Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ moral relativism

Today’s Jesus and Mo, titled “basis”, came with the emailed note, “Moses is back again, with his newfangled book-learnin’.”

The strip implies that “normative” moral relativism, which is prescriptive behavior rather than merely a description of variance across societies, is a good thing. That puzzles me a bit, for, after all, most of us aren’t moral relativists about the perfidies of Islamic doctrine: oppressing women doesn’t become “right” because it’s done by Muslims. It’s just that the morality of Jesus and Mo seems wrong, In fact, when Moses implies that “judging people” is wrong, he’s off the mark. It’s just that Jesus and Mo are on the wrong mark.

27 Comments

  1. Posted April 26, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    We should distinguish between moral relativism and moral subjectivism.

    As far as I can make out, moral relativism is an incoherent doctrine along the lines of “moral statements have truth values, and the truth value is different in different cultures”.

    Moral subjectivism, in contrast, says that moral statements are reports of human preferences and values, and so do not have truth values. But, from that perspective there is nothing inconsistent in condemning other cultures or their values when we regard them as harmful.

    • eric
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      I agree. As a subjectivist, I think one of the more rational ways to consider/analyze moral rules is in terms of ones’ goals. I consider things like throwing gays off buildings perfidious because it doesn’t promote the social goals of peace, equality, prosperity, respect for human life, etc… But I recognize that to another human who might not care about those things and instead cares only about meeting his goal of living according to the Koran, his behavior might make moral sense.

      How can I be a subjectivist and yet think my morality is better than his? That’s simple; its because I think mine are better social goals than living according to the Koran. Someone might disagree with that, sure, but I see no hypocrisy in holding both the ‘morality is subjective’ opinion and the ‘mine is better than yours’ opinion at the same time.

      • Peter
        Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Eric, can you explain what the word better means in “I see no hypocrisy in holding both the ‘morality is subjective’ opinion and the ‘mine is better than yours’ opinion at the same time.”

        I think you may be deceiving yourself here since “better” just seems to mean “in my opinion” (i.e., it does not go beyond the view that ‘morality is subjective’.) So you are right that there is no hypocrisy here. But there can’t be any hypocrisy, because there are no two positions here that could be in conflict!

        There is a really difficult and deeply unsettling issue here: Is my opposition to, say, slavery just like my opposition to the New York Yankees (while being in favor of some other baseball team) – nothing more than a personal preference? Why should I then expect other people to care about it?

      • rvoss
        Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        “…I see no hypocrisy in holding both the ‘morality is subjective’ opinion and the ‘mine is better than yours’ opinion at the same time.”

        I agree. My view is that we can make just one subjective moral statement (humans should flourish). After that all moral statements can be objective based on evidence that they comply with the subjective goal of humans flourishing.

  2. Posted April 26, 2017 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Maybe it’s just about the humorous irony of the statement that “I’m better than you because I don’t judge people.”

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      I think you have the correct interpretation. Judging others and intolerance is the work of religion. It is how religions are created.

      • Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        EVERYONE, not just the religious, makes moral judgments about others.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          Sure they do but no one preaches tolerance like religion.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted April 26, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Actually, I think there’s a distinction between judgment and judgmentalism, just as there’s a distinction between morality and moralism, or emotion and emotionalism.

          Judgmental implies an excessively harsh judgment coupled with too much arrogance and personal anger. One can make judgments without being judgmental about them.

          Moralilty is rooted in a shared subjectivity of sentiments and the ability to empathize with others and to have fruitful relations with them. Thus it is in one sense subjective, but while some morals vary from one culture to another, many other ethical standards are almost (but not quite) universal.

      • rom
        Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Beg to differ here.

        We are entering a world of morality worth wanting here It is a concept worth dumping if you have lost your belief if free will. At least in my opinion.

        • rom
          Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          Sorry meant to be a reply to Jerry

          • Randy schenck
            Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

            Glad to let PCC handle that one. However, I do not think of Free Will as a belief system. Science is saying you do not have it.

            • rom
              Posted April 26, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

              Not sure what you mean by a belief system … but it would seem that most people do believe in free will and the wrong sort at that.

  3. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    As usual, I sit on the fence.

    People who are always certain they’re right offend me utterly. They’re the sort of people who happily burn witches.

    On the other hand, extreme moral relativists who insist that we shouldn’t judge anyone else’s bad behaviour are equally wrong, and futile.

    Which just shows that anything taken to its extremes goes toxic.

    I guess the right (okay, least non-wrong) answer is a good leavening of common sense, that notoriously hard-to-define quality.

    cr

    • alex
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      I think you’re right on the mark and it seems to me this is what the comic is saying to us. all perspectives are flawed and only a blend can give us the greatest chance of asymptotically approaching truth.

      (I can’t believe I got to use asymptotically in a sentence)

  4. Steve Brooks
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Moses is, of course, judging Jesus and Mo.

  5. Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Beyond Is Better and commented:
    Had to share with you all since you are working on your Cartoon Posts!

  6. Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Wow, this strip is bad on so many levels!

    • Kevin
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Or thought provoking.

      From quite a few Christians, when they learn that I am an atheist, they sense my judgement over them. That turns out to be correct: they are wrong and they live with cognitive disconnect.

      People who cannot accept being judged tend to be insecure.

      What the strip seems to get wrong is that moral relativism does not necessarily have to do anything with making judgements. I can be a moral relativist and make no moral claims towards others. As unlikely as that is, it is still possible.

    • Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Could you elaborate on that comment? I don’t think it’s bad. I think it’s making the very noteworthy point that saying “it’s bad or wrong to be judgmental,” is being judgmental. It illustrates that if one is to be consistent, one must either be judgmental or refrain from criticizing judgmentalism. You can’t have it both ways.

  7. Sastra
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    The strip implies that “normative” moral relativism, which is prescriptive behavior rather than merely a description of variance across societies, is a good thing.

    Like the Dr. and Steve, I don’t think that’s the point of the strip. Instead, it’s making fun of moral relativists who manage to reconcile contradictory ideas: there’s no such thing as a “wrong” moral viewpoint but those who say otherwise have a wrong moral viewpoint.

    I’ve had a similar problem with a friend who organizes Religious Diversity Panels. I’ve asked if any fundamentalist or conservative churches are ever invited to the table. No, they’re not. They’re not tolerant enough, they don’t fit into the diversity.

    • Posted April 26, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      That’s how I read it, too.

      Or…it’s another variation on the “free speech is good, but only speech I like should be free” theme.

      It’s very reasonable to make relative moral judgments. What’s not reasonable is to make a disapproving moral judgement of relative moral judgments.

      Cheers,

      b&

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Author merely may be making a straightforward Catch-22-type joke, rather than shooting for a broader philosophical point.

    • Posted April 26, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      That’s how I read it. It is related to the (IMO correct) claim that epistemic relativism is self-defeating.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Yup.

      cr

  9. Posted April 26, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    If I disagree with your appraisal you are judgmental. If I agree, you are discerning.

  10. Posted April 26, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Well, relatively.


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