Man is faced with choices in every conscious moment. To make these choices, he needs a code of ethics – a morality. For his choices to be successful, his moral code must be based on the facts of reality (including his own nature). Properly, a code of ethics must be derived from the nature of existence and the nature of man (man has specific requirements for survival and has free will and the abilty to reason) with reference to an ultimate purpose. This is the motivation for studying philosophy. One must discover the nature of existence – existents have a specific identity and behave in accordance with it. This is the task of metaphysics. One must acquire knowledge of the world (including of man’s nature). To ensure that the knowledge is accurate, one must validate it. This is the task of epistemology.
The dominant morality today is that of altruism. Here is the dictionary meaning.
1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species
Altruism is a code that has “the welfare of others” as its ultimate purpose (note meaning 1 above) and sacrifice as its guiding principle (note meaning 2 above).
What altruism does by defining sacrifice as the guiding principle need not be elaborated here. The consequences are painfully apparent. By defining the ultimate purpose to be the welfare of others, altruism destroys the motivation to study philosophy. Without an explicit understanding of the nature of existence and the nature of knowledge, man is left in chronic doubt. He cannot be sure of what he knows or even whether he actually knows anything at all. Nevertheless, he knows that he has to make choices. He knows that he is not equipped to make them. What does he do? He adopts the principle “Do not decide any issue beyond the range of the moment”. He decides that he will only consider immediate concretes. He decides to reject principles on principle. This is how altruism leads to pragmatism.
Having rejected principles, man is left with no means to judge others. By considering concretes, he can still judge individual actions or situations to a limited extent. But he cannot judge others. Their motives and the long term consequences of their actions are not concretes. They can only be considered with reference to principles. Thus he adopts the principle “Do not judge people”. He decides that the concepts ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are neither absolute nor objective, but only have meaning in the range of the moment. This is how altruism leads to moral relativism.
Added on 29 April 2008 (In response to Scott Hughes’ comment):
Most religions prescribe altruistic ethical rules as absolutes, as a revelation from God. However those absolutes are of little help in the application of ethics to most real-life issues. Look at the Ten Commandments. How would they apply in formulating (or even evaluating) a company’s policy regarding employee benefits? Altruism has “the welfare of others” as its ultimate purpose. But what is this welfare? Altruism does not answer that. Without an explicit understanding of the nature of existence and the nature of knowledge, man is left with subjective (and inconsistent) emotions as the only means to an answer.