Why Relativism Pleases

In his treatise, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, David Hume provides an analysis of why utility “pleases.”  Essentially, he argues that because people are sympathetic, they approve of utility-producing actions. This analysis connects moral considerations with psychological ones. In a conversation I had recently, I might have stumbled upon an explanation of a similar form for why relativism is an appealing worldview.

The interesting thing about Hume’s explanation is that it looks outside of typical moral considerations to attempt to explain moral considerations. More specifically, as mentioned above, it looks to psychological considerations to explain moral ones. It turns out that the epistemic process of adopting relativism may be influenced by psychological considerations. To be clear, my claim is not that this is always the case, nor is it that it is the sole cause of adopting a relativistic stance when psychological considerations are efficacious.

A colleague of mine is fond of pointing out that relativism is not something that can actually be lived out. We, qua human beings, are forced to take stands on prescriptive issues, a stand which is impossible with relativistic conceptions of morality, truth, etc. A closer look at some folk-relativists (and professional ones) might reveal that they are not so much interested in destroying the epistemic ground that they stand on.

Rather, they are interested in destroying the epistemic ground that others stand on. Why? The relativists that I have encountered often complain of objectivists ramming their “objective truth” down their philosophical throat. It seems, then, that the untactful form in which objectivist perspectives are presented leads persons to reject the content of that perspective.

Presentation, it seems, is a key factor that influences a person’s judgment of the content of the propositions being presented. All things considered, this is probably a pretty obvious observation. What do I do with it though? How does it relate to my journey as one who seeks (to) Love? Perhaps caution in conversation is the lesson that I can take from this.

In addition to need for a tactful presentation of content, I have previously identified two important questions that need to be discussed in order to have productive dialogue: Why do you (and/or I) think that way? and Why do you (and/or I) want this to be true? In a sense, the observation made above is an example of how to answer the first question.

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