Thursday, January 7, 2021

Two kinds of moral relativism

A moral relativist has a fundamental choice whether to define moral concepts in terms of moral beliefs or non-doxastic moral attitudes such as disapproval.

In my previous post, I argued that defining moral concepts in terms of moral beliefs leads is logically unacceptable.

I now want to suggest that neither option is really very appealing. Consider first this case:

  1. Bob believes he ought to turn Carl in for being a runaway slave. But his emotions and attitudes do not match that belief. He hides Carl and feels morally good about hiding Carl despite his belief. (Bob may or may not be like Huck Finn.)

A relativist who defines morality in terms of beliefs, has to say that Bob is doing wrong in hiding Carl. That seems mistaken. It seems that mere belief is less important than actual attitudes. Thus, if something is to define morality for Bob, it is his attitudes, not his mere beliefs.

So far, we have support for a relativist’s defining moral concepts in terms of non-doxastic moral attitudes. But now consider:

  1. Alice thinks of herself as a progressive, and thinks that racism is wrong. Nonetheless, her moral attitudes do not evince genuine disapproval of racist behavior, say when she is with friends who tell racist jokes.

If we define right and wrong in terms of non-doxastic moral attitudes, then our implicit biases unacceptably affect what is morally right and wrong, so that racist behavior turns out to be permissible for Alice, her beliefs to the contrary notwithstanding.

So, neither approach is satisfactory.


El Filósofo said...

Very good Dr. Pruss. I'd like to ask you a few questions in writing, if you don't mind and aren't busy. I am an agnostic and I am really interested in knowing the reasons for your Christian Theism

Alexander R Pruss said...


El Filósofo said...

First of all, I appreciate that you can answer my questions, I hope I don't bother you, if I bother you I apologize. My first question is: How did you discover that Theism is superior to Naturalism? And my second question: How did you become a Christian? Actually being one of the most intelligent Christian Philosophers of all times is something that interests me too much. I really have more, but I do not want to take your time.
If you don't want to answer me here, my mail is

Alexander R Pruss said...

As for the superiority of theism to naturalism, we have the various theistic arguments. I've spent a lot of time defending the cosmological argument (e.g., , as well as my PSR book and my infinity book), but I've defended other arguments as well.

As for how I became a Christian, well I did grow up a Christian, but then had many doubts as a teenager. A religious experience brought me to theism as a teenager. I then came up with an argument like this:

1. If the central Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and sacrifice on the cross is false, then Christians overestimate how good God is to us.

2. God would not let us oveestimate how good he is to us.

3. So, the central Christian doctrines are true.

El Filósofo said...
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