The Myth of Moral Relativism

A moral is the belief that a person holds about what is right and what is wrong. Moral relativity consists of the idea that what is right for me is not necessarily right for anyone else. The same goes for everyone. Because everyone has a unique experience, we all have unique wants and needs. The idea of unique experience also suggests that no one is ever in exactly the same situation as someone else. There are always some differences that give each person, even if they were twins, a different experience of those situations and events.

First, moral relativity must set aside any beliefs about God, because it denies absolute truth. If there is no certain definition for good or evil that applies to everyone, then the being that one person labels a God might just as well be seen as devil. Or seen as some other imperfect and fallible creature. Without the conception of being good, which necessitates the existence of a definite value for goodness, we could never believe in God (at least not with any consistency in our beliefs). This is certainly hypocrisy among Christians and others who claim to believe in God, yet also claim a belief in moral relativity. Such an amazing stretch of the imagination seems to be an effort to avoid conflict, but conflict, or opposition, is a basic natural law.

Few people actually follow moral relativity to its terminal end. If we are to believe that there are no definite laws that determine right and wrong for all people, then there can be no exceptions. If there are exceptions, however rare those may be, there must be definite, absolute laws that determine right and wrong.

This recognition leads us to consider the most vile and despicable acts that a person could conceive. We cannot simply dismiss these as coming from the insane unless we admit that a definite law applies to those who are insane, where it does not apply to everyone else. Allow me to suggest some despicable acts that should be accepted by moral relativists: murder; murder of little children; cannibalism in any culture, for any reason, and on a regular basis; sexual acts on infants and children; rape; genocide; and slavery. We have examples of each of these being excused by the people who have committed these acts for one reason or another.

If you believe that any or all of those acts are wrong for everyone, then why are they wrong? What is it about that act that offends your conscience?

The answer will come down to a belief about what is right. A moral. Anyone who holds the belief that those are wrong does not believe in moral relativity.

If you believe there are definite morals—there are things that are definitely right and wrong—then where did those morals originate? They must have a source. Some might argue that they are unnatural. Yet they have occurred in different cultures, throughout the world, and across time by people who apparently knew little or nothing about these practices in other areas. If that is the case, how can it be argued that it is unnatural? If we find it in human nature, it suggests two things: 1) Immorality in the nature of humans; 2) The source of morality (right and wrong) is outside of nature. But this tends to lead us back to God and the fallen nature of humans, so let’s consider the next problem with moral relativity.

Second, advocates of moral relativity tend to suggest that, if something is right for an individual, we should not forbid it or even tell them that it’s wrong—because it’s right for them. The inconsistency here should be obvious. If we should not forbid people from doing something, that suggests it is wrong to do so, which is a moral. Otherwise, it may be just as right for me to forbid or ridicule something that I don’t like as it is for them to do it. If I cannot be wrong for ridiculing or forbidding someone else’s actions, then the entire philosophy of moral relativism falls into the realm of “survival of the fittest,” because those who survive will be able to continue their own actions. As such, either moral relativism demands a conception of absolute moral truths (including human rights) or the entire concept consists of useless mental gymnastics. Since, moral relativism demanding absolute morals invalidates itself, I am left to conclude the latter.

In other words, moral relativity is an excuse that attempts to avoid the real conflict, which is the attempt to replace the morals of religions, such as Christianity, with conflicting actions and beliefs. Some recognize that this is the debate: what set of morals should we follow. This is at least an upfront debate in which we can address the conflicting morals, or the different beliefs about right and wrong.

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2 Responses to The Myth of Moral Relativism

  1. This is my post on “What is ‘Good’?”

    “Yeah, but no one can actually define ‘good’”, he said.

    So I figured I better get on it. After all, we all use the term every day, right?

    Well it wasn’t as easy as it first appeared. But I think I’ve come up with an objective definition of moral good, and here it is:

    We call something “good” if it meets a real need that we have as an individual, a society, or a species.

    The key words here are “real” and “need”.

    The context of “need” is life itself. Life implies need. One evidence of life is an organism’s activity to fill a need. An amoeba extends its pseudo-pod seeking food. A tree grows roots into the ground for water. A flower opens and twists to face the Sun. A newborn baby gasps for air and cries out for warmth and food.

    The meaning of ”real” is also key. We may want cake, but we really need food. Many things that “feel good” or “taste good” are actually bad for us. So “moral good” cannot be determine from pleasure.

    Nor can it be determined by the avoidance of pain. Many things that are painful, like removing a splinter or applying antiseptic, may be necessary to our well-being. Childbirth, while painful, is essential for our very existence.

    The other side of the definition is what is “morally bad”.

    We call something “bad” if it unnecessarily harms the person, impairs cooperation, or endangers the species.

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  2. This is from my post Morality Vs. Ethics:

    “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment of the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40

    A humanist translation of the “Great Commandment” might go like this: “Love good. And love good for others as you love it for yourself. All other rules derive from these two.”

    Although the lawyer in the story was asking about ethics. Jesus explained morality.

    The reason for ethics is morality.

    Ethics are about rules. There are many kinds of rule systems, including customs, manners, principles, ethics, rights and law. An ethical person tries to do what he feels he ought to do as defined by one or more rule systems.

    Morality is about good, that which improves our well-being and the well-being of others. A moral person seeks good for others as well as for himself.

    The point of Jesus’s answer to the lawyer was that ethics serve morality. We judge rules and laws by how well they reduce harm and improve good for ourselves and others.

    The goal of Morality is “the best possible good for everyone”. The goal of Ethics is the best rules. The criteria for judging all laws, rules, and rights is how well they improve good (or reduce harm) for everyone.

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