|Thanks for the comments, everyone.|
Marcus, the example I gave was an emergency situation, but in this case the principle is widely applicable. It actually explains why emergency situations behave as they do. It's not that the "rules" are thrown out, it's that they aren't rules in the first place They're principles. And that means the ends are the true test of morality.
As for your question on moral relativism, I do agree with Ethan's post (thanks Ethan!). If you accept anything loosely, you've got troubles. If you ignore the fact that life is the standard of value in every situation, and just focus on the fact that moral principles are contextual (call for different actions under different circumstances), it may seem like there are no clear guidelines. Moral relativism suggests that there is no one "right" system of ethics, and so any system is as good as any other. What Objectivism says is that there is, but it has to be applied contextually.
Some people believe that without intrinsic values (moral rules are just another type of intrinsic value), you're left with subjectivism. Moral relativism amounts to a social form of subjectivism. You agree on an arbitrary ethics, and then it's true for your group or culture or society, but it's not universally true. As I noted on the recent quote by Stoly accusing SOLO of being hedonistic, the idea was that since we don't accept his culturally conservative intrinsic values, we must not have any values at all.
But here's something that might be interesting. Intrinsic values (including moral rules) are essentially pointless. They assert that something is of value, but without reason for it. It's a non-relative value. It supposedly has value in and of itself. How much value? Impossible to say. Which means you can't really compare it with other values. I've written several articles on this issue if anyone is interested. The point I want to make is that when you have your own set of arbitrary pointless values or rules, and other people have their own, how do you compare them? You can't. What's missing is objectivity. What do you conclude? That your rules are "better" than theirs? By what standard? It's circular, since there is no purpose behind any of them to contrast. And that's moral relativism!
Moral relativism is not the alternative to intrinsic values. It's the outcome of them. Because intrinsic values are not objective, they act pretty much like subjective values. They're claimed to be of value, but no underlying purpose or goal is given. Moral relativism is the acceptance that all of these ethical systems treat values the same way. They assert the value, and don't feel any need to prove it. Which means that cognitively speaking, there's no fundamental difference, and no method of rationally comparing them. The flaw in moral relativism is that it assumes that those are the only possibilities. But that's because it accepts their cognitive framework.
Ethan, thanks for the link. I agree that it is an appropriate example. You can usually tell when it's appropriate when someone insists you follow the virtues, but isn't able to specify exactly what values are gained or lost by doing so.
Stephen! Ha! In this case, it wasn't a friend. And usually it's someone unique each time. I don't have any particular person I abuse (in this way).
And I doubt I'm this poetically succinct in person. It takes me awhile to write these articles. I spend a lot of time thinking about what the flow will be like, how to integrate the different ideas, if there are any examples that explain it well without being too distracting, etc. And when I'm dealing with complicated points (and there are a few in this article), putting it down on (virtual) paper helps to present a more systematic approach.