April 1999
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Angry Dan's Column

Heterosexual, Omnivorous Anglo-American Male

by Daniel Strohl

According to a recent AP article, there is a so-called "cultural war" taking place in the United States between those who say absolute right and wrong exist - the moralists - and those who say it doesn't - the relativists. Let's put aside the facts that this has become a large argument after the Clinton scandal and that this seems to be the initiative of conservative Christian Republicans such as Pat Buchanan, Henry Hyde and James Dobson against what they say is the immorality surrounding them and focus on the relativist/moralist question, best put by the AP article:

"Is truth eternal and unchanging or is it relative, depending on circumstance, time and place?"

Both the moralist and relativist warriors are just chasing their tails if they're expected to answer that question, though. Truth is not eternal and unchanging, nor is it dependent on circumstance, time and place. Rather, it is dependent on the individual. So correctly one may say there is no such thing as absolute truth applicable to all. Absolute fact, maybe, but not absolute truth.

How is this so? Well, think about the reasoning derived from Descartes' Method of Doubt: how do we know what we know? Through our senses. Are our senses infallible? No, sometimes they deceive us. Should we trust that which is fallible? No. Therefore, we cannot trust ou senses or the knowledge derived from them. So what can we trust? Well, all that is left is ourselves. Helen Keller was blind and deaf. Imagine a world without input from your senses. How do you know you even exist? An observer must be present to doubt the senses in the first place, thus the forever quotable "I think, therefore I am."

So how does this relate to moralism and relativism? If we're to believe Descartes, then one can only think and be for oneself, not for others. So one can only have morals for oneself, not for others. In that way, I guess, moralism can then be valid, but only for me. In that way, relativism also has a sense of validity because each and every one of us has a different moral code and each of those moral codes is in turn valid.


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