Down-to-earth reasons to
favour philosophical relativism
Claims of "absolute truth"
or "absolute good (or evil)" are untestable
by observation or measurement. They result from
appeal to "Pure Reason". The Skeptics
(in ancient Greece) saw relativity as inescapable
(Xerox never experiences things exactly like
Exxon). But Plato and Aristotle attempted to
escape it with an appeal to a "Pure Reason"
which didn't depend on our fallible senses.
These days, all but a small minority of conservatives
in philosophy circles realise that this search
for Pure Truth failed. But it seems to live
on in some political "debates".
"Absolute truth" and "absolute
evil" can never be demonstrated, merely
asserted. And "70% absolutely true"
makes no sense - absolutism implies an either/or
(two-valued) logic: either something is absolutely
true or it isn't.
The "relativistic" alternative appeals
to the fact that we actually evaluate and make
decisions based on observations and measurements.
This generally implies multi-valued scales and
probabilities. Even if your observation/measurement
involves a clear dichotomy: "Joe is happy"
vs "Joe is unhappy", when you bring
in multiple observers (or multiple observations
by a single observer over time), you inevitably
end up with scales and probabilities (outside
of necessarily true statements - true-by-definition
formalisms - of course).
"Joe was unhappy 95% of the time at work"
"Joe was unhappy 2% of the time whilst
relaxing at home"
"20 observers reported that Joe was unhappy
at 09.15 on Tuesday"
"3 observers reported that Joe was happy
at 09.15 on Tuesday"
(This holds even for relatively well-established
scientific "laws", which aren't seen
as absolutely true, but as "corroborated
so far" by a finite number of experiments.
Incidentally, 20th C. scientists came up with
multi-valued logics to replace the Aristotelian
either/or. John von Neumann's 3-valued logic,
"yes, no and maybe"; Anatole Rapoport's
4-valued logic, "true, false, indeterminate
and meaningless", etc. Most claims of "absolute
truth" and "absolute evil" would
fall into Rapoport's "meaningless"
category, as they can never be tested - Rapoport
regarded forever-untestable statements as "meaningless").
The above "Joe is unhappy" example
might seem frivolous. But consider a possible
future headline: "IRAQIS HAPPIER NOW THAN
UNDER SADDAM". Then consider the "debates"
about whether Iraqis really "are"
or "aren't" happier. Multiple social
indicators tell us something (often something
important) which generally can't be reduced
to "Iraqis are happier" (or the inevitable
tabloid follow-up, "ULTIMATELY THE IRAQ
WAR WAS A GOOD THING").
The best way to avoid Dubya's rebranded Aristotelian
logic ("Saddam's regime is evil",
"you're either with us or with the evil
terrorists", etc) is to avoid it yourself.
And you don't avoid it by mirroring it - eg
by saying (or indirectly implying) "capitalism
is evil", or similar. The most you can
say is "Capitalism has effects X, Y, Z,
etc, according to studies A, B, C, etc".
That's usually damning enough for most unEvil
See also Anti-Perspectivism
(our article on moral relativism).
Some of the above ideas are taken from Quantum
Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson, which
I highly recommend.