Everyone’s a Moral Relativist? Fighting Words from Hector Avalos

Here is a paper I wrote for an ethics class examining claims by an Iowa State religious studies professor who makes two paradoxical claims: (1) everyone is a moral relativist and (2) religious violence is always wrong. For the context of this discussion see his chapter in John Loftus’s edited volume The Christian Delusion (which can be found here) and his earlier work on the origins of religious violence. There have also been some interesting back and forths in the blogosphere that make for some entertaining reading.

In this paper, I try to do four things. First, I examine the merits Avalos’s case for moral relativism and argue that it is confused with egoism. Second, I attempt to show that different normative systems of ethics are not necessarily committed to moral relativism. Third, I offer a critique of his argument against religious violence; and fourth, I will argue that his adherence to moral relativism is incompatible with his argument that religiously motivated violence is always wrong. My overall aim is to show that Hector Avalos should be a moral realist.

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