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July 14, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Another critique of skepticism and moral relativism in debate

Philosopher Peter Kreeft takes on relativism which is the end result of skepticism (link)

To me skepticism results in paralysis.

It undermines freedom, because it leaves you with little or no way to asset freedom or rights protections to government….because those are all relative.

Relativism is the antithesis of rationality and ultimately a dead end. Genocide, rape, and all forms of domination and violence become an “anything goes” anarchy of violence, death, and destruction.

Not to mention…..there no reason for the judge to be fair to your argument….because fairness, justice, and all values are “just relative.”

Also skepticism undermines the underlying values of the academy….truth and education…..meaning teachers can’t object to cheating and copying. The underlying impractically and devolution that results from this philosophy is tantamount to the opposite notions, ideals, or ends it might try to achieve.

Reply after someone else on the thread responded:

Eliminating ethics… functionally the same thing that relativism is. A world of eliminating ethics would result in relativism.

And….if you aren’t really standing against ethics…NEWSFLASH…there is no link argument.

Your notion that its “more nuanced” than that… I guess kind of helpful (I am glad you highlighted my not being quite as nuanced as the actual argument) but my notion is that a duck is a duck is a duck. Or at least it results in ducks (even if its not a duck itself).

The idea that I think ethics is terrible….but somehow I get to retain certain aspects of ethics which make ethics ethical… something that links to the critique…..or proves the link. Its pretty either/or in this case.

What is the way in which the alternative does something else?

Its unethical to commit genocide and other stuff I talked about….I favor that language….you deprive me of that right. Given the philosophers involved its not a rhetoric critique……..and even if it was….the same advantage vs. disadvantage issues would still apply.

No language of ethics means I can’t say “there is a REASON why we scream never again–and an ethical one at that.” Getting rid of ethics gets rid of both of those considerations.

The other alternative in terms of explanation is walking through the ways in which the skep cards indict ethics.

Plus….I can’t imagine these authors actually defending this crazy nuanced version you are talking about. its totally incoherant. (I don’t like “X author only advocates this argument, this way……..just not a fan…..but I think its a bright line on this particular case.) The double-bind I outlined above kind of helps with that.

Also, defend the specific ethics you justify. Your aff at a minumum should be a starting point.

Indicting values…..with values……is just a dead end. Indicting value talk…..similarly a dead end. We need value talk and righhts talk for far too much. It would be like getting rid of “time” talk or “money” talk…..they serve survival and other needs.

I can break it down into math:

Power + Ethics = Accountability. Power – ethics or being super skeptical of ethics = power, domination, and bullets.

Is there a more “nuanced” way to look at this that I’m missing?


I appreciate your attempts to defend skepticism…..and you’re more than willing to try further I guess:

At the top… one has really articulated how this is different from relativism.
At best its a sub-set of relativism. Individual relativism or cultural relativism whatever.

Shared values are the basis of resolving conflicts.
Shared values are the basis of civilization.
Shared values are the basis of progress.

Value talk is necessary to resolve conflicts.

Skepticism is functionally ethical anarchism… which values, ethics, and norms fall into a void of nothingness, nihilism, and destruction. This is Somalia writ large.

Hayden says:

Even then, every single philosophical concepts or ethic can either justify or not justify these atrocities, util in particular.

1) Deontology. Person to person ethics. Nope.

2) Rule utilitarianism contains checks. For instance, you can be utilitarian, but do no harm in the process. Nope.

3) Negative rights. Nope. thats the philosophy I articulated. Nope.

4) Social contract might cause us to look at competing claims, but those are alway going to return to fundamental principles consonant with a rights framework (see also 2 and 3) Nope.

So its 4 to 0 for me on this account. I only have to win one. You’re assuming probably act-utilitarianism. Not my argument.

Ixions wheel or others:

How does a distinction between normative values and ethics make sense? I don’t know any philosopher worth his/her salt that would say these differ in a meaningful way. If there is any difference–it doesn’t seem to be relevant to this discussion.

Ethical values: freedom, rights, dignity, justice, fairness, and common good.
Normative values: freedom, rights, dignity, justice, fairness, and common good.

Also, if they do, why can’t the value the debater is advocating also be a “normative value” instead of an “ethical value.”
If we think about normative being a PIK of sorts of ethics…..the other team can just align themselves with this term and jettison ethics.

I’m pretty sure that skepticism assumes that rationality is the only basis for ethical values….there’s also room to innovate and critique from alternative perspectives to that model and otherwise critique that assumption.

This thread was about discussing how to run skepticism in LD, there are plenty of comments here that express that running skep might not be the best idea, but is a viable strategy. I would encourage you to do some actual reading on the subject, truly think about the in round use and provide something meaningful to the discussion. Finally I would hope that you avoid the continued use of a pedagogy that will do nothing but promote the narrowminded-ness, inconsistent argumentation, and lack of educational philosophical discussion. This kind of pedagogy is bad for you, your students, and the debate community as a whole.

Wait did you just appeal to an ethical stance? What? Guess those are important.

First, I’m creating a marketplace of ideas. Thats freedom and democracy. Thats debate…last time I checked.

Second, this isn’t narrow minded. I’m appealing to common ground, common sense, and common experience. Thats not narrow minded.

I would suggest saying violence against others is the narrow-minded argument here.


One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. compassioninpolitics / Jul 15 2014 8:28 pm

    Businesses have mission statements.

    History proves this to be true.

    Problem solving methodologies all start with goals, purposes, and objectives.

    Change takes place based on values. BAV.

    Ethics and values. We are normative creatures. Its baked into us and our communication. Its a question if its ethical values or power and domination values.

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