Absolute Morality is relative

Let’s talk about absolute morality, again. Let’s assume that it exists. Let’s assume that there ARE things that are absolutely good, let’s say… killing people who work on saturdays…  and things that are absolutely evil… like being gay…. and absolutely doesn’t matter (neutral), like…. erm… keeping slaves… Completely random examples, of course, I am not looking at any specific religion here… (suuureee)… So, the big question is… How do you know?

The simple answer is: You don’t. Obviously, people cannot agree on what is wrong or right. The pure existence of absolute morality does not imply that we also can KNOW what it is. In other words, we are back at square one, where morality, in the end, is just a choice. People who don’t believe in absolute morality at least admit that – but people who do believe in it, ALSO have to choose. They have to choose what they want to believe absolute morality is. Is slavery against absolute morality? Your choice.

Of course, the most boring answer Christians tend to give is, that every person „feels“ the „real“ absolute morality, just some people ignore it. Let’s be brutally honest here: That answer makes you a condescending moron who fails at being a decent human being. Stop it. Start accepting that other people are real persons, with their own thoughts and feelings. By trying to claim that you know better than them what THEY feel deep inside, that deep inside, they share YOUR view, you only admit that you don’t give a rat’s ass about other people, that you live in your own world, where no other person really matters, only what you think how these persons ought to be. Same thing as „everyone feels god exists, some just don’t admit it“, by the way. This is just admitting that you are not interested on a discussion, because for a discussion you first have to accept the other person – but with this sentence, you refuse to do so, you try to dictate what the other person is, try to take the other person’s mind for yourself. And that is, honestly, despicable.

How do we know what absolute morality is? It can’t be a democratic process – „If X people agree, it’s part of absolute morality“ – because then, it changes.  So we will always have different opinions about absolute morality and everyone who claims that HIS personal opinion is the right one, is just some random guy. So, in the end, absolute morality can’t be known. It’s a choice. And by not accepting that simple truth, you even lose a useful basis for morality, as simply choosing one and claiming it’s absolute does not make much sense.

Claiming that there is absolute morality and claiming that you know what it is, are two different things. The first one might be an interesting philosophical idea. The other is simply claiming „I am right!“.

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6 Kommentare zu “Absolute Morality is relative

  1. Whenever someone argues for absolute morality, I ask for evidence to determine that they are correct. They usually then project their thoughts on everyone. „I think gay sex is immoral, therefore everyone thinks this and only deny it publicly.“

  2. Of course all morality is arbitrary. Hume’s Guillotine shatters the idea of absolute natural ethics, even under the Golden Rule, the Platinum Rule or Categorical Imperative. One cannot derive values from facts alone, but must adopt a pre-existing, arbitrary moral position first and then apply to a set of facts. The idea of Natural Law (or a better way to put it would be, „The law of mankind’s nature“) is rooted in Judeo Christian belief that there is a God, that mankind is „fallen“ and knows good and evil, and that we desire to do good but often tend to do evil. I personally think that’s a pretty good moral view of the universe to take. I think the last six of the Ten Commandments, the civil ones, make sense. I think the idea of Natural Law also explains why two year olds always fight over the „shiny“ toy, why every child knows it’s unfair to take from their allowance to pay for a toy that their younger brother broke, and why secular government social planners always – inevitably, there has never been an exception – tend to enrich and empower themselves personally at the cost of the life, liberty and property of their fellow man. Of course, one could adopt a moral position based on humanism and naturalism. As I explain in my most recent blog post Watching Other People Die, „If pure humanism and naturalism is all that informs one’s belief of an original cause and decision making, and is the only standard for one’s ethics, then they are in effect worshipping mankind and nature. That is what functions in the place of religion in their life…“ The question is: Which set of moral positions should society adopt? I think ethics based on humanistic and naturalistic belief are infinitely more perilous than those based on Judeo Christian belief. If you are attacked by an assailant with a gun, should you defend yourself? Should you take the gun and if necessary take your attackers life? Part of the Judeo Christian view is that one should not be a party to evil, and so it would be clearly OK to defend one’s life in self-defense. But in humanism and naturalism, the State is the measure of all things and most values truly are fluid and relative. Because an assailant is a product of society alone (and some believe has no free will but is only a „bag of chemicals“, whose actions are predetermined by genetics and societal conditioning) they aren’t really guilty of wrongdoing in trying to take your life, and quite the opposite- you yourself are victimizing them if you kill them in self defense! So if it’s necessary to defend yourself using lethal force, you could be justified and commended, or you could be arbitrarily condemned to serve 30 years for murder. I call that perilous and inconsistent.

  3. Great questions!

    But I don’t think this follows:

    „The pure existence of absolute morality does not imply that we also can KNOW what it is. In other words, we are back at square one, where morality, in the end, is just a choice.“

    If morality is real then it is real regardless of our beliefs about it. Just like the moon we found orbiting Neptune was real before we knew about it. Our not knowing about it didn’t make it (or its features) a choice.

    I would highly recommend this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Whatever-Shafer-Landau-Published-University-Paperback/dp/B00HQ20J10/ref=sr_1_22?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389208680&sr=1-22

    I can’t believe the price shot up so much. Perhaps find it in a library if you can.

    • Sorry, perhaps I was a little bit unclear here… My point was, that, IF absolute morality somehow exists, then this doesn’t mean that we would recognize it. Look around, there many different systems for morality, but none of them is so obviously „abolute“, that everyone who hears it, says „Of course, THAT is the one!“. Somehow to be recognized as absolute, you must be taught that the system is absolute.

      So, if absolute morality does exist, it is still not a given, that we will recognize it. And thus, it is entirely possible, that even WITH absolute morality existing, morality stays a choice, where you can hope that the one you decide to use is the absolute one – but doesn’t have to be.

      • Yes, I agree very much agree that this is an important set of questions to ask.

        Lets say there is something we should do – i.e., real morality exists. How can we tell what it is?

        Mackie is a philosopher who said if reality has such a feature, such as objective morality, it is a queer (he did not mean queer to mean a derogatory term for gay people) thing. And even if the universe had that feature how we would recognize what it is?

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