Philosoraptor welcomes Benedict XVI’s snipes about moral relativism in modern liberal society, as “liberals might finally be forced to give some serious thought to the relationship between liberalism and relativism.” He gives an exceptionally clear reading to a valuable argument: I’m going to shamelessly hack n’ stick it here.
The most important point to be made here is this one: liberalism in no way presupposes moral relativism. This is not a particularly difficult point to understand, and it should be clear to anyone who has spent even a moderate amount of time thinking about the issues.
Most liberals, like most conservatives, haven’t given very much thought to meta-ethical questions about the nature of moral obligations. Most liberals, like most conservatives, say a lot of extremely vague and confused things when they do set out to say something about these meta-ethical issues. When conservatives and liberals do make claims about the moral foundations of liberalism, it is common for them to make claims that are interestingly ambiguous. The ambiguous claims made by liberals in this context are frequently ambiguous in a predictable way–that is, ambiguous as between (a) an objectivistic/realistic/rationalistic interpretation and (b) a relativistic interpretation. The ambiguous claims made by conservatives in this context are frequently ambiguous as between (a) an objectivistic/realistic/rationalistic interpretation and (b) an interpretation that presupposes some version of the Divine Command Theory of morality.
Some important points:
(1) Although some liberals say things that can be interpreted as being relativistic, this does not mean that one must be a relativist to be a liberal.
(2) Although some conservatives say things that can be interpreted as presupposing the truth of the Divine Command Theory, one needn’t do so to be a conservative.
(3) Since moral relativism is a hopeless philosophical junk heap, philosophically astute liberals will not endorse it.
(4) Since the Divine Command theory is a hopeless philosophical junk heap, philosophically astute conservatives will not endorse it.
(5) The astute liberal believes that the moral claims made by liberalism are really, objectively true. This is commonly taken to mean that these claims are rationally binding on us. That is, that they are non-optional demands of reason. Astute liberals do not believe that the reason that women should be treated as the equals of men is that our culture happens to say that they should. Philosophically astute liberals recognize that mere widespread acceptance or cultural orthodoxy cannot underwrite moral obligations. In fact, that recognition is in some sense what liberalism is all about. Rather, philosophically astute liberals believe that there are rational, objective, and reasonably well-known reasons in support of the claim that (e.g.) women should be treated as the equals of men.
(6) Conservatives frequently act as if liberals are the only ones who face puzzles about the nature of moral obligations. But conservatives face the same problems liberals face….The DCT is simply moral subjectivism writ large. The DCT proper is merely divine subjectivism.