Chapters Bookshelf

Relativism Range

Protagoras

You step out of the carriage and find yourself standing at the edge of a botanical garden. As you begin to stroll through and admire the flowers, you notice that this garden is very bizarre. Orchids are planted next to thistles; rose bushes are next to stink weed. What kind of garden is this? you wonder. In the middle of this wilderness of thorns and flowers, you see a large brass statue of a Yin-Yang with the inscription, “In memory of Zhuangzi.” The garden has a strange beauty, but you are not sure if it really is to your personal taste. Walking a little further, you come across a gardener busily watering a crop of dandelions.

“Hello,” you call to the laborer. “My name is . This is an interesting garden you have here. There are some elements of beauty here, but might I ask why you’ve deliberately planted weeds next to exotic flowers?”

“Well, beauty is really in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it, ? While some people enjoy roses, others prefer stinkweed. Therefore, I cultivate them all. Who am I to tell what is best – it is all relative to the individual. My name is Protagoras, by the way.”

“It is nice to meet you,” you reply. “I am on a quest to discover ethical knowledge. Could you please explain the foundations of your ethics?”

“Of course,” Protagoras quickly replies. “It’s pretty basic, actually. Much like the beauty in this garden, ethics is really relative to each individual. Actions that you find abhorrent, I might find perfectly acceptable. You have your views and I have mine, who is to say who is better or more correct?”

“But, I don’t understand. What are your standards for morality?” you question.

“That is the beauty - there are no standards nor is there any type of objective right or wrong. I mean, think about it. Philosophers have been investigating the question of morality since ancient times - you would think we’d have some answers or at least some agreement. But we don’t – we simply cannot agree on basic moral values or principles. Thus, we conclude that ethical values are relative.”

“That is not helpful to me,” you retort, “because I am on a quest to discover ethical knowledge that I can bring back to my community and rebuild our civilization. Telling me that everything is relative is not concrete. What does right and wrong mean in your society?”

Protagoras looks at you a little bit impatiently. “Right and wrong are simply words whose meaning are dependent upon personal opinion. Morality is chosen by each individual much like a work of art. , you will not discover morality through a quest; you must invent it for yourself.”