most irritating myth about relativism?
I believe individuals should be raised and educated to think critically and make their own judgement (especially on moral and religious matters) rather than more-or-less unquestioningly take on board the pronouncements of some external Authority. This isn’t a left or a right-wing view. Nor is it anti-religious (many Liberals are religious). It’s anti-Authoritarian (and it’s as much against Stalinist indoctrination as that of the Church).
Of course, Authoritarian religious people reject this sort of Liberalism. Many loathe it. They associate it with both the 60’s and with the Enlightenment (e.g. Kant)
Those who share my Liberal view – let’s call us Liberals with a capital “L” – are routinely condemned by religious Authoritarians as relativists. So annoyed have I got by this endlessly-repeated accusation that I devoted a chapter of the War For Children’s Minds to it.
Here’s just one example. Jonathan Sacks, the U.K.’s Chief Rabbi lays the blame for our moral malaise firmly at the feet of the Enlightenment, and particularly at the feet of Kant, about whom Sacks writes,
[A]ccording to Kant…[t]o do something because others do, or because of habit or custom or even Divine Command, is to accept an external authority over the one sovereign territory that is truly our own: our own choices. The moral being for Kant is by definition an autonomous being, a person who accepts no other authority than the self.
Sacks rejects this Kantian emphasis on the moral autonomy of the individual. In particular, says Sacks, a Kantian approach to moral education requires “non-judgementalism and relativism on the part of the teacher.”
No it doesn’t. To insist that individuals be educated to think, question and make their own judgement is not to insist that all judgements are equally “true”.
After all, scientists are also encouraged to think question and make their own judgements – it doesn’t follow that all scientific theories are equally true, does it?
Unfortunately, so often is this myth repeated, it’s entered the zeitgeist. Lots of people now assume that if we want to avoid moral relativism and moral anarchy, we need to move back in the direction of traditional religious, Authority-based schooling. As if the only alternatives are relativism or Authoritarianism.