuing comments are more gracious than I probably deserve. I'm in an irascible mood today. Apologies all around.


  1. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong (I'm truly pee-wee league when it comes to discussing ethics), but isn't moral relativism best summed up as an acknowledgment that we all make moral judgments from differing social, cultural, religious, and historical perspectives? One is simply making a moral judgment from their point of view respective to another's point of view. It doesn't make your judgment wrong or the other's judgment equally good, but you must acknowledge the influences that brought you to your conclusion.

    Moral relativism is ultimately a check on one's own biases, not "anything goes." It's an acknowledgment that many people reach the same or similar moral conclusions via different paths. That's the same thing underlying real multiculturalism, not the cartoon version people like Law argue against.

  2. "moral relativism" by itself doesn't mean anything. If you're going to talk about relativity, you have to talk about what it's relative to.

    It's tough to make morality relative to culture, because "culture" represents a very fuzzy, ambiguous class of abstract entities. Furthermore, as one definition of "culture" is a set of people with shared moral beliefs, "cultural relativism" is in this sense viciously circular.

  3. If you're going to talk about relativity, you have to talk about what it's relative to.

    I guess that was kind of my poorly-worded point. Isn't all morality, in the end, comparative?

  4. It's a complicated topic. Perhaps I should discuss relativism and subjectivism in my next long essay on Wednesday.

  5. I am the first to admit that I'm pee-wee league in a lot of ways, including using established terminology incorrectly.

  6. One problem with "established" philosophical terminology is that there isn't a philosopher alive, myself included, who can resist putting his own "spin" on whatever terminology has even peripheral application to his field of interest.

    Lacking wastebaskets, this tendency to neologism and reinterpretation causes no small confusion.


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