I don't understand the bolded sentences from this Reddit post by user 'GFYsexyfatman' in 2015.

So as the article suggests, let's think of them as two independent dichotomies: one between absolutism and relativism; the other between objectivism and subjectivism.

Absolutists hold that if act X is morally wrong, it's wrong for everyone in all cultures in all circumstances. So if "lying is wrong", then lying is absolutely wrong, whether you're playing a game or in a culture that makes lying acceptable or whatever else. By contrasts, relativists hold that whether an act X is wrong depends on the person who does X or the culture in which X is done. So relativists can think that lying is right for Jane, but wrong for John - or right in Spain, but wrong in Australia. Absolutists can't think that.

Let's look at objectivism and subjectivism now. Objectivists hold that moral facts are mind-independent: they would be true whatever humans thought of them. If murder is wrong now, then the objectivist thinks that even if aliens changed everyone's minds to love murder with mad science, murder would still be wrong. Subjectivists, on the other hand, think moral facts are mind-dependent. They think that what's right and wrong depends upon what we feel about them. So subjectivists think that aliens could change what's right and wrong by changing the minds of everyone on the planet.

You can be an absolutist subjectivist: [1.] moral facts are mind-dependent, but everyone's mind is the same in the relevant respects, so moral facts apply to everyone in just the same way.

You can be an absolutist objectivist: moral facts are just out there in the world, and they apply to everyone equally.

You can be a relativist objectivist: moral facts are out there in the world, independent of us, but they're highly dependent on individual circumstances or cultural context.

You can be a relativist subjectivist: [2.] moral facts are mind-dependent, and since we all have different minds[,] different things are right and wrong for each of us.

  1. Am I correct that in 1, 'relevant respects' refers to those facets or features relevant to 'moral facts'?

  2. Doesn't 1 imply 2? Because 'everyone's mind is the same in the relevant respects' ⇒ 'everyone's mind differs in the IRrelevant respects' ⇒ 'we all have different minds'?

  3. If the answer to 4 is yes, then is Absolutist Subjectivism a hyponym of Relativist Subjectivism?

  • I suspect the intention behind #4 was that our minds differ in ways that are relevant to our judgments about morality, unlike in #1 where our minds can differ but are "the same in the relevant aspects" when it comes to moral judgments. The only way to be sure would be to ask the person who wrote it, you could try messaging them on reddit but it looks like they haven't posted since June of 2018 so they might not still be checking the account. – Hypnosifl Mar 23 '20 at 0:41
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    The author is making up his own stuff. The terminology he applies isn't standard. The last bolded sentence about relativist subjectivist is what correctly referred to as DESCRIPTIVE ETHICS in philosophy. Seems the author didn't know the term or that particular field of ETHICS. Philosophy for instance is concerned with NORMATIVE ETHICS --not other kinds of ethics. What are moral facts? Would be nice to know what the author thinks but he leaves us guessing. Objective truths are absolute. So separating absolute & objective is an issue. What are relevant respects & if it applies to all =objective – Logikal Mar 23 '20 at 15:00


As Logikal has noted, the post in question has a response that can be characterized as idiosyncratic. Anyone can philosophize in the broad sense, but professional philosophers and highly-educated amateurs gravitate towards conventions in language to express ideas. Imagine your surgeon showing up with her own names for bones and vasculature! Because it's not as obvious ideas kill people (though arguably they do), anyone can philosophize without a license (and should IMNSHO).

Roughly, ethics and epistemology are two very large branches of philosophy, the former being concerned with truth and falsity, the latter with virtues and vices. They are intertwined, naturally. Major theories of truth include those of correspondence, coherence, pragmatism, deflation, and disquotation. In ethics, there is meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Until you understand roughly what each is, it's easy to get confused conceptually. Roughly, epistemological concerns answer a question like 'what is true; real or not contradictory', and ethical ones revolve around 'what do I value and what should I do'. All about 'What is?' and 'What Ought?'.

The post in question attempts to create a conceptual taxonomy based on a simple permutation across two variables: degree of moral absolutism vs. relativism, and degree of subjectivity or objectivity. Now central to decoding this taxonomy are ontological questions. What is the nature of these moral ideas? Are ideas out "there" somewhere or they in "here". This is the issue of subjectivity and objectivity and is roughly correspondent to issues of duality, often expressed as Cartesian duality. Plato thought math ideas were out "there". George Lakoff believes ideas are in "here".

Note that though the taxonomy is non-conventional and muddled, some sense can be made of it, and your questions speak to questions of logical relations. In the peculiar nomenclature of the poster, as best as I can interpret:

  • An absolutist subjectivist holds that there exists a universal human morality because human minds are essentially the same and construct it. This would be some form of psychological altruism, something akin to the ideas that E.O. Wilson proposes in his sociobiology (distinct from biological altruism) and that is embraced roughly by humanists.
  • An absolutist objectivist holds that there are transcendent values that exist by some external cause such as a god or gods and exists independent of the human mind. Traditional Christian theology might be an example of this category. An all-powerful God, Jahweh, has determined right and wrong for us, and applies to all humans everywhere and at all times.
  • A relativistic objectivist would hold that there are universal rights and wrongs, apparently either intrinsic or extrinsic to the mind, but contextually dependent as in situational ethics, but that the rights and wrongs are universal, say using the Kantian categorical imperative.
  • An relativistic subjectivist would hold that there are rights and wrongs independent of people and that ethics is situational, but it depends on the culture as in cultural relativism and other flavors of post-modernist thinking. This last categorization seems contradictory because generally rights and wrongs presumed to be independent of the mind are from a single source, as far as I know, but one could see this as competing meta-ethical systems. I guess in this category, one could claim that both Greek and Norse gods are human-independent sources of right and wrong, but that Greek morality applies to Greeks and Norse mythology applies to the Norse, and that neither the Greek nor Norse gods have a privileged position. Plus, Greeks could be free to argue over interpretation? This seems sort of meta-meta to me.

