16 Dec 2012

G. K. Chesterton on Moral Relativism

Religious 72 Comments

From “On the Wit of Whistler” in Heretics:

Unquestionably it is a very common phrase of modern intellectualism to say that the morality of one age can be entirely different to the morality of another. And like a great many other phrases of modern intellectualism, it means literally nothing at all. If the two moralities are entirely different, why do you call them both moralities? It is as if a man said, “Camels in various places are totally diverse; some have six legs, some have none, some have scales, some have feathers, some have horns, some have wings, some are green, some are triangular. There is no point which they have in common.”…Of course, there is a permanent substance of morality, as much as there is a permanent substance of art; to say that is only to say that morality is morality and art is art.

72 Responses to “G. K. Chesterton on Moral Relativism”

  1. Z says:

    I have a hypothesis. Suppose there is no such thing as a ‘moral intuition’ at all. Maybe there is no feeling that we can call morality. Maybe we just have feelings of disgust, anger, embarrassment, etc, and over time, because of our parents and such, we learn to associate certain of those feelings in certain circumstances with the terms immoral, wrong, etc. Do you think that this is true? And if it is, then would this mean that a ‘natural law’ view of morality, though hard or impossible to discover, would be the only legitimate theory of morality left?

    • Christopher says:

      Are you a materialist?

      • Z says:

        No, not necessarily. I’m not really sure what I am.

    • Ken B says:

      I thinks it’s wrong. Most people have moral emotions.
      This is not the same as saying we all have the same emotions and reactions. It’s logically possible to be both a complete intuitionist and a complete relativist.

  2. Jonathan M.F. Catalán says:

    The objection doesn’t seem all too rigorous. If morality is defined as a set of beliefs regarding which actions/intentions are “good” and which are “bad,” then why can’t different people hold different sets of beliefs? Morality, in a sense, is a category, and there can be many different sets of varying moral principles within said category. That moral systems can be different doesn’t undermine the purpose of categorizing something as morality.

    • Bala says:

      “then why can’t different people hold different sets of beliefs?”

      I don’t think that’s the question. The issue is whether morality is relative or absolute. That people believe that something is moral does not make it moral.

      “Morality, in a sense, is a category, and there can be many different sets of varying moral principles within said category.”

      How can it be simultaneously right and wrong to kill a person (the same person in both cases)?

      • Jonathan M.F. Catalán says:

        I don’t think that’s the question. The issue is whether morality is relative or absolute. That people believe that something is moral does not make it moral.

        Right, but the excerpt is making an argument as to why morality can’t be relative. My point is that the argument is nonsense.

        How can it be simultaneously right and wrong to kill a person (the same person in both cases)?

        If you think morality is subjective, different people can hold different moral principles. If you don’t think morality is objective, than there can be conflicting moralities.

        • Bala says:

          A lot hinges on the answer to the question “What IS morality?”

    • Jason B says:

      I’m with Jonathan. Morality can be quite culturally subjective, just as many things are in the market. For example, currently there are cultures who consume dogs and cats as a part of their diet. But here in the U.S. if you even raise your voice at a dog or cat you are labeled emotionally unstable. The thought of consuming either pet would be characterized as morally disgusting.

      Using vocal construct within a given language to describe a specific object is a communicative issue, i.e.: “we call this hump back long legged desert dweller with a saliva control issue a “camel” “. That has nothing to do with whether another culture holds morals differently than another, therefore the argument is unfortunately of no use.

    • Sam Geoghegan says:

      Then what “morality A” expresses as god or bad, must necessarily diverge from good and bad of “morality B”. I don’t think that different sets of beliefs beget different morals, rather, morality is universal (like the capacity for language) and beliefs are provincial.
      Morals expressed specifically through regional beliefs, probably loosely resemble one other. In cases where they diverge, it can probably be explained through environmental or cultural aberration. The one example that comes to mind is child abuse, which can cause complete distortions in in morality and behaviour.

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      re: “The objection doesn’t seem all too rigorous. “

      Jonathan is in a generous mood apparently.

