A member of the studio audience reported:
I once again have to strongly disagree with your definition of evil. First of all it's far to vague, the phrase "malleable desires that people generally have reason to inhibit" is so vague it's borderline moral relativism.
It is interesting that the author used a concern with vagueness in a sentence in which he accuses the definition to be borderline moral relativism. Because borderline moral relativism is itself a vague term. Or, more precisely, it is ambiguous – having multiple meanings (with no clear indication in context of which meaning the author had in mind).
On both definitions, however, the claim is false.
Using one definition of 'moral relativism', I would answer, "What do you mean, borderline?"
The theory explicitly states that value properties are relational properties. They describe relationships between states of affairs and desires. That is, they describe how a state of affairs stands in relation to – or relative to - a set of desires. This is not borderline relativism. This is relativism.
However, most, if not all, scientific claims are relativist in the same sense.
I often use location as my preferred analogy. Give me the location of something . . . anything . . . in absolute terms; that is, without referring to something else. I’ll wager it cannot be done. The only way to describe the location of something is to describe its position relative to some other thing. All location claims are relational claims.
Yet, locational relativism is not considered a barrier to objectivity. Scientists fill their papers and books with location statements, yet we do not hear anybody protest that this location relativism somehow detracts from the objectivity of those science reports.
It’s even the case that no natural law dictates what one uses as the relationship in any claim. If I wanted to describe where Denver was, I could say that it is southeast of Boulder, Colorado, or that it is north of Colorado Springs. Both descriptions are true. Neither conflicts with the other. Yet it is an objective fact that Denver is southeast of Bounder and north of Colorado Springs. Science does not come crumbling down as a result of introducing this type of relativism.
We can even go further. Why would a person choose to describe the location of Denver in relation to Boulder as opposed to Colorado Springs? We can find the answer to this question in terms of the interests of the speaker and those he communicates with. He chooses the relationships that are personally important to him, and he ignores the rest.
Yet, still this does not in any way threaten the scientific objectivity of location statements. We are still talking about statements that scientists accept as models of objectivity.
Of course, moral relativism has another meaning.
Using the other definition of moral relativism, I would answer, "Your statement is a flat contradiction. Moral relativism in this sense means that objects of evaluation are measured according to their relationship to the sentiments of the evaluator."
Desire utilitarianism specifically states that moral statements describe relationships between malleable desires and all other desires, not just those of the agent. Saying that one is borderline the other is the same as saying that all desires that exist is borderline equivalent to the desires of the specific evaluator.
These are two different and incompatible theories.
So, we have two definitions of moral relativism. On the first definition, it is absolutely true that desire utilitarianism is a relativistic theory. It says that moral statements are relational statements – but so are almost all scientific statements. On the second definition, saying that desire utilitarianism is the same as “moral relativism" is as absurd as saying that "all the desires that exist" is the same as "the sentiments as the assessor."