Truth by Consensus?
The following is a short excerpt of a discussion I was having with an old friend who promotes secularism as a wolrdview. He makes a short statement and my response follows:
Statement: My view of values (which you parody) is that they emerge from lessons widely drawn from human experience and around which consensus has emerged. Human rights as a language and as a normative construct came out of the horror of WWII. Such ideas emerge through consensus-building and eventually take on axiomatic existence for most people: Slavery IS bad. Torture IS wrong. Racism IS repugnant. These ideas emerged socially and became axiomatic socially.
Response: I am certainly not denying your civic right to believe these things. But I must point out that, given the above ideas you espouse; it is still quite arbitrary of you to have determined that values and morality come forth from some kind of consensus. How do you know this method of deriving morality is right? What authority are you presupposing? This is a belief system adopted by you but you cannot account for it or justify how you know this is what everyone should do. Your consensus-building concept is still an appeal to something that is not self-validating, no? Adding more numbers to your interpretive community does not make it so. At least there is nothing here under the Constitution that is makes this position any more validating than someone else's. Previously you said Christianity should have no place in making public policy because it is a "religion" under the establishment clause. What I am trying to point out to you is that your view is not any more unbiased (non-religious) than my own. When you make your position into public policy you are likewise promoting your religious dogma derived from a source you have arbitrarily determined to be authoritative. You have affirmations and denials as to what is good and bad, do you not?
Furthermore, National Socialism was built under consensus. The vast majority of the German population delighted in what the Nazis were doing. It was the liberal churches in Germany who had long since determined that the Bible was not to be taken seriously (higher critics) that were taken captive by the cultural consensus and fell right in with Hitler's evil plans. It was only those in the church who were confessing (the conservatives of the day) who were the people who stood up for what was right and many were executed for it. Hitler hated them. Therefore, consensus does not make anything right, unless you would like to argue that killing Jews was right at the time? No, I think you know that you are appealing to absolutes that go way beyond just a mere preference here.
You said "Slavery IS bad. Torture IS wrong. Racism IS repugnant." If you really believed that morality was relative then such statements would be unintelligible. Can you justify such concepts rationally with your worldview? Is it mere consensus telling you this? To be consistent as a relativist you could only say these things are bad for yourself. How is it not arbitrary to adopt such an ethic [for everyone]? Why does consensus make it any more valid than an individual or any other religious view? Either you are claiming it is true that these things are bad, or you are merely telling me your preference derived from a self-appointed authoritative source. And if it is merely your preference then you have no right to impose your personal ethic on society. This is an appeal to absolutes or you would not have such strong feelings toward it.