Trust is a pretty important factor that plays a positive role in a functioning society. To trust someone basically entails that you can rely on the actions of another person to conform to certain virtues or expectations while basically abandoning your own control over the situation.
Let’s look at two examples of where trust plays an important role. Firstly, you have money to do empirical research. You provide the money to a scientific researcher with a good track record and you ask him to do research on the clinical effects of a certain compound. You trust the scientist to use your money in such a manner that will result in good results. You are basically abandoning your own control over the situation (doing your own research) and transferring control to another. The outcome is unknown, but you trust that it will end in a certain manner i.e. good results.
Secondly, in a democratic society the voters vote for politicians whom they trust will do the job they want them to do. For example, if voters want a certain service and a political party makes certain promises and the voters like the promises and they vote for the party, then the voters are essentially abandoning their own control and transferring control to the party. Again, the outcome is unknown but the voters trust that the party leaders will stick to their word.
Now there are at least two ways to be a moral relativist. You can agree that different cultures have different moral values and that there is not a single universal moral that is shared by all cultures. Call it “descriptive moral relativism”. You can also assert that there are no objectively and intrinsically good or evil actions. Call it “meta-ethical moral relativism”. Empirical data seems to suggest that descriptive moral relativism is true. It is however a logical fallacy to claim that this demonstrates that meta-ethical moral relativism is true. A person can be a descriptive moral relativist and not be a meta-ethical moral relativist.
There are also at least two ways to be a moral absolutist. The first way is to argue that if action X is absolutely and intrinsically morally wrong then action X is ALWAYS absolutely and intrinsically morally wrong. Call it “universal moral absolutism”. The second way is argue that if it is wrong for one person to commit act X in situation Z, then it is wrong for any person to commit act X in the same situation Z. The second view thus allows for a situation where action X in situation Z is wrong but is not absolutely and intrinsically wrong at different moments. Call it “situational moral absolutism”.
In what way can a person be trusted you may ask? Here again there are at least two ways to trust a person. One can trust a person based on reason and logic and one can trust a person in a manner that is not based on reason and logic. For example a person can trust another for emotional reasons, whatever they may be. You can basically trust anything or any person in a manner that is not based on reason and logic. You can trust a wild lion that is chasing after you to not eat you because you may perhaps be emotionally attached to cats, or you can trust you’re a hijacker not to kill you because you think deep down he is a good person. To trust someone or something in a way that is not based on reason and logic is basically trusting a person or something on faith that is not grounded in any reason and logic. People of course do this all the time, it’s called blind faith.
Now the kind of moral relativism I wish to focus on in this entry is the one that denies both kinds of moral absolutism discussed and I want to know how any person can trust a meta-ethical moral relativist in a manner that is based on reason and logic?
Let’s get back to the two examples. Is there any way a person can logically trust a scientist to do good research (irrespective of his credentials) if he states that there are no objectively and intrinsically good or evil actions? Is there any way a voter can logically trust the promises of a person that states that there are no objectively and intrinsically good or evil actions?
In both of the above cases I would argue no and in general I don’t think there is a logical and rational way to trust a meta-ethical moral relativist. The moral beliefs of a meta-ethical moral relativist might be just what the voters or hos financial backers are looking for. He or she might believe individual rights are good, but he can’t believe they are objectively good, and does think it is only relatively bad and good. He might later on change his mind on any issue he supported, or lie about anything and still think his choices are relatively good and relatively bad. A meta-ethical moral relativist can basically lie, be corrupt and fake a very good personality, policies and empirical data and still feel morally superior to those who disapprove of his choices, even if he contradicts himself.
A few studies have now pointed out that atheists are among the most distrusted groups of people. I wonder whether this has something to do with how people may perceive atheists as meta-ethical moral relativists?
The main issue is how can you trust a meta-ethical moral relativist in such manner that does not collapse into blind faith that is not grounded in reason and logic?