Atheists and freedom of speech (was: Rights and fear.)

Tue, 25 Mar 2003 20:52:51 -0800

> From: [] On Behalf Of
> Russell Turpin

> (1) To my ear, the distinction between
> "should" and "right" is more functional than
> fundamental. The assertion that someone has a
> right to something, doesn't mean so much that
> someone should have or do that thing, but
> that others should act in a fashion that
> allows it, or secures access to it, and that
> social institutions should be designed to
> respect it or secure access to it. 

I'd rather limit that definition to 'others should refrain from

> (2) I'm skeptical of the distinction between
> moral absolutism and moral relativism. I've
> never seen this explained in a way that really
> gives it any potency. Most people who claim to
> be moral absolutists either (a) rest their
> moral theories on tacit premises of which they
> are unaware, or (b) have premises that they
> simply aren't willing to question. Now yes,
> I guess "absolutism" is a good term for that.
> But those who think moral absolutism is a good
> thing seem to think there is something more to
> it than lack of insight or willingness to
> question, even though I've seen only fumbling
> when they are asked to explain just what.

Moral Absolutism holds the idea that human nature is universal and that
the same moral rules should apply to all.

Moral Relativism is (usually) an attempt to evade the issue of moral
judgment (except against those who don't believe in Moral Relativism)
because they believe human nature is socially constructed and that
whatever the status quo in a society is must be right.  I guess it
should be pointed out that almost all Moral Relativists are 'Absolutist'
about Western society and only 'Relativist' about non-Western ones.

The second category of Moral Relativism is a straight forward expression
of the idea that the rules should be different for different groups of
people.  You could assert that someone who supported Jim Crow was, for
example, a Moral Relativist.

A Moral Absolutist has no problem labeling Suttee, Human Sacrifice,
Cannibalism, and cliterectomies as wrong.  So wrong, in fact, that
physical violence may be used against another society to make them stop.

Moral Relativists think the Nobel Savages are entitled to their cultural
practices and that it isn't just wrong to interfere, it is wrong to
express disapproval.

Both those who argued against Slavery in principle and those who carried
out the Inquisition were Moral Absolutists.  I think what the particular
absolutes being asserted are (excuse me) very relevant to any discussion
of them.