Relative Morality and Basketball

Hello skeptics and science lovers,

Today I am going to be making an analogy between moral relativism and the NBA draft, to try to demonstrate how almost nothing can be absolutely immoral. But before I do this, I am going to have to explain the NBA draft to some of the less sporting readers.

In the NBA draft (wiki page here,, the 6 teams with the worst records for the whole season get put into a draft lottery. I’m not going to explain the exact way it happens, but the odds of a particular team getting drafted (which is determined by their win-record) happens in a descending order, with the worst team having a 25% chance of getting first pick, and the 6th worst team having a 0.5% chance of having first pick. The net total of all the odds is 100%.

I now need to talk about likeliness and unlikeliness. In mathematics, there is a scale of likelihood which ranges from ‘certain’ at 100% to ‘impossible’ at 0%, with 50% being the medium. Anything above 50% on the scale is considered ‘likely’, and anything below 50% being considered ‘unlikely’. That’s basic chance in mathematics. This is just a very crude scale though, which is important in moral relativism. Luckily though, we can apply a more knowledgeable process to find out odds. Instead of putting things into two categories, likely and unlikely, we put them on a spectrum. Once they are on this spectrum we can choose the ‘most likely’ option. It’s not necessarily ‘likely’ but it is the ‘most likely’.

Lets apply this crude chance to the NBA draft. Overall, it is ‘unlikely’ that the worst team will get the first pick, as their odds are only 25%. But it is still considered the most likely option, because it is more than any of the other possibilities. Because it is the most likely possibility, it is still considered ‘most likely’ that the worst team will get the first pick. This ‘most likely’ is important.

At this point you may be thinking “What does anything about this have to do with moral relativism?”. Well, its time to find out. If we exchange ‘likely’ with ‘moral’, and ‘unlikely’ with ‘immoral’, it is easy to see that chance and relative morality are quite similar, and it is also easy to see that absolute morality isn’t a very versatile option.

If we exchange ‘likelihood’ with ‘amount of pain caused’, you have a relative morality spectrum. at one end, you have things which are certainly moral, they cause absolutely no harm at all. At the other end, you have things which are definitely not moral, things which cause only harm.

Obviously, a lot less things fall at the ends of the spectrum in morality than they do in likelihood, but the analogy is the same. From this, we can also see that an absolute morality breaks down. In absolute morality, there is a clear division line between ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ things, which fall on either side of the spectrum.

If we apply the NBA draft to this situation, there is nothing ‘moral’ which can be done by somebody who employs absolute morality. Every single option results in something which is immoral to the absolute morality champion. If you use absolute morality, then what in the name of Zeus are you going to do? Curl up in a ball as your brain goes in to shut down? Doing nothing is the answer whenever I ask a Christian about the ‘killing 1 to save 100’ problem.

If we use moral relativism, there is an easy way out of the situation. We pick the 25% option, because it causes much less harm than the 0.5% option. In moral relativism, there is no ‘right or wrong’, like there is only ‘likely or unlikely’ in crude chance. We can apply the more knowledgeable option, and put our options onto the moral scale. By taking the 25% option, it is not necessarily ‘right’, but it is the ‘most moral’ of all the choices, so it is the choice to take.

By applying the spectrum of chance, instead of two pigeonholes, to morality, we get moral relativism. Moral relativism is a much better option than absolute morality, because it never runs into any paradoxes under any situation, there is always some way which causes less harm than another.

11 thoughts on “Relative Morality and Basketball

  1. What you did wrong: You base your argument off the premise that moraliy is scalable and then use that premise to argue that it is. You must first establish the premise that morality is actually scalable.

    What you did well: Rationally coming to a conclusion from a flawed starting premise.

    • Well, if you had read some of my previous posts on relative morality (and I make mention of it in this post), you would know that my position on morality is “to reduce harm”. The idea of ‘relative’ morality is comparing all of your options, (relating) and choosing the one which causes the least harm (morality).

      • Sorry about that. I clicked the tags for both relative and absolute morality and they only came up with this posting. As you probabbly realize I’m fairly new to your blog. I look back a bit. Any specific posts you would reccomend?

      • In your article from 3 June you are not using a proper definition of moral relativism and because of that you are applying in incorrect definition to an correct principle. Specifically, you are applying an incorrect definition that, “Moral relativism is…the aim to reduce harm…” with the correct principle that, “…there is no gold standard for moral relativism.”

        What do I mean?

        False Definition. “Moral relativism is basically just the aim to reduce harm.”
        That philosophy is Utilitarianism. Moral relativism is when an act exists that is moral for one person and immoral for another person when presented with identical situations.

        Incorrect use of a correct premise. “There is no gold standard of morality in moral relativism. “

        You are right if using a proper definition of moral relativism but if you are using YOUR definition of moral relativism it is false. I say this because if you are presented with a situation (take the baby on the bridge scenario you have identified below) there is only one action that can cause the least amount of harm. Therefore, there is an objective standard by which you evaluate your claims, that standard is the use of human reason to determine that which causes the least amount of harm and is not a relative standard, it is an objective one.

        As a side note there is another false or unsubstantiated premise in your June 3 posting. Specifically, “without a concrete basis for our morals (god), there has to be another way to make moral decisions.”

        Couldn’t the use of human reason be a basis for moral decisions? Assuming one’s use of reason is objectively correct would that not be considered a concrete basis?

        • When I put forward that morality is the aim to reduce harm, I do not put it under the title of relative morality.
          When I talk about moral relativism, I talk about a sliding scale for morality, so even when all options are on the bad end of the scale, you can make a good decision (relating multiple moral choices). This is not able to be done with an absolute standard for morality.
          I do not say that moral relativism is the aim to reduce harm, I say that the aim to reduce harm is one way that the scale of relative morality can be judged on.

          Please, if you want to comment on a specific post, instead of telling me which post you are commenting on, and commenting on this one – actually comment on the post you wish to comment on.

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