A Dictatorship Of Relativism?

BBC Radio 4 analyzes the pope’s catchphrase, “a dictatorship of relativism”, used for describing the secular West.  Here’s the program description:

The idea that no one has a monopoly on the truth seems to be fixed in the modern Western psyche. But it’s an idea that is under attack.

Pope Benedict claims that we are now living in “a dictatorship of relativism” – a place where nothing is certain and we are all slaves to our own desires. But his critics say he is just confusing relativism with liberalism.

Edward Stourton examines claims that the tolerance which moral relativism is supposed to foster has in fact morphed into a new form of extremism.

He speaks to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and to the former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe – hotly-tipped to become the UK’s next ambassador to the Holy See.

We also hear from the Italian politician and philosopher, Marcello Pera, philosophers Simon Blackburn, Leslie Green and Stephen Wang and the Sunni Islamic scholar Ruzwan Mohammed.

If you’d like to read the transcript of the program, that’s here.  If you’d like to listen to the radio show, that’s here.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    I agree that most people are a bunch of hedonistic, anti-intellectual, materialistic, superficial people with little interest in higher values. I don’t know if the secular west has much to do with the problem. I recently wrote about relativism and absolutism. I think these are two absurd views of morality and people commit to one just because they think there is no better choice to make. Philosophy itself is automatically ruled out as a possibility.

    Of course, there are atheists with an interest in higher values and so forth. Being non-religious seems fairly irrelevant.

  • Daniel Fincke

    I think it’s just that people are bad with dialectical tensions, so their language veers towards absolutism or veers towards relativism depending on which aspect of the dynamic between rules and situations they personally feel like overrides the other.

    But, thankfully, most of us do not really live in accord with what we say and in most matters are far more flexible than explicit avowals of absolutism or relativism imply.

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    I agree that people don’t do a good job at actually living according to absolutism or relativism. Still, their decisions aren’t going to be much more rational when they use these ideas to try to make sense out of morality, which is the tendency I was mainly thinking of.


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