Notes on Midgely: Relativism

Moral relativism denies we can make judgements about another culture because we cannot understand it: note, no judgements including both praise and damnation.

- Midgley argues it is a foolish position to hold. There’s a Japanese saying ‘trying out one’s new sword’ – samurais had to test out their swords on innocent passers by to test if it could cut through them in one stroke, or else they would bungle their stroke and bring dishonour etc. She says we can form and express judgements on this and that we do. If she called the samurai brutal, someone may say you cant say that it’s a different culture, they would then explain about ancient japan valuing the lives on individuals less, and the system of honour they had etc, but that IS judging the culture.

- Isolatng barriers are impossible, we would ask if the passers by did actually give consent to be bisected etc, as if consent can make it repeatable – a western idea.

- She agrees we should refrain from expressing crude opinions, like a missionary calling all samurai culture bad because it is non-christian.

- She says the reason we might not be able to make a judgement on another culture is because we don’t understand it, but she says there is much we don’t understand about our own culture too.

- She says we would lose the ‘spectrum of alternatives’ against which we judge our own culture if we were moral isolationists. It would ban moral reasoning.

- ‘Morally as well as physically, there is only 1 world and we all have to live in it.’


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