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A Refutation of Moral Relativism Interviews With an Absolutist

The only boring aspect of this book is its title, which doesn’t do justice to apologist Kreeft’s intelligent, engaging dialogue between two fictional friends during a week of relaxation at Martha’s Vineyard. Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College and author of more than 25 books, describes the absolutist character ‘Isa as a Muslim fundamentalist from Palestine who teaches philosophy at the American University in Beirut. His interviewer and sparring partner is Libby Rawls, an African-American, liberal feminist journalist. Using a classic debate format, with impressive fairness to the opposite side, Kreeft defines relativism and its importance. Tracing relativism’s evolution and history in Western philosophy, Kreeft notes that relativism is a fairly modern perspective, originating within the last few hundred years. He outlines the philosophical distinctions between it and absolutism with clarity and an integrity that will delight both the layperson and the professional philosopher. For Kreeft, relativism has eroded a collective and individual sense of accountability and contributed to social decay, yet he can see the other side, especially with regard to cross-cultural differences. Although the purpose of the book is to uphold absolutism, Kreeft outlines the relativist perspective in an approachable, respectful manner. By giving counterarguments a fighting chance, this becomes a book that may actually persuade people, not just preach to the absolutist choir. ~ Publishers Weekly

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Philosophy professor Kreeft’s conceit is that he recently invited two former students (both fictional) to discuss moral philosophy and that this is the record of their conversations. One of the two, a black feminist journalist and moral relativist, interviewed the other, a Palestinian Arab professor and moral absolutist. The sparks start flying in the first session, when the professor characterizes Auschwitz as “the fruit of moral relativism” and quotes Mussolini’s explanation of fascism as quintessentially relativistic. The succeeding discussion treats the definition and the history of moral relativism (it began with the serpent’s temptation of Eve, it seems), whether data support relativism or absolutism, the arguments for relativism, the roots of relativism in reductionism, arguments for moral absolutism, absolutism’s philosophical assumptions (e.g., that truth can be known), and, finally, “The Cause and Cure of Relativism” (sexual mores are key to both). As the title suggests, relativism doesn’t stand a chance here. Boredom is a goner, too, as, employing the oldest literary method of enlivening philosophy–casting it, … ala Plato, as a dialogue, a bare-bones play–Kreeft deftly creates recognizable characters as he advances a debate as important to the future of religion as to that of society. ~ Ray Olson for Booklist