The Case For Absolutism

Kreeft pulls no punches criticizing relativism

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

If the title of the latest book by Prof. Peter Kreeft (Philosophy) seems dry, the prose isnít.

In A Refutation of Moral Relativism, one of Americaís premier conservative Catholic apologists takes the "pro-choice on everything" philosophy he sees prevalent in the West today and, in breezy Socratic fashion, logically and thoroughly dismantles it.

"I want to give moral relativism the good spanking it deserves," said the unabashedly absolutist Kreeft in a recent interview at his Carney Hall office, lined with figurines of the medieval gargoyles he acknowledges some modernists may believe he resembles.


"Moral relativism says morality is relative, not absolute," he said. "I want to show moral relativism, in its popular form, is logically incoherent.

"I think most people who call themselves relativists are not, in practice," he added. "Most people believe you have to have some moral absolutes if you want to hold back chaos."

A Refutation of Moral Relativism, Kreeftís 40th book, is presented in the form of a Socratic dialogue between two fictitious friends over the course of a week at a cottage on Marthaís Vineyard.

Prof. Peter Kreeft (Philosophy): "I want to give moral relativism the good spanking it deserves."

The interviewer, Libby Rawls, a "classy, sassy Black feminist" journalist, is an attractive, honest and funny relativist. The interviewee, íIsa Ben Adam, is a sometimes arrogant Arab Muslim fundamentalist who teaches college philosophy and is portrayed as having a mind "both blunt and sharp at the same time."

In an engaging series of conversations between the two, every conceivable argument the reader ­ in the guise of sympathetic relativist Libby ­ raises against absolutism is simply and clearly refuted by íIsa.

Absolute moral law does not make people unhappy or less free, íIsa maintains, but instead keeps them happy and free, as a road map protects a driver on a dangerous road. If the relativist believes moral rightness differs by culture, he continues, only the believer in an absolute higher law has any moral basis to criticize or demand change in a culture; only the absolutist can be a true progressive, calling society to a higher good.

Making tolerance paramount assumes the goodness of tolerance as a moral absolute, íIsa observes, but if no moral values are absolute, neither is tolerance.

íIsa scorns the fashionable academic philosophy of Deconstructionism, which he says denies objective reality beyond texts, thus making "morality as arbitrary as penmanship."

"If you didnít believe in objective truth, arguments would be just toys, or games, or jokes," says íIsa, condemning Deconstructionism as the decadent "end of sanity and civilization," a philosophy that should be confronted as if it were "an evil, perverted, nasty little kid smashing a chandelier with a hammer."

Kreeft admits that he, like his character íIsa, can be blunt. But the times demand unvarnished talk on moral good and evil, he maintains, even at the risk of bruising some peopleís sense of self-esteem.

"The logical consequence of a society that revolves around not offending anyone is that the bullies will win," said Kreeft, who quotes Mussolini himself on the topic:

"From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value," Il Duce wrote approvingly, "the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable."

In other words, said Kreeft, moral relativism ó the belief that there is "nothing right or wrong, but thinking makes it so" ó is the sort of philosophy that leads ultimately to the gas chamber. For if no objective standard of good or evil exists, he said, by what authority do we declare Hitlerís view wrong, rather than simply different?

"Moral relativism has a reputation for being compassionate, caring and humane," said Kreeft, "but it is an extremely useful philosophy for tyrants."

Kreeft is currently at work on a textbook for the average reader on Socratic logic. A Refutation of Moral Relativism is the 10th of his books to be rendered in his favorite form, the Socratic give-and-take.

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