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

Bill Stoddard
Wed, 26 Mar 2003 08:35:09 -0500

Russell Turpin wrote:
> Joseph S Barrera III <>:
>> What confuses me is that you'll hear someone claim that "all people 
>> have the right to xxx", and yet that person claims to be a moral 
>> relativist. In which sense they are drawing on an authority by using 
>> the word "right" which they don't actually believe in. Of course, just 
>> saying "all people should have xxx" doesn't sound nearly as powerful. 
>> But it's more honest when spoken
>> by a moral relativist.
> (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. Thus, I
> can consistently uphold someone's right to
> say stupid things (meaning, I think social
> institutions should be designed to allow it),
> while at the same time saying one SHOULDN'T
> say stupid things, meaning I think people
> ought to engage their brain a good deal
> earlier than their tongue. I'm not going to
> argue over "right" (hee, hee) definitions,
> but it seems to me that common usage makes a
> distinction between "right to" and "should,"
> in a way that has nothing to do with the
> grounding of moral theories.
> (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.

So you want the task of explaining this to the 2/3 of Americans who 
believe the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi? :-)