      If Chesterton is right, he did not work very hard to convince us he is.

  3. Chase Hampton says:

    Art is art. Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh… now you tell me what you know.

  4. P.S. Huff says:

    I agree with Jonathan: this is casuistry. When relativists say that the moralities of two societies are completely different, they don’t mean to deny that they have a defining characteristic in common (namely, that both are sets of beliefs about appropriate conduct). What they mean is that the societies disagree completely about what types of behavior are, in fact, appropriate.

    Having said that, I would be shocked if anyone could produce an example of two societies with completely different moral codes. Significantly different, yes; radically different, maybe. But completely?

    • Egoist says:

      What is the definition of “society”? Country?

      How about instead of “societies”, which is fuzzy, you consider examples of individuals who behave towards others in ways that suggest completely different moralities? Would you be as “shocked”?

    • Egoist says:

      When relativists say that the moralities of two societies are completely different, they don’t mean to deny that they have a defining characteristic in common (namely, that both are sets of beliefs about appropriate conduct).

      What about when relativists say the content of moralities is completely different from age to age?

  5. Tel says:

    … morality of one age can be entirely different to the morality of another …

    Is there an example of someone saying that?

    I would disagree, moral codes of different groups of people tend to be different, but never entirely different. Problem is that if you took only the morality that every society on Earth agreed on, you wouldn’t have much.

    If you took only the artwork that every art critic was happy with, you would have even less.

    • Egoist says:

      Is there an example of someone saying that?

      Ooh ooh! I know! I know! Pick me! Pick me!

      Mr. Arthur Symons.

      • Tel says:

        See at the bottom, I’ve put some real Symons quotes, possibly not the ones that Chesterton was paraphrasing, but enough to demonstrate Symons had considerable understanding of subtlety that Chesterton was obviously unable to pick up on.

        If Chesterton didn’t want to argue a straw man he (or you) could find some real references.

  6. devo says:

    interesting. i would say morality is absolute though. something to be learned, studied, and practiced. the non-aggression principle does not change depending on where you are. maybe like a multiple choice question there will always be a most right, or most moral answer. that’s morality, whats most right – not most easy. and its absolute and universal. however you could argue that “most right” can be dependent on the universally preferable behavior of the region. however if that behavior is still bad or wrong (to us), then i would not call that morality or morality of the times. it would just be a very low level on the “scale” of morality, which again is what is most right.

  7. Daniel Kuehn says:

    I don’t get it Bob.

    Could you explain a little more about why morality is like an animal species? I’m not sure how this can be a meaningful claim by Chesterton except by mere assertion.

    Here I can play this game: food is different everywhere. In some places food has a lot of curry in it and in some places food has a lot of corn syrup in it. But it’s all food.

    Anyone going to disagree with me on that? Anyone going to claim that it’s “meaningless”?

    So tell me why morality is like a particular animal species and not like food.

    What’s ironic is that although Chesterton is criticizing “intellectuals” here he’s doing a classic “intellectual” move: trying to sound deep by offering poorly reasoned platitudes.

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      Some words are more variable and some words are less variable. Chesterton desperately wants to say that morality – as a thing – is not variable. So he picks a word that is less variable and says “morality is like that”.

      That’s not an argument at all.

      • Egoist says:

        Speaking of poorly reasoned platitudes…

        If you had bothered to read the full essay, Chesterton is responding to a Mr. Arthur Symons, who argued in his book that morality “should be wholly subordinated to art in criticism”, on the basis that “art or the worship of beauty is the same in all ages, while morality differs in every period and in every respect.”

        Chesterton claimed this reasoning is circular.

        Chesterton then wrote:

        “He [MF: Symons] appears to defy his critics or his readers to mention any permanent feature or quality in ethics. This is surely a very curious example of that extravagant bias against morality which makes so many ultra-modern aesthetes as morbid and fanatical as any Eastern hermit. Unquestionably it is a very common phrase of modern intellectualism [...] that is only to say that morality is morality, and that art is art.