So, the OP from the other site seems to have developed a personal taxonomy which is awkward because the two dimensions seem to my limited mind to conflate the various ideas of situational and social context, transcendentalism, and constructivism while blurring the lines between meta-ethical and ethical systems. The taxonomy is mathematically appealing, but conceptually confusing, which is likely why it's idiosyncratic and not conventional.

While the taxonomy is dubious, your questions are incisive.

Am I correct that in 1, 'relevant respects' refers to those facets or features relevant to 'moral facts'?

It depends on the ontological nature of how the relevant respects of the mind is defined. The can of worms here is the relationship between normativity (read value-laden subjectivity) and positivity (read value-free objectivity) of the mind. Is measuring purely objective? (It's not.) Does grammar and diction about reality influence the perception of reality? (To some extent it does.) Does math have a role to play in morality? (It does if you are a utilitarian.) This a can of worms because of debate over the fact-value distinction.

Doesn't 1 imply 2? Because 'everyone's mind is the same in the relevant respects' ⇒ 'everyone's mind differs in the IRrelevant respects' ⇒ 'we all have different minds'?

There is some stark black and white thinking in the dichotomy because the subjectivist position claims everyone's mind is the same, and the objectivist position presumes everyone's mind is different, and of course, both are true to an extent. This situation in philosophy is paradoxical and leads the discussion about dialetheistic logic which allows for contradictions to be evaluated at some sort of meta-level. The logical implication arises from a binary definition of classification that is all-inclusive and obeys the law of the excluded middle.

If the answer to 4 is yes, then is Absolutist Subjectivism a hyponym of Relativist Subjectivism?

Yes, conditional on your presuppositions about the validity of claiming there is a meta-meta-ethics. In this two-axis matrix (S,O)x(A,R), AS is not a type of RS because the criterion that differentiates membership Absolutism from Relativism creates a mutual exclusion by logical contradiction on a meta-ethical level. There cannot be ONE set of right and wrongs absolutely and then and have everyone have their own relative set. BUT, one could say that one's meta-ethical beliefs are themselves subject to a form of relativism. For instance, note a scientifically minded atheist could claim that the only valid meta-ethical reality is that there is no god, and all morality is a universal human morality that we more or less all share (with pathological exceptions), and yet another atheist could claim that it's meta-ethically permissible for less "developed" cultures to be allowed to continue in their "universal" meta-ethical belief that there is one true God and all else is blasphemy (Think prime directive from Star Trek). In this case, it would appear that the taxonomy is recursive such that absolutist objectivists on two distinct planets are both wrong (only absolutist subjectivism is scientifically correct), but that it's permissible for political reasons to maintain that the cultural relativism of subjective relativism is pragmatically true. (This is where theory of truth has bearing).

Remember, if one sees this as a two-axis continuum that utilizes partial membership, the discussion gets more interesting. As an economist, you should be aware of the philosophical difference between integers and reals and crisp and fuzzy categories.

So, like many philosophical questions that ask, is it logically implied, the question ultimately boils down to metaphysical presuppositions about what constitutes logic and truth, and what it means to be right and wrong. These are the issues that metaphysicians wrestle with.

That was an incisive question (meaningless and muddled questions are less fun to answer). You clearly have the hallmarks of a critical thinker. Keep up the good work!

  • A thoughtful and incisive, answer to an untidy question. Note that in your bullet pointed bolded categories you wrote "relativist rejectivist," rather than the OP's "relativist subjectivist". I leave it to you to edit it if you wish. – gonzo Mar 28 '20 at 17:20
  • @gonzo Oh, you again. Thanks! I'll emend. I think you put out a question about Zammito's work. Sorry it fell of the things-to-do list. Uh, if you're an older white guy from Seattle, USA we may have a convo about it, because that's who passed on the reference originally. I found Derangement of Epistemes to be an excellent introduction into the contemporary history of the philosophy of science. My own thoughts are that we from logical empiricism/positivism where the metaphysical was with the development of language denied... – J D Mar 28 '20 at 18:13
  • to postmodernism where metaphysics is essentially denied since metaphysical language is equally absurd as waiting for Godot (both denials of course done with metaphysical discourse in the conventional sense). I found it a nice complement to Pinker's Blank Slate which argued essentially the nonsense as the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) or something like that. I find both excessive fact-orientation and value-orientaion to be equally absurd and an affront to the basic ideas of second-generation cognitive science and evolutionary psychology, and inconsistent with philsphy of information. – J D Mar 28 '20 at 18:17
  • You of the same mind? Thanks again! – J D Mar 28 '20 at 18:20
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    Yes. I loved the book, and agree about it complimenting Pinker's ideas re social science. In fact, I recently amended my answer to your months old query about whether Zammito's purpose was to disentangle the relationship between postpositivism and postmodernism, finding your characterization to be justified, but not exhaustive of the author's intent. That is, he was also critical of the non-PoMo "hyperbolic dogmas of antiempiricism" which he perceives to have pervaded postpositivism over the last few decades of the 20th Century. – gonzo Mar 28 '20 at 19:08

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