Friday, November 10, 2006

moral realism

Firstly, if it is not at all obvious by now, I am not particularly interested (at the moment at least) in arguing for or against the propositions: "homosexuality is unnatural" or "homosexuality is immoral". My own views on the ethics of homosexuality will emerge later as I describe my attempt to outline a framework of ethical discourse which I think would be useful, especially among two very differing points of view.

If you (especially if you subscribe to Christian ethics) have read my previous post (short discussion on christian ethics and homosexuality), you might disagree with me when I said 'Christian ethics don't apply to individuals who do not believe in the assumptions of Christianity', and your rebuttal might something along the lines of: 'according to Christian ethics, if God says it is wrong, it is wrong period. It's rightness or wrongness does not depend on whether or not you believe it to be right or wrong."

To better explain my point, I need to explain an important distinction of moral philosophy: the difference between moral relativism, and moral realism. Moral relativism, casually explained, is basically 'what is right for me is what I believe to be right, what is right for you is what you believe to be right.' If you are a moral relativist, you believe that there is no absolute right or wrong; what is right or wrong depends totally on your personal beliefs. Moral realism, on the other hand, is precisely the opposite. A moral realist believes that "true morality" exists, whatever it is, and it applies to all humans, regardless of what each individual may believe.

When I said 'Christian ethics don't apply to individuals who do not believe in the assumptions of Christianity', I was NOT making a morally relativistic statement. That means, I was NOT saying: 'Christian ethics only works for Christians. You cannot judge a non-Christian to be immoral (even if you are a Christian) because non-Christians do not subscribe to Christian ethics.'

What I WAS saying is this: since many non-Christians do not believe in the existence of God, they therefore would not believe in Christian ethics, and as a result any moral discourse which appeals to Christian beliefs will not be very productive or successful. I was making a claim about how people with different conceptions (beliefs) of ethics and morality will have a very difficult time talking to each other. I was NOT making a claim about whether it is not justified or incorrect for a Christian to apply Christian ethics to non-Christians (I will talk more about this later).

Take the assertion 'Homosexuality is immoral because it is unnatural" as an example. If your concept of "unnatural" is based on religious conceptions on what is natural or not, then when you try and talk to someone who does not share those religious conceptions, then you will very likely not have a very useful discussion (this usually results in insults, name-calling, and anything but what we call civil discourse).

The point that I've taken so many words to make so far may seem quite "duh", but it is quite important for me to lay this point clearly, for I will be attempting to argue for a possible platform of discourse where you can talk meaningfully to another party who does not share the same ethical beliefs, yet at the same time not abandoning your own (such as for example, Christians talking to homosexuals), and without resulting to insulting and name-calling.

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