        “An ideal art critic would, no doubt, see the enduring beauty under every school; equally an ideal moralist would see the enduring ethic under every code. But practically some of the best Englishmen that ever lived could see nothing but filth and idolatry in the starry piety of the Brahmin. And it is equally true that practically the greatest group of artists that the world has ever seen, the giants of the Renaissance, could see nothing but barbarism in the ethereal energy of Gothic.”

        ——————–

        Chesterton is just saying that he disagrees with Symons that morality is “completely different between ages”, that there is an enduring quality to morality that persists from age to age, the same way there is an enduring quality that persists in art from age to age. Chesterton is using Symons’ own example against him. Chesterton did not just “pick a work that is less variable and says “morality is like that”.” He was countering Symons’ argument that art is enduring whereas morality is not.

        I am not saying you have to agree with Chesterton, but at least get his argument correct. Murphy posted a snippet yes, but that doesn’t mean you should just act like you’re being spoonfed and treat it as the entire thing.

        ——————————

        If anyone is interested, this is my favorite “snippet” from the essay, which is also not the entire thing:

        “This bias against morality among the modern aesthetes is nothing very much paraded. And yet it is not really a bias against morality; it is a bias against other people’s morality. It is generally founded on a very definite moral preference for a certain sort of life, pagan, plausible, humane. The modern aesthete, wishing us to believe that he values beauty more than conduct, reads Mallarme, and drinks absinthe in a tavern. But this is not only his favourite kind of beauty; it is also his favourite kind of conduct. If he really wished us to believe that he cared for beauty only, he ought to go to nothing but Wesleyan school treats, and paint the sunlight in the hair of the Wesleyan babies. He ought to read nothing but very eloquent theological sermons by old-fashioned Presbyterian divines. Here the lack of all possible moral sympathy would prove that his interest was purely verbal or pictorial, as it is; in all the books he reads and writes he clings to the skirts of his own morality and his own immorality. The champion of l’art pour l’art is always denouncing Ruskin for his moralizing. If he were really a champion of l’art pour l’art, he would be always insisting on Ruskin for his style.”

        • Egoist says:

          Sorry

          [MR Symons]

        • Daniel Kuehn says:

          First – although it’s in an essay responding to Symons the first sentence in the passage here clearly demonstrates he’s addressing a broader group of people than just Symons. So while The specific foolishness of a claim like Symons and an effort to subordinate morality may have inspired him, but you don’t have grounds to call my point “poorly reasoned” since this passage is addressed to a much wider group of people.

          Now, if you want to argue that when Chesterton says “the morality of one age can be entirely different to the morality of another” he is arguing for some degree of moral relativism and just wants to point out that there is a common thread which allows us to call it all “morality”, you can try to argue that. But whenever I see anyone arguing something like that I see Bob or Gene (and most others of their ilk) calling that view “moral relativism”, and my suspicion is Chesterton has that view too.

          So if you want to argue that Chesterton just wants the kind of moral relativism that pretty much everyone that gets accused of being a moral relativist agrees with, and that he is ONLY concerned with people who argue that there is no common thread to this thing we term “morality” you can try to argue that, but I think that is implausible. I don’t think that is what he is saying.

          • Egoist says:

            you don’t have grounds to call my point “poorly reasoned” since this passage is addressed to a much wider group of people.

            Let the rescue mission begin.

            First, I do have grounds. My grounds are that Chesterton did not, contrary to your claim, “just pick a word that is less variable and says “morality is like that”.”

            You claimed he just picked it out of the blue. After all, you said “Here I can play this game: food is different everywhere. In some places food has a lot of curry in it and in some places food has a lot of corn syrup in it. But it’s all food.”

            So you thought Chesterton was simply playing a game of cherry picking words on low hanging fruit trees. In order for your “game” to actually be representative of what Chesterton allegedly did, you are going to have to at least point out an author who said “food is different everywhere”, and form that response as in part a response to that person’s mention of food. But there is no such person of course, because you are treating Chesterton’s mentioning of art as if he picked it out of the blue, the same way you did for food as per the game you thought he was playing!

