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relativism, realism, and pragmatism
Posted: 23 March 2007 04:11 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Sam slams all of these concepts in his book, but I can't figure out why.  It seems he attacks these as if they were philosophies on par with religion, but demonstrates that his only beef is that they might lul the US into inaction.  Can anyone please expand this?  Am I missing something?  I would hate to think Sam did to relativism, realism, and pragmatism what Christians are accused of doing to reason.  Am I wrong?

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Posted: 23 March 2007 04:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[quote author=“MDBeach”]Sam slams all of these concepts in his book, but I can’t figure out why.  It seems he attacks these as if they were philosophies on par with religion, but demonstrates that his only beef is that they might lul the US into inaction.  Can anyone please expand this?  Am I missing something?  I would hate to think Sam did to relativism, realism, and pragmatism what Christians are accused of doing to reason.  Am I wrong?

I don’t know why realism is put together with relativism.  In the extreme, at least, they are opposites.  Relativism is one of the basic ideas in postmodernism, and can be taken to the point, for example, of arguing that there is really no difference between science and astrology, both are just differing belief systems and there is no objective way to validate one over the other.  That I can see as being a problem.  But realism assumes that there is a real world out there and we can really learn things about it.  What’s the problem?

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Posted: 23 March 2007 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Maybe I’m paranoid, but it would seem that these are the exact ideals and types of states of mind needed to fix the quagmire we are in now, and that by Sam including potshots at postmodernism, once it gets labeled along the same lines as Christianity, it will start to suffer from the same ignorant prejudices.  (More so than now) 

I guess my point is that too many people are taking Sam’s book as a call to end religion, without accepting the real underlying message of “We need to have a new way of thinking about things.”  However, I see the utility in killing them all and letting god sort them out, so to speak.  For intellectuals, it works.  But for the lemmings, this seems extremely counter productive.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I think they all the concepts are relevant to our concerns, but accepting them as philosophies and not using reason to determine what of these concepts are best for our developing globe is probably what Sam is trying to fight against.

We all say, “I’m a Christian,” “I’m a utilitarian,” blah blah blah.

You’re not a utilitarian when you’re doing your laundry. You’re not constantly making sure that your philosophy on life is lining up with your actions. Especially when the stakes are high, we should never commit to any one -ism but find the best aspects of all the -isms using reason.

Isms are only akin to a library catalogue that breaks down certain ideas into their logical parental ideas. There is no such thing as “utilitarianism,” just a word that helps group certain like-ideas together. We should never cage ourselves into following any one of these isms if it means forgoing better ideas in favor of some idealism.

There’s a reason there’s no -ism following reason.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 08:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I agree.  But we understand the concepts.  Some isms seem to be closer to reason than others. 

I really just thought Sam’s arguments against these three were too weak to be taken seriously by anyone who understood them.  I was hoping someone on this board could do better.  But then again, if you can internalize these concepts, you probably know that you need more than one philosophy to survive.  Which of course makes me wonder, why did Sam do it?

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Posted: 23 March 2007 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I read about relativism in Wikipedia yesterday, and know that there are different varieties and not everyone are so extreme. But imho moral relativism really is a problem, because it just pushes you to accept all sorts of irrational and destructive behaviour. Typically, a western feminist may say: “I’d never wear a niqab, but hey, what do I know? Maybe it’s nice to get less sexual attention from men?”

Besides, there’s a pretty nifty counterargument that says that moral relativism can by definition not be absolutely right. In other words, it may be right for some people, but not for everyone else.

And I see that Muslims in particular are not impressed with it, because if they on the one side think that Atheists have no God and roots, it certainly doesn’t help saying to them that we can’t know anything at all. On the other hand, by seeing that Atheists do have common sense and a sence for justice, they will at least see that it does not lead to anarchy.

I can’t remember what he wrote about realism and pragmatism. Do you care to quote? Pragmatism may be good under some circumstances, but it naturally depends on the sacrifices and risks.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 01:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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KFD wrote:

In other words, it may be right for some people, but not for everyone else.

That is the point. One size fits all morality doesn’t fit ANYONE. It will be too tight for some, and too loose for others.

As I endless repeat: Moral Absolutism only means that YOU wish to impose YOUR morality on absolutely everyone else. It makes no more sense than requiring eveyone to wear the same size shoe (which is of course your size).

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Posted: 23 March 2007 07:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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The three “isms” that Sam seemed to be dismissing in some way were, I thought, strictly those three particular branches of philosophy.  Although these three “isms” have been around since the Greeks in Western thought, there were particular schools of philosophy that included a certain constellation of followers of these “isms” in the past 150 years.  I think of Pragmatism that really started with people like Peirce and continues in some form today with thinkers like Rorty.  Realism also has a formal philosophical group that began at that same time and continues today as Scientific Realism (Putnam) and Eliminative Materialism (the Churchlands).  When Sam Harris was dismissing these as being “the” correct philosophy, he wasn’t denigrating pragmatism or realism in general, but those exclusive lines of thought in the recent history of human philosophical movements.

