Rebirth of Reason


No Judging?
by Joseph Rowlands

Moral relativism is the moral position that no system of ethics is better than any others. The promoters of this view reject objectivity in ethical judgments. And the consequences are clear. We are told to treat evil as if it were good. To let it run unchecked, and to not treat it accordingly. Justice is subverted by making moral judgment and the consequent actions impossible. The evil benefits at the cost of the good.

Now this might all seem pretty clear to an Objectivist audience. I want to add one more point though. It's not just moral relativism that causes this kind of injustice. The same consequences stem from an epistemological belief. Skepticism.

Skepticism, in its purest form, is the belief that knowledge is impossible. The reasons for this are varied. The most obvious example is the line "If you can't know everything, you can't know anything". By upholding an omniscient standard of knowledge, actual human knowledge is made to look flawed and useless.

Skepticism also claims that moral judgments are impossible, not because morality is subjective, but because even if it were objective, knowledge is impossible. And knowledge is prerequisite to moral judgment. The results are the same, though. Justice is subverted.

I spoke of skepticism in its purest form. There are other forms, though. When one wants to prevent some kind of judgment, they can resort to various tactics. They can claim that all the knowledge of a situation is not known. Or they can claim that some lack of clarity in the process of judgment invalidates it all.

An example of this is in the area of esthetic judgment. This came up on the SoloHQ forum recently. The first was a quote of Ayn Rand's regarding esthetic judgment in the field of music. "Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music." It is then claimed that we can't make judgments about music because we don't know everything about music.

My problem with this is that instead of trying to defend against arguments, it seeks to end discussion by declaring the field unknowable. Well how do you expect a conceptual vocabulary to be discovered? By refusing to make judgments? If the proponents of this idea had merely said that they don't accept these attacks on their kind of music because they aren't given sufficient intellectual backing, I'd have no problem. It means that others need to make their case better, and work harder at discovering this conceptual vocabulary.

This was an argument by skepticism, though. Regardless of intent, it acted to invalidate all ideas in the field because everything wasn't all already known. When someone starts declaring that morality is subjective, and we can't make moral judgments, it makes me immediately wonder what horrible acts they're trying to "defend". The good do not fear moral judgment. They long for it. Only evil fears being judged.

Similarly, when I hear someone use this quote to invalidate another's esthetic judgment, I wonder whether they have the same confidence and pride in their position as those who stand firmly by their own judgment.

Skepticism is not a defense.

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