            Second, you asked me “Now, if you want to argue that when Chesterton says “the morality of one age can be entirely different to the morality of another” he is arguing for some degree of moral relativism…” But that isn’t what Chesterton said. That is what Symons said, which Chesterton relayed in his essay that Murphy linked to. Chesterton quotes Symons as saying morality is entirely different from age to age. He was responding to that assertion. Chesterton wrote:

            “He appears to defy his critics or his readers to mention any permanent feature or quality in ethics.”

            So that’s what Chesterton did. He took the claim that morality is entirely different, and proposed that there is an enduring quality to morality that “defies” Symons’ challenge.

            But whenever I see anyone arguing something like that I see Bob or Gene (and most others of their ilk) calling that view “moral relativism”, and my suspicion is Chesterton has that view too.

            Ah, so you read that one passage from Chesterton, saw that it was Bob who linked to it, and, coupled with not bothering to read the original essay, you thought you “just knew” what it was about, based on whatever prejudices you currently have, then you soiled the blog with accusatory prattle, and now, to make matters even worse, you are actually suggesting that I was off base for criticizing your initial arguments.

            Okaaaaay.

            So if you want to argue that Chesterton just wants the kind of moral relativism that pretty much everyone that gets accused of being a moral relativist agrees with, and that he is ONLY concerned with people who argue that there is no common thread to this thing we term “morality” you can try to argue that, but I think that is implausible. I don’t think that is what he is saying.

            What is this? If I want to argue what you call that particular “implausible” argument, then I can try to argue that? What does this have to do with anything?

            What he is saying can be understood from what he actually wrote. He is saying Symons’ argument that morality is distinct from art (when it comes to enduring qualities throughout the ages) is just a bias, and not tenable upon closer inspection. Also, the success of the distinction is in large part the result of an undue mixing up of morality and art on the one hand, with the persons who are their greatest champions on the other.

            You used the word “accused”. Am I to gather then that you get accused of being a moral relativist, and your responses are a function of that more than the article and author in question?

            • Tel says:

              Chesterton quotes Symons as saying morality is entirely different from age to age.

              Chesterton does not quote Symons in the least, he just paraphrases Symons (without proper reference that I can chase up) and follows with a straw man:

              Unquestionably it is a very common phrase of modern intellectualism to say that the morality of one age can be entirely different to the morality of another.

              Well I’m questioning the unquestionable. Moral relativism in some form might be common enough, but not the extreme form presumed above.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      DK wrote:

      Could you explain a little more about why morality is like an animal species?

      Are you sure that’s a question fit for a hairless ape?

      • Ken B says:

        Bob, you and I should not introduce the word ‘hairless’ into any debate except as a term of praise.

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        These are tough issues, but we have a better shot at solving them than the hairy variety do.

  8. skylien says:

    What confuses me most is that he compares morality to art. I mean art, what is art? I am not saying he is wrong or right for thinking that there is one morality (I don’t know), yet it doesn’t help me in any way if he says, it is just like art.

    On the contrary, at this point I would think: Fine, I cannot define what art is, so I will not attempt to do it for morality either.

    • Egoist says:

      Come on people, at least read the original essay.

      http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chesterton/heretics.xvii.html

      • skylien says:

        Haha. Good point. I will do that later.

        Can I blame Bob for ripping it out of context?

        • skylien says:

          The “haha” is not meant sarcastically or anything.. Just a laugh about myself that it didn’t cross my mind to check the source..

          • Egoist says:

            Well skylien, at least you admitted what DK was too proud not to.

            • skylien says:

              You know, although I think you are a bit rude in this thread, I also think it is much easier and less embarrassing to admit a mistake than trying to defend one.

              • Egoist says:

                Well, from my perspective, I found it a bit rude for you guys to have done what you did. One or two people who didn’t read it, OK, fine. But everyone? It’s exasperating, and I realize I am sticking my neck out by saying all this, which unfortunately typically encourages antagonism and painting me as in the wrong.

