Book Review: A Refutation Of Moral Relativism

A Refutation Of Moral Relativism:  Interviews With An Absolutist, by Peter Kreeft

This book gives a fictive debate where the author creates an imaginary Socratic dialogue between two characters, a black feminist named Libby and a conservative Middle Eastern man named ‘Isa who debate over the course of eleven imaginary interviews over the legitimacy of relativism and absolutism.  The interviews contain as their subject matter such delightful subjects as the importance of moral relativism and its threat to salvation, what is moral relativism (there are at least four strains of relativism), the history of relativism, the data that allows us to make a judgment on it from history and experience, the arguments (and rebuttals) for relativism from self-esteem and cultural relativity; social conditioning, freedom, and tolerance; and situations, intentions, projection, and evolution; arguments for moral absolutism, the philosophical assumptions of absolutism, and the cause and cure of relativism.  If you like reading a lot about the philosophical arguments over ultimate and absolute truth [1] and you have a high tolerance for imaginary dialogues where the author plays both sides of a topic in order to encourage a particular worldview and belief, you may enjoy this book, although it made for some deeply unsettling reading for me, and it was probably a mistake on my part to read this book mainly at night.

The reason why this book was so deeply unsettling is that the author stacks the deck against the absolutist by making him an unappealing and possibly Muslim man and then has him completely demolish the arguments of his progressive interlocutor in a very unpleasant way.  The arguments themselves take on rather unpleasant argumentative angles, and the way that the author tries to make this less unappealing is by assuring the reader that the two people got along better while fishing and enjoying the beach (imaginary conversations not recorded in the book) than they did in the testy and even nasty debate between them.  The author also points out, in a way that does not sound appealing, that the two of them met together while staying in the same house in the late 1970’s with a few other imaginary (?) people that the author threatens to write about as part of an allegorical work about the big tent of Catholicism.  It is hard to imagine this book being less authentic and less appealing despite the strong interest of its subject material.

Somehow the author managed to take the subject of defending moral absolutes and turned it into a ugly and nasty argument that would be pretty easy to imagine taking place in real life, only without the relativists admitting their errors.  This book also manages another interesting feat, and that is demonstrating that the mere admission of moral absolutes is not very far along the path to salvation.  The book seems to spend its entire two-hundred pages or so on second things rather than first things.  The arguments over philosophy, over the misuse of Occam’s Razor and the evils of nominalism and the foolish giveaway that Kant made in order to preserve the view of some sort of moral absolute in his own philosophical worldview all have the air of unreality.  After all, neither of the people in the argument are godly or Christian people.  The author may want to build a big tent of moral absolutists to join with the Catholics in defending a culture of life, and in this he apparently is furthering the interests of the Roman Catholic Church.  However, this task does nothing concerning salvation, as these people are not converted, not obedient to God’s ways, and are spending their time arguing about philosophy and seeking to be wise in the world’s eyes.  This book is a misstep, sadly.  It is intelligent and learned, but for all that still a misstep.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: A Refutation Of Moral Relativism

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