My time over the last few months has been spent conversing with a variety of people. Many people make bold claims about a subject that I believe to be most important: ethics. The claims some people make are similar to the claims made by an old acquaintance of mine, Protagoras. Put simply, they are moral relativists, believing that there is no objective good, and that matters of right or wrong are no more than matters of personal opinion.
It seems to me that following this thought may lead to the view that the actions of people do not really matter. If there is no objective good, or right, or wrong, then we cannot say that it truly matters if a student cheats, or if thief steals property, or if a murderer goes on a killing spree. But when I make this proposal to the wise people with whom I converse, they object and declare that these things do matter. So what can we deduce from these two premises? Perhaps a tension in the relativist position. Let us take a closer look:
- If there is no objective good, or right, or wrong, then our actions do not matter
- Our actions do matter
- Therefore, there is an objective good, or right, or wrong
This argument is valid, but if one of the premises is false, it is unsound. So, is premise #2 true? Well, the people I have been dialoguing with believe that our actions do matter. So, they think premise #2 is true. If my friends maintain that there is no objective good, they must therefore refute premise #1. In other words, they need to show that it is false that if there is no objective good, or right, or wrong, then our actions do not matter. To do so, they need to find an example in which our actions matter and yet there is no way to objectively measure an action’s goodness.
But if an action matters, then it must be good or bad, correct? Otherwise, it wouldn’t matter. So finding an example in which our actions matter, while there is no way to measure an action’s goodness, is to find an example in which our actions matter when there is no way to measure whether our actions matter. But we cannot find an example in which our actions matter if there is no way to measure whether our actions matter. So something may have gone wrong. Either the relativist position is problematic, or my reasoning is mistaken.
I shall continue to dialogue with my wise friends and allow them to educate me. I know nothing.