Foundations for Atheist Morality: The Relativist View Part V

3 May

In our first four installments of “Foundations for Atheist Morality”, we examined the argument that moral right and wrong may be determined relative to the views of the majority within a given society.  We discussed the dangers of basing morality on those views which provide cohesion within a cultural group and took a look at the problems of selecting dominant societies based upon either power or value.  In our two-part conclusion, we’ll take a look at the problems faced by those who would try to determine the actual views of the majority within any society – and the moral questions which accompany the application of such views.

It is necessary for our readers to understand that a “majority” is simply that portion of society with the greatest numbers.  We are told that 50% +1 forms a “simple majority” and, at least in congress, this is sufficient to pass any law with the exception of an amendment to the constitution. In a small society like that of a family of five, three members would constitute the majority (50% + 1, give or take half a family member).  If the goal is to determine the prevailing moral view, one would need to interview individuals until three members were found to be in agreement.  Finding the majority consensus within such a group would prove to be a fairly easy take.  Finding a majority consensus in a community of 50,000 or a nation of 313 million people, however, is not nearly as simple.

For example, if I am to discover the actual moral views of the majority of the citizens in a town with a population of 50,000, I must find at least 25,001 people who are in agreement.  It is unlikely (unless most of the citizens are robots) that I will find such an agreement without interviewing far more than just 25,001 people.  In other words, I must survey well upwards of 50% of the population if I am to come to a clear and unquestionable verdict regarding the majority view within the township.

Exchange that town of 50,000 for a nation of 313 million people and the difficulty becomes even more apparent.  Now, if I am to determine the actual moral views of the majority, I must find 156,500,001 people who agree.  To give a clearer picture, there are only a little over 207 million registered voters in the U.S.  For the majority of the country’s opinion to be made clear, 156,500,001 of those or 76% of all registered voters would have to cast identical votes!  That this is unlikely is evident and I would be forced, instead, to go door to door, interviewing each individual until I reached the coveted 156,500,001 coherent moral opinions.  A monumental task, to say the least and one which, until accomplished, leaves the morality of the societal relativist hanging in limbo!

But what if such a task could be accomplished?  Next week, we’ll take a look at one final question plaguing the societal relativist: is 50% + 1 really sufficient if one is to authoritatively enforce a moral view upon others?

 

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