              • Daniel Kuehn says:

                Egoist, people aren’t being rude by commenting on a passage selected by a blogger for consideration.

              • Egoist says:

                DK:

                “people aren’t being rude by commenting on a passage selected by a blogger for consideration.”

                Excuse me, but you are not the judge of what is rude and what is not rude to other people.

                I am saying they are being rude by accusing Chesterton of bad reasoning on the basis on a straw man, which is itself based not having read what Chesterton wrote. That to me is rude. You may disagree, but don’t pretend to have a monopoly on what is rude and what isn’t.

                Some people find it rude when others swear, whereas other people do not. Some people find it rude to come to class and start shooting their mouths off about material without having read the material, whereas other people do not.

                I find it rude when people do what you (and others on this thread) did.

              • Ken B says:

                “but you are not the judge of what is rude and what is not rude to other people.”

                An interesting theory. Moot in this case. With your comments Egoist we rarely need to debate subtleties to know if they are rude. Indeed, we rarely even need to read them.

              • Egoist says:

                What Ken B wrote is called “psychological projection”, in case anyone is interested.

            • Daniel Kuehn says:

              Screw you – what have I been too proud to admit?

              Is reading the whole essay a great idea? Sure. That’s a fantastic idea. I think everybody knew that broader reading was a good thing before you chimed in with that one, Egoist. That doesn’t change the fact that the argument presented here – which presumably Bob selected for a reason – is a weak one that at least needs more meat on it (which is why I said I don’t understand it and asked Bob to explain more of what he thinks about it).

              • Ken B says:

                Too proud not to actually. Read what he said! Which is sort of funny as he clearly intended to insult you. Instead he says you’re too proud not to admit your errors!

              • Daniel Kuehn says:

                :) good catch Ken B

                You are clearly too proud not to read carefully (whereas I am merely too proud to read carefully).

                I’ve never bothered reading Egoists comments much before and I knew he pissed people off… now I see why.

              • Egoist says:

                Screw you – what have I been too proud to admit?

                Screw me? Hahaha.

                What are you too proud to admit? That you didn’t read the essay before posting, which lead you to incorrectly infer that Chesterton picked art of the blue, as opposed to specifically responding to Symons who was the one who brought art up, and your increasingly embarrassing attempt to cover it all up and pretend that you were right to charge that Chesterton merely played a game of saying “art is not entirely different from age to age…and uh…same thing with morality.”

                Now, you are getting so desperate that you are resorting to statements bordering on swearing, hoping that I would back down on the basis of pure vitriol.

                Is reading the whole essay a great idea? Sure. That’s a fantastic idea. I think everybody knew that broader reading was a good thing before you chimed in with that one, Egoist.

                I wasn’t making a universal claim to broader readings. Just this particular one, the one where you chose to accuse Chesterton of cherry picking art, when he was in fact responding to a moral relativist who said art is not like morality because art is not entirely different age to age, as opposed to morality which supposedly is.

                That doesn’t change the fact that the argument presented here – which presumably Bob selected for a reason – is a weak one that at least needs more meat on it (which is why I said I don’t understand it and asked Bob to explain more of what he thinks about it).

                You mean an argument is weak when the context is ignored? Tell me more pearls of wisdom, DK.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                What are you too proud to admit? That you didn’t read the essay before posting…

                FWIW, I don’t expect people to have googled the essay. I think people are being a bit flippant in their dismissal of Chesterton, but I understand the complaints.

              • Egoist says:

                Too proud not to actually. Read what he said! Which is sort of funny as he clearly intended to insult you. Instead he says you’re too proud not to admit your errors!

                It can be taken either way.

                Well skylien, at least you admitted….what DK was too proud not to…admit himself.

              • Egoist says:

                I’ve never bothered reading Egoists comments much before and I knew he pissed people off… now I see why.

                Because I said something that can be read in both the way I intended and the way Ken B thinks it can be read for LULZ?

