I recently attended a conference geared towards those working in information technology in the higher education sector. One of the big changes technology is bringing to higher ed is what is known as the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). The revolution in availability of information to otherwise unreachable parts of the world is making education in whatever one wants to learn not only accessible, but often free. In an effort to understand the MOOC better, I enrolled in a free “Intro to Philosophy” couse offered through the University of Edinburgh on Coursera, and found it to be well done, and enjoyable.
One thing that interested me with regards to an intro to philosophy course though, was the dodging, nearly complete avoidance of the conversation about God, or how the introduction of a deity into philosophy changes the conversation. Longstanding debates, like the proper view of moral values and duties, become easily solvable. Modern philosophy, at least at the University of Edinburgh, seems to consider the God debate settled though. Or perhaps the topic is just too complex for an introductory course.
In any case, part of the course involved selecting from a list of questions, and writing a 750 word essay in response. If you’ve read any of my other ramblings, you’ll know morality is a topic that interests me, so I chose the question, “Should we be moral relativists?”
There are two major camps on the source of morality. Essentially, one camp that claims it is relative to us, either individuals or cultures. Morals are defined by people. This is relativism. The other camp claims morality is a feature of the universe, like the laws of physics. Morals are unchaging, and can only be discovered or described by people, but people don’t give them their definition. This is objectivism.
It is an interesting debate, who’s outcome I believe seriously affects the way we live. Whether you’ve thought about it or not, you are either a realativist (of some stripe), or an objectivist. Think about it. Which are you and why? If you consider yourself a relativist, on what grounds do you condemn behavior you consider morally wrong? If you consider yourself an objectivist, what source do you cite for moral “laws”? In both cases, you’re trying to determine what gives an action its moral properties, if any.
In any case, after the MOOC wraps up, I’ll post my essay answering the question “Should we be moral relativists?”