Moral Relativism and it’s seat among Politics

To make sure we are all on the same page the following definition of Moral Relativism is used: “Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.” Moral relativism has carved it’s path through history guiding the actions of leaders and followers alike and has been brought to the attention of philosophers since the dawn of thought itself. The most recent philosopher that has been brought to my attention is Henry David Thoreau and his “defense” of Captain John Brown.

John BrownThis (in)famous gentleman is known for a few things but the most notable are his attack on Harpers ferry and the Pottawatomie Killings. In the eyes of most it could be called appalling and gruesome but for some, such as Brown himself and Thoreau, it was valorous, heroic and righteous. In his writing A Plea for Captain John Brown, Thoreau goes on to state that “When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted himself, and how religiously, and then reflect to what cause his judges and all who condemn him so angrily and fluently devote themselves, I see that they are as far apart as the heavens and earth are asunder.” essentially defending the man who was more than likely a large part of the start of the Civil War, which as we know was a large political dispute. Another great instance great instance in which American Politics fell victim to moral relativism is a story of one of our very own presidents, James K. Polk. The prelude to the Mexican-American War begins with Polk trying to negotiate with Mexico about the boundary of Texas. Negotiate is a very loosely used word in this context because it is believed that Polk didn’t really want to work anything out but rather take the land by force. In his mind he was doing the right thing in expanding America’s borders and establishing a powerful image. In the end a group of American soldiers were attacked and killed by Mexican forces giving Polk the excuse to start the war he thought was right. The Mexican-American war did break out, it may have been what Polk wanted but many Americans thought it waste a waste of lives and resources.

Mexican American War

The point in bringing up these two gentleman is showing the power of moral relativism with individuals (Brown) and with someone who has power over many individuals (Polk). In a long round about way it brings me to my questions regarding the mixing of moral relativism and politics: Should political leader’s actions and policies be guided by Moral Relativism (doing what they personally believe is right or wrong be it for themselves or the country) or should we as a singular community come together and create a template of preset protocols our leaders must follow while in power (for the sake of argument it should be assumed that if a problem came about that was not mentioned in the protocols that either moral relativism may take over or as a community we will once again convene to address the issue)?


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4 Responses to Moral Relativism and it’s seat among Politics

  1. jcpartida says:

    I enjoyed what you wrote about the power of Moral Relativism.. At First it wasn’t clear why you were talking about it, I didn’t know where you were going or were going to end up, but once you got to the conclusion I firmly stood with you. Based on what you have said I may still have to agree on the side of guidance by moral relativism. Otherwise our leaders become a conduit, without any independent authority. I feel by being a conduit the chances of corruption rise, for who would define the community and would it continue to be the right community as well? The reason of appointing someone is to acknowledge that “us” the individual can’t do it, or doesn’t have time, or isn’t involved enough. That the appointed person can and will do a good job, because we trust in the system, and though the system can and has failed, it’s the principality of the ideal. I say individuality (and the risk that comes with it) over conduits anytime.

  2. alxtower says:

    I think this argument can be boiled down to one of individual rights vs the good of the community. While an individual often believes what they’re doing is right, if that doesn’t agree with the rest of their society they are vilified and shunned. De Tocqueville discusses how political leaders are so terrified to do anything that doesn’t sit well with the majority and they lose their political power because of it. However, I think there is a fairly easy solution, even if it’s difficult to actually practice. The individual has every right until their right begins to infringe on the rights of another individual, and an elected body is responsible for solving issues between parties. While this may not have sat well with Jon Brown, living within this system is what gives our society order and peace. Without civil discourse, there is no point to society at all. Great post.

  3. nshah210 says:

    So what you’re saying that everything is based on perspective? Isn’t that what life’s all about? Or kinda, isn’t that the definition of opinion, basically judging people based on your bias as well as the bias you have encountered? I am not disagreeing with what you stated, just don’t get the difference between moral relativism and opinions.

  4. trose91 says:

    I enjoyed your post. I’ve been very confused understanding Thoreau. I just found that I was consonantly getting lost in his writings. You have helped me understand him and what he is trying to get across to others. I have attached a video that I fell that you may like. Again great post, and thanks for sharing.

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