                Really? OK, then get pissed off for that reason then.

              • Ken B says:

                @DK: so now the question arises, are we jumped up Woods-skeptical monkeys too proud to be smug, or not too proud tro be smug, or too proud not to be smug, or not too proud to not be smug

              • Egoist says:

                Maybe add

                “Too smug to not quibble over another’s semantics, but not too smug to not refrain from writing ‘tro’.”

                to the list.

                I was originally not too smug to engage in quibbling over another’s semantics whilst making semantics errors, but you smugly wanted to play that smug Muphry’s game, so…

  9. Egoist says:

    Murphy, forget about the quote you posted. This thread is an intellectual embarrassment. I don’t think a single person actually bothered to read the essay before posting. Monday morning blahs?

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      You need to keep this particular bit of nastiness towards everyone in the thread in perspective, Egoist.

      Symons, who you mention above, is mentioned in a single sentence in the essay. He’s a motivating frustration for Chesterton. Chesterton is presenting an argument to a much broader group of people and there doesn’t seem to me to be anything particularly wrong with Bob highlighting this passage.

      • Egoist says:

        You can try to salvage the debacle DK, but the damage is already done. Chesterton did not, contrary to your claims, merely play a game of cherry picking something, anything, that would serve as an analogy for morality, in this case art. He specifically cited Symons who was the one who brought the comparison up, by claiming that morality is distinct from art because art endures age to age, whereas morality is entirely different age to age.

        You are desperately trying to latch onto the secondary, off hand fact that Chesterton also has other moral relativists in his site. OK, fine, he’s addressing others besides Symons, but at least admit that he didn’t do what you initially thought he did, which is play a game and pick art out of the blue and say “morality is like…uh…THAT! QED.”

        He gave specific examples of why the analogy to art actually supports non-relativist morality.

        there doesn’t seem to me to be anything particularly wrong with Bob highlighting this passage.

        Hahahahahahaha, what buffoonery. You are actually claiming that there is a domain of discourse where the quote citer, Bob, can be faulted or not, for doing nothing but cite a quote without any accompanying analysis?

        ———————-

        Murphy, I am starting to think you have not only an impressive memory, but an uncanny ability to predict the future. You just cited a quote, without any analysis whatsoever, and DK is already unholstering his pistol and saying he reluctantly has agreed to not find fault in your Sunday arguments this time. It’s almost as if you knew that no matter what you said, it would be suspect, so why bother saying anything at all!

        DK can’t find fault with your argument THIS TIME, but you better not….uh….actually make an argument next time…or else.

        Hahahaha

        This is the funniest most pathetic Sunday thread of all time (no offense to you Murphy. First I was a little miffed that nobody read the original essay. Now I am just laughing/crying.

        It’s amazing. Murphy didn’t say a single word, and yet…he said everything DK needed to hear.

        • Daniel Kuehn says:

          I didn’t say anything about what Chesterton said about art, Egoist.

          I am criticizing you badmouthing people about the entire essay (and it’s a great exercise to read it, don’t get me wrong) when it’s perfectly legitimate to talk about the argument in this passage.

          • Egoist says:

            I didn’t say anything about what Chesterton said about art, Egoist.

            “I’m not sure how this can be a meaningful claim by Chesterton except by mere assertion.

            “Here I can play this game: food is different everywhere. In some places food has a lot of curry in it and in some places food has a lot of corn syrup in it. But it’s all food.”

            “Chesterton desperately wants to say that morality – as a thing – is not variable. So he picks a word that is less variable and says “morality is like that”.

            “That’s not an argument at all.”

            —————–

            “I am criticizing you badmouthing people about the entire essay (and it’s a great exercise to read it, don’t get me wrong) when it’s perfectly legitimate to talk about the argument in this passage.”

            Haha, “great exercise to read.” As if you even read it.

            • Daniel Kuehn says:

              CAMELS Egoist, CAMELS.

              • Egoist says:

                You didn’t do it on purpose. You did it on the basis of not having read the essay.

