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"Relativism or Authoritarianism - you choose!" - case study

For those who've been following the last couple of blogs, here's a case study of the relativism-or-Authoritarianism myth in action. It's from, a U.S. website dedicated to combating moral relativism and promoting Christian values. The author helpfully begins by outlining what moral relativism is, before accusing the President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (clearly an evil organization) of being a relativist.

Moral relativism has steadily been accepted as the primary moral philosophy of modern society, a culture that was previously governed by a "Judeo-Christian" view of morality…. [M]ost people hold to the concept that right or wrong are not absolutes, but can be determined by each individual. Morals and ethics can be altered from one situation, person, or circumstance to the next. Essentially, moral relativism says that anything goes… Words like "ought" and "should" are rendered meaningless. In this way, moral relativism makes the claim that it is morally neutral.

In describing her view on morality, the President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America once stated, "…teaching morality doesn't mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do - and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves." She claims to be morally neutral, yet her message is clearly intended to influence the thinking of others… an intention that is not, in fact, neutral.

The author thinks the President of PPFA is inconsistent. The President is a relativist who thinks all opinions are equally good, yet she goes round promoting her own opinion as the right one. What blatant hypocrisy.

But take a closer look at what the President of the PPFA actually says. Does she say she favours moral relativism? No. She merely says that she doesn’t want to “impose” her views on others. But she does want to give her views, and explain why she holds them. She is happy to defend them. But she also wants students to “think and judge for themselves”. That’s a very Liberal view. The President of the PPFA does not commit herself to relativism. There’s nothing inconsistent about a Liberal wanting to influence young people by means of rational persuasion and open debate.

All this is entirely lost on the author of the above attack, however, who, having spotted the President of the PPFA is a Liberal, immediately weighs in with a witch-finder’s shriek of “Relativist!”

Nb this example is from my book The War For Children's Minds.


The philosophical argument is between Moral Relativism and Moral Realism - the latter having little to do with Authoritarianism

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