Relativism

Jamal Hannah jamal at bronze.lcs.mit.edu
Sun Jan 15 20:16:28 MST 1995


Justin Schwartz Wrote:
> Of course there is nothing wrong with raational persuasion! My concern is
> that Wolff, having abandoned truth as a goal in argument, abandons the

Sounds like an ad-hominim attack, and rather unfair.

> manipulative. Hence my example about substituting drugs or hypnosis for
> argument if that would work as well or better at influencing the behavior
> of others. I reject such means because I want others to accept my views
> because the views are right (if they are), and drug-induced agreement

Youre alegory of drug-taking was fabricated by you.. but now youre
talking as if this was actualy something he suggested.  That seems somewhat
dishonest.

> would like to hear from Wolff why and if he has any basis for preferring
> persuasion to drugs if they would be equually effective.

... more of the same...

> > It seems simple enough to openly state that one disagrees, and then
> > immediatly offer supporting information as to why one disagrees, and...
>
> <snip>
>
> The problem is that it's not clear what Wolff can _mean_ by "disagree"
> since her cannot use this term in its normal sense, i.e., thinking someone

It's very clear what I meant by "disagree".  I meant just that.  Disagree.
And then you follow it up with saying WHY you disagree.  If the supporting
argument isnt good enough, then thats the way it is.. take it or leave it.
If someoen disagrees by saying "..because I'm a Baptist."  then your
next choice is to either: 1) Give up.  2) approach the argument from
another angle.  Simple.

> > .. this is the kind of thing a salesman might say.. but rational, logical
> > arguments usualy have more than intimidation, flatery, or emotionalism
> > behind them: they have supporting arguments which determine the
> > validity of the ascertion.
>
> Right. That's the problem. Can Wolff make ratioonal, logical arguments if
> he gives up the absolute notions of true and false, right and wrong?

More ad-hominim attacks.  Try not to be so generalized, and offer something
more concrete.

>  Comparing the desire to persuade people
> > to the desire to brainwash them or give them drugs seems, to me, to be
> > a very cynical view of human capabilities.
>
> Absolutely. That's one reason I'm unhappy with Wolff's views.

What??  But I was talking about you!  You fabricated this alegory about drugs,
which, as I said, is a very cynical view.. on your part.

>   I think I am perfectly
> > capable of listening to what this person has to say without being
> > "brainwashed".
>
> If Wolff is--uh, "right" (or whatever positive designation assertable
> claims can have in his account)--are you?

He dosnt have to be "right". He has the right to be heard, that's the point
I'm making here.  Weather he's right or not is up to you.

>   "Brainwashing" is only effective in a vacuum: so long
> > as there are no counter-arguments to the arguments a person makes, ever,
> > then people will eventualy default to those arguments, unless some other
> > aspect of reality steps in the way.
>
> Well, for Wolff, are there really counter-arguments or just competing
> influences, different frameworks? And what's this "reality" business?
> Wolff will have none of that.

Hmm. still more personal-attacks.  Dosnt give me much real information
about the situation.  (all I really know is that you don't like this guy.)

> > I always felt that relativisim DID promote tolerance, though there are of
> > course exceptions.  Basicly, an intolerant person who does not accept
> > moral relativism might see anyone behaving in any way different from
> > them as "immoral".
>
> An an intolerant person who did could say, Well, tolerance may be OK for
> you, but intolerance is OK for _me_. My point is logical: there is no
> argument from relativism to tolerance. Your point is causal, I think:
> relativists are more likely to be tolerant. I doubt it. But supposing it
> to be so, what's so great about tolerance? Relativists cannot assert its
> value as absolute, after all.

Well, you doubt it.  I dont doubt it.  So?   As for tolerance, I think it's
what keeps people from murdering each other, etc. Basicly. Thats what makes it
great.

>   A more tolerant person would understand that a
> > persons' behavior is based on their upbringing, experiances, and
> > environement..and basicly this justifies it.
>
> So if I was brought up as a racist that would justify my lynching Black
> people? You don't believe that.

Aha.  Why did you say the above line when my next paragraph (shown below)
actualy answered that very issue?  Are you simply arguing for the sake of
arguing, at this point?

>   The exception is
> > when that behavior is clearly harmful!  I think the argument that,
> > say, Nazis are "simply following their upbringing" when they attack
> > Jews is less valid than the argument that "certain Native Americans
> > take peyote as part of a religious ceremony."  With further information,
> > we know that in fact the killing of jews on the Nazi's part was a
> > political tactic: not directly related to culture, but a means
> > to a political end (focussing mass anger at something other than
> > the ruling class).
>
> You're wriggling here. Look: the reason that taking peyote is OK is
> roughly speaking that it harms no one, except maybe the peyote takers, not

Again, I answered this exact same issue in my next secion (shown below)
and yet you behave as if I was totaly ignorant of this possibility.
Are you just naturaly argumentative?

> And the reason racist lynching or
> Nazi genocide is wrong is that it violates people's basic rights and
> causes immense unnecessary suffering, oppression, and humiliation. Even

Exactly!  Which is basicly what I said below:

>  The most important thing here is that the
> > Nazi behavior is going to be harmful _even_ outside their own sphere
> > of influences.. whereas indiginous cultural practices are generaly
> > not "harmful" even within their own sphere of influence.
> >
>
> Ah, reading ahead

.. which you either did not do, when reading what I said, or simply
pretended not to.

, I see (that your argument for) relativism vanishes and we have a
> straightforward appeal to Mill's harm principle, with its objective sense
> of "harm."

I can use a quote from you yourself to answer that:
" Nazi genocide is wrong is that it violates people's basic rights and
  causes immense unnecessary suffering, oppression, and humiliation."

In the case of harm to others, I think this is the exception that is
outside the realm of relativism.  It is never right to harm another
person, except in defense.  There's other exceptions too, like
"the lesser of two evils".  This does not really harm the argument that
relativism is a generaly good idea.. compare it to the law of gravity:
an object that is dropped, on earth, will tend to fall.. but of course
there are exceptions.  But the exceptions dont disprove the general
overal "rule of thumb".

I'm rather dissapointed that you seem to feel that this is all so
black-and-white. In your final statement, you say "your arguments
for relativism vanish"...  As if I were completely "incorrect" in
one big, full sweep of the hand.  This approach to discussion seems
really, well, inflexible.  (after all, we did in fact aggree on most
of the arguments anyway.)

 - Jamal Hannah

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