                He was using camels as an argumentative analogy to what people who say morality is different age to age but art is not different age to age, are saying.

                That’s why he said “It is as if someone says camels are different, some of them have feathers, some of them have scales, etc” to highlight the point that if moral relativists say morality is entirely different age to age, then why are they calling them moralities in the first place?

                He argued: “Of course, there is a permanent substance of morality, as much as there is a permanent substance of art.”

                He was using art, not camels, to make his point. Whether you knew that when you accused him of cherry picking words that fit his purpose, was art or camels, is besides the point.

                Remember, not only is the quote from Chesterton stand in relation to his entire essay, so too does your response.

          • Ken B says:

            Dalton was a seriously brilliant guy, but we criticize him over eugenics.

        • Daniel Kuehn says:

          re: “OK, fine, he’s addressing others besides Symons, but at least admit that he didn’t do what you initially thought he did, which is play a game and pick art out of the blue and say “morality is like…uh…THAT! QED.””

          But that’s PRECISELY what he did, and he did it with a camel. I didn’t talk about what he said about art.

          I don’t even know what you’re even talking about under your line break. Murphy interprets Chesterton as being anti-relativist here. I think that’s a fine interpretation. We can talk about the way in which he specifically engages he Symons argument but if you look at the essay that was an opening motivating sentence. The argument presented here – that if things are different it’s non-sensical to call them all “morality” – is quite simply a bad (or at least here underdeveloped) argument.

          • Egoist says:

            But that’s PRECISELY what he did, and he did it with a camel. I didn’t talk about what he said about art.

            No, he didn’t “precisely” do that. He answered a charge from Symons.

            I don’t even know what you’re even talking about under your line break. Murphy interprets Chesterton as being anti-relativist here. I think that’s a fine interpretation. We can talk about the way in which he specifically engages he Symons argument but if you look at the essay that was an opening motivating sentence. The argument presented here – that if things are different it’s non-sensical to call them all “morality” – is quite simply a bad (or at least here underdeveloped) argument.

            MURPHY. PROVIDED. NO. INTERPRETATION. IN. THIS. BLOG. POST.

            • Daniel Kuehn says:

              The title alone is interpretation. We all have enough context to know that Bob is quoting it because he does not like what he calls “moral relativism”.

              • Egoist says:

                The title alone is interpretation.

                It is not committed. It says “G.K. Chesterton on moral relativism.”

                We all have enough context to know that Bob is quoting it because he does not like what he calls “moral relativism”.

                Ah see? You just proved my point. You “just knew”.

              • Ken B says:

                If you look for it there is a book entitled something like The Wisdom of Ayatollah Khomeini. It quotes him on many topics.

                Tha act of selecting and highlighting, here look at this can be a message in itself.

              • Ken B says:

                “If one commits the act of sodomy with a cow, a ewe, or a camel, their urine
                and their excrements become impure, and even their milk may no longer be
                consumed. The animal must then be killed and as quickly as possible and
                burned.” From Sayings of Ayatollah Khomeini

                Camels again!

  10. Ken B says:

    Krugmanism is like Rothbardism?

    • Egoist says:

      No no no no, only if the morality is towards more individualist work and individualist output, and away from social work and social output, does the morality become “natural rights” prattle. Social work and social output are scientific. Individualist work and individualist output are dogmatic idealistic class interest based moralizing unscientific self-serving sychophantic retrogressive negative externality fallacy of composition hatred and contempt.

      • Egoist says:

        Or, only if the morality is towards more free markets, and away from sacrificing those who have for the sake of those who have not, by force, is it moralizing and anti-scientific.

    • Tel says:

      Krugmanism is like Rothbardism

      Only when George W Bush is in office.

  11. joeftansey says:

    Just like how many rules in the OT don’t apply anymore because “it’s a different time”. Shellfish 4 lyfe.

