Thursday, August 23, 2007

Absolutism vs Relativism

I haven't blogged lately because my post and edit post pages disappeared for a while. They're back now so here I go with a post a few days old but well worth it.

Myrhaf has an interesting post in which he asks what is the defining premise of the secular left and the religious right? He effectively argues that it is moral absolutism.
In my opinion, the defining premise is the belief in moral absolutes. Liberals are moral relativists. Both the religious right and Objectivists are moral absolutists. (The problem with the religious right, of course, is that their morality comes from religion, not reality. Their morality is grounded in faith, not reason, and is therefore dogmatic.)
I couldn't agree more. But this paragraph got me thinking:
If the Republicans become the party of religion and the Democrats the party of modern philosophy, then we will have a pure, classic rationalist-empiricist split in American politics, with the left mumbling skepticism and the right shouting dogma detached from reality. Neither party will be a comfortable fit for those who advocate reason, except on an ad hoc basis. We're close to this situation now, although both parties show moments of lucidity and reasonableness.
This made me wonder who on the left or the right would be receptive to rational principles? It was Peter Schwartz (see below) who said bad ideas are spread by two kinds of people, pushers and users. It seems to me that on the secular left the pushers would be mostly university professors and the users would be their students who then go out into all walks of life including some as media pundits. These two groups are not necessarily mutually exclusive of course. Some professors could be users who never challenged what they were taught and some users could become eager pushers like some media persona. These groups tend to reject principles and become pragmatists.

The religious right also has pushers and users. The pushers would be the theologians, and other religious leaders and of course the users would be those who belong to the 'flock.' Both of these groups are accustomed to thinking in terms of principles albeit wrong and contradictory ones.

So, if the moral relativism of the left is an unprincipled practicality (pragmatism) and its requirement to compromise on everything, and the absolutism of the right is religious dogma in the form of principles, which of these will be more receptive to new rational moral values? I just don't know. I think many users leave the left for the right precisely because of a need for a firm, absolutist moral code which religion tries to provide. Myrhaf suggests that in 20 years there could be a vast majority of people on the right and left who reject reason and a small minority who do not. He could very well be right. But I think we have that situation now. I for one am optimistic about the future because I see that small minority growing fast.

("Clarity in Conceptulization: The Art of Identifying Package-Deals" by Peter Schwartz can be purchased here.)
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