Epoch relativism and our moral hopelessness
Relative moral truth, whatever that is, will consist of social practices that cross generational lines. Enlightenment European thinkers saw themselves as finding in reason a moral truth unavailable to their benighted ancestors. Their colonialist successors then brought the idea forcibly to other parts of the world, on an ostensibly civilizing mission to peoples seen as primitive moral throwbacks – “half devil and half child”, in Kipling’s words. The British novelist Frances Trollope found herself in slaveholding tidewater America in 1832. While visiting a relatively poor white family, she saved the life of an enslaved 8-year-old girl. Relativism is double-edged in a precise inversion of Objectivity. Just as affirming Objectivity allowed to condemn the past and left vulnerable to the condemnation of the future, affirming relativism allows to evade future condemnation and unable to condemn the past. Relativism allows to affirm the truths of our time at the cost of being silent about others.