  12. Tel says:

    After a bit of digging, here is an actual quote where Arthur Symons comments on the art of Aubref Beardsley:

    In those drawings of Beardsley which are grotesque rather than beautiful, in which now all the beauty takes
    refuge, is itself a moral judgment. Look at that drawing called “The Scarlet Pastorale.”* In front, a bloated harlequin struts close to the footlights, outside the play, on which he turns his back ; beyond, sacramental candles have been lighted, and are guttering down in solitude, under an unseen wind. And between, on the sheer darkness of the stage, a bald and plumed Pierrot, holding in his vast, collapsing paunch with a mere rope of roses, shows the cloven foot, while Pierrette points at him in screaming horror, and the fat dancer turns on her toes indifferently. Need we go further to show how much more than Gautier’s meaning lies in the old paradox of “Mademoiselle de Maupin,” that “perfection of line is virtue?” That line which rounds the deformity of the cloven-footed sin, the line itself, is at once the revelation and the condemnation of vice, for it is part of that artistic logic which is morality.

    http://archive.org/stream/artofaubreybeard00symoiala/artofaubreybeard00symoiala_djvu.txt

    • Tel says:

      Another, similar comment from Arthur Symons discussing Thomas Hardy:

      It is no fortuitous circumstance that the greatest achievements of the novelist’s art seem to outrage morality. ” Jude the Obscure ” is a sufficiently great book to serve to illustrate a first principle. I have remarked that I cannot find any undue intrusion of morality in the art of this book. But I was careful to express myself cautiously, for without doubt the greatest issues of social morality are throughout at stake. So that the question arises : What is the function of the novelist as regards morals ? The answer is simple, though it has sometimes been muddled. A few persons have incautiously asserted that the novel has nothing to do with morals. That we cannot assert ; the utmost that can be asserted is that the novelist should never allow himself to be made the tool of a merely moral or immoral purpose. For the fact is that, so far as the moralist deals with life at all, morals is part of the very stuff of his art. That is to say, that his art lies in drawing the sinuous woof of human nature between the rigid warp of morals. Take away morals, and the novelist is in vacuo, in the region of fairy land. The more subtly and firmly he can weave these elements together the more impressive becomes the stuff of his art. The great poet may be in love with passion, but it is by heightening and strengthening the dignity of traditional moral law that he gives passion fullest play.

      http://archive.org/stream/savoy03symo/savoy03symo_djvu.txt

    • Tel says:

      I might have finally found the quote that is being referenced, because of the obscure linkage to London Nights:

      All art, surely, is a form of artifice, and thus, to the truly devout mind, condemned already, if not as actively noxious, at all events as needless. That is a point of view which I quite understand, and its conclusion I hold to be absolutely logical. I have the utmost respect for the people who refuse to read a novel, to go to the theatre, or to learn dancing. That is to have convictions and to live up to them. I understand also the point of view from which a work of art is tolerated in so far as it is actually militant on behalf of a religious or a moral idea. But what I fail to understand are those delicate, invisible degrees by which a distinction is drawn between this form of art and that; the hesitations, and compromises, and timorous advances, and shocked retreats, of the Puritan conscience once emancipated, and yet afraid of liberty. However you may try to convince yourself to the contrary, a work of art can be judged only from two standpoints: the standpoint from which its art is measured entirely by its morality, and the standpoint from which its morality is measured entirely by its art.

      Here, for once, in connection with these “Silhouettes,” I have not, if my recollection serves me, been accused of actual immorality. I am but a fair way along the “primrose path,” not yet within singeing distance of the “everlasting bonfire.” In other words, I have not yet written “London Nights,” which, it appears (I can scarcely realize it, in my innocent abstraction in aesthetical matters), has no very salutary reputation among the blameless moralists of the press. I need not, therefore, on this occasion, concern myself with more than the curious fallacy by which there is supposed to be something inherently wrong in artistic work which deals frankly and lightly with the very real charm of the lighter emotions and the more fleeting sensations.

      That’s about all the Arthur Symons I want to read for the moment. I’ve kind of moved on from the patchouli wearing proto-goth scene.

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