Bob

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Posted: 23 March 2007 10:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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From what I have read, Sam can provide justifications…in certain circumstances…for the use of nuclear weapons and torture.

He further calls pacifism “flagrantly immoral”.

I find this ironic.

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Posted: 24 March 2007 12:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“Joad”]KFD wrote:

In other words, it may be right for some people, but not for everyone else.

That is the point. One size fits all morality doesn’t fit ANYONE. It will be too tight for some, and too loose for others.

As I endless repeat: Moral Absolutism only means that YOU wish to impose YOUR morality on absolutely everyone else. It makes no more sense than requiring eveyone to wear the same size shoe (which is of course your size).

I think you misunderstood my point.

[quote author=“Yourstruly”]Besides, there’s a pretty nifty counterargument that says that moral relativism can by definition not be absolutely right. In other words, it may be right for some people, but not for everyone else.

The point is that the ones saying “moral relativism is right” will at the same time break the Law of Relativism by saying that anything is right. They’re in your words saying that Relativism fits all.

But relativism doens’t fit all.

This does not mean that we can only chose between relativism and absolutism however. I’m all for a dynamic attitude somewhere inbetween, but we can not allow a complete fragmentation to happen.

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Posted: 24 March 2007 12:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“Jim Christensen”]From what I have read, Sam can provide justifications…in certain circumstances…for the use of nuclear weapons and torture.

He further calls pacifism “flagrantly immoral”.

I find this ironic.

I quite liked that part. Pacifism is immoral, just like it’s immoral to stand on the other side of the road watching a guy beat another to death without interfering. The problem with pacifism is for pacifism to work, then everyone need to be pacifists. But some people are fucked up, and the pacifists can not help stop these people.

And the torture thing was perceptive. It was not an all out defence for it, just proving that we will rather bomb half of Afghanistan rather than subject some terrorist to torture to get proper address for Osama Bin Laden. Wouldn’t you rather torture Mullah Omar rather than bomb innocent Afghans?

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Posted: 24 March 2007 01:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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I would rather do neither.

But the irony is that Sam keeps saying that we cannot survive our religious differences in the face of the fact of the presence of wmds, particulaly nuclear weapons, while side stepping the fact that scientists…most of whom are atheists according to the guru Richard Dawkins…keep providing them to the governments of the world.

After all, it was Oppenhiemer who said after the development of nuclear weapons that the scientists had “blood on their hands”.

The “fundies” may imagine the end of the world, but the scientists have made it possible.

Of course, I am quite aware that such blasphemy is not likely to be long tolerated.

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Posted: 24 March 2007 02:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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There’s a reason there’s no -ism following reason.

Neoplatonism….Rationalism....Formalism….Logical atomism….Logical positivism .....logical empiricism…. etc.etc.


Ps:Yet hard to find a -ism that is not following reason…. 8)

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Posted: 24 March 2007 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“Hippasus”]

There’s a reason there’s no -ism following reason.

Neoplatonism….Rationalism....Formalism….Logical atomism….Logical positivism .....logical empiricism…. etc.etc.


Ps:Yet hard to find a -ism that is not following reason…. 8)

I was talking about reasonism, but if you want to be like that…

:x

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Posted: 24 March 2007 06:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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My understanding was that ‘moral relativism’ meant that moral value is relative to the situation/circumstance.  It surely cannot mean that moral value is relative to each agent, because that would simply translate into “there is no morality” if everyone gets to decide by his/her own tastes.

The fact is that there are certain moral standards or even codes, but that these are applied relative to the particular situation.  Ultimately this means that these standards/codes cannot be applied absolutely the same in every situation.  But even christianity follows this sort of relativism because the “Thou shalt not kill” is NOT an absolute law according to the christian ethic.  In certain situations (war, self-defense, etc.) there are exceptions to the law . . . that’s relativism!

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Posted: 24 March 2007 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“CanZen”]My understanding was that ‘moral relativism’ meant that moral value is relative to the situation/circumstance.  It surely cannot mean that moral value is relative to each agent, because that would simply translate into “there is no morality” if everyone gets to decide by his/her own tastes.

The fact is that there are certain moral standards or even codes, but that these are applied relative to the particular situation.  Ultimately this means that these standards/codes cannot be applied absolutely the same in every situation.  But even christianity follows this sort of relativism because the “Thou shalt not kill” is NOT an absolute law according to the christian ethic.  In certain situations (war, self-defense, etc.) there are exceptions to the law . . . that’s relativism!

Bob

I like this view. I’m going to go with it from now on until I hear something better.

I used to just say that morality is relative because our ability to assess moral situations is undoubtedly muddied by our past experiences, so no one will ever view a moral dilemma the same way.

Turns out I still like my idea of moral relativism too. But I like yours as well, the fact that is morality was relative to the situation but not the agent because then the agent would essentially have no code. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of moral relativism described in that way, and if I have, this is the most comprehensible version of it I’ve seen.

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