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The “Folk” are Relativists November 5, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Ethics, Philosophy.
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The folks at Experimental Philosophy have some new data supporting the claim that most non-philosophers are ethical relativists, i.e. they believe that standards of rightness and wrongness are determined by cultural norms.

For example, we asked subjects to interpret disagreement on the morality of the following action: “Dylan buys an expensive new knife and tests its sharpness by randomly stabbing a passerby on the street.” When asked whether disagreeing Americans could both be correct in their judgments about the morality of this action, the folk were predictably objectivist.

Things began to shift, though, when the disagreeing individuals were depicted as belonging to different cultural groups. When the disagreement was between an American and a member of an Amazonian warrior culture, or a member of an extraterrestrial species called the Pentars, objectivity levels dropped in turn. It seems as though subjects think that there could be objectively correct moral judgments within cultures, but not between them. The greater the disparity of the cultural groups, the more the folk started to embrace a relativistic conception of morality.

The experimenters express some surprise at these results, but I’m not sure why. Among my students, moral objectivists are rather rare.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com