The Absurdity of Moral Relativism: A Student’s Perspective

When I was a full-time high school teacher, one of my favorite assignments was to have my students develop a creative project to illustrate what would follow if moral relativism were true. Students wrote stories, composed songs, made short films, and more.

Abusurdity Moral Relativism

My all-time favorite was a short poem written by a high school senior. She captures the moral absurdity that would follow if morality were truly relative to the individual:

“If Relativism Were True”

The trigger’s pulled, heart cold as stone. Body thrown into the sea. No tears are shed, though his brother is dead. He says “It was right for me.”

A woman is bruised, all black and blue. She silently drinks her tea. Her husband’s eyes conceal the lies. He says, “It was right for me.”

No blanket, crib, or bedtime tales. This baby will never be. The girl’s too scared, too unprepared. She says, “It was right for me.”

Sad but true, we live as though this system is the key. But God’s laws weren’t meant to be broken or bent. Without them, we can never be free.

 


 

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92 replies
  1. Andy Ryan says:

    Thank Goodness we live in a reality where no Christian ever beats his wife. The absence of such a phenomena is perfect proof that objective morality exists.

    Reply
    • william russell says:

      A Christian is not exempt from sin, and someone claiming to be a Christian while beating his wife is obviously not practicing Christianity. The abuse of a religion does not define the actual religion, it does however demonstrate our need for a savior.

      Reply
    • Susan says:

      That’s a better example of either a fake Christian or of a Christian in need of deliverance from the demon of jealousy.

      Don’t be confused by the label. There are a lot of people hanging out in Christianity who are not true Christians and Christ will tell those people that he never knew them. Their name claims means nothing. You can put the label cinnamon on a bottle of arsenic. That doesn’t make it cinnamon.

      God has the record of the words and deeds and heart motives of a person. We don’t and you just proved that by giving this example. We are fooled by appearances a good part of the time in this world like God says in His Word.

      May God grant that wife beater repentance and a better knowledge of exactly who Christ is because he can be striped in the afterlife. It says a believer can be striped in the Book of Luke.

      God circumcises the heart. That is what a true believer has: a circumcised heart.

      But if you are acting like the devil and claiming to be a Christian then it could be you are an unrepentant Christian which means a weak or counterfeit Christian.

      You really need to be reading your bible Andy because this example of a wife beater is really unbiblical and nonsense when you understand the work that God does in the human soul.

      Reply
  2. KR says:

    So once again we’re being presented with the same old false dichotomy: it’s either objective morality or “anything goes” nihilism. Seriously? Ever heard of democracy? You know, that system that sets up moral rules (i.e. laws) through a subjective political process?

    A couple of questions for Sean (and anyone who thinks the above dichotomy is valid): Do you think a democratic system is a valid method for setting up moral rules? If not, what would you like to replace it with? Can you provide an example of where this alternative form of government has been successfully implemented?

    Reply
    • Mike edwards says:

      Who makes the laws ? What are they based on ? One person ? Bunch of people ? Society ? Which society ? Hitler’s or mother Teresa’s? Of course anything would go because there no no ” anything goes” mentality .. it would just be . Anything goes … implies a judgement here also … based on ? There would no desertion of anything Gies , because that would be the norm , it would just st be reality .

      What are you basing the judgment of democracy is morally just ? Your importing a good/ bad judgment here . Be careful not to confuse epistemology and ontology in your answering . Also , I’ll pull a hitchens here … ” democracy is best for free will because our Govt enforces on me “.

      Reply
      • KR says:

        What you seem to be missing is that unless you’re living in some kind of dictatorship, democracy is the de facto method being used to lay down the rules of your society, not objective morality. Does it look like an “anything goes” kind of society? If you decided to live your life with complete disregard for anyone else’s life or safety, how long do you think you’d get before you’d face some pretty severe consequences?

        My questions, which you didn’t answer, stand: Do you think a democratic system is a valid method for setting up moral rules? If not, what would you like to replace it with? Can you provide an example of where this alternative form of government has been successfully implemented?

        Reply
    • David says:

      Democracy? That is really your best response! I guess I should ask how you define democracy, because if you mean majority rule, there is not one in existence today. Because they fail! So, what do you mean? And, how do you know you can trust the people leading if there are no objective values? Or, if you disagree with a decision, do you have that option when the leaders make the moral laws, as you stated?

      Gov’t is instituted among men to PROTECT the objective moral values that YOU have by nature, and I’m guessing you lay claim to! I suggest you pick up a few books and do some reading so that you stop embarrassing yourself with such naive statements.

      Reply
      • KR says:

        David wrote: “Democracy? That is really your best response!”

        It does seem to be the best system we’ve come up with so far. My question was: do you have a better suggestion?

        “I guess I should ask how you define democracy, because if you mean majority rule, there is not one in existence today. Because they fail!”

        So you think the problem is not with democracy per se but with its implementation? You would accept a true majority rule even if it’s inherently subjective?

        “And, how do you know you can trust the people leading if there are no objective values? Or, if you disagree with a decision, do you have that option when the leaders make the moral laws, as you stated?”

        The whole point of a democracy is that it’s the people who choose their representatives who in turn make the laws. Do you think this is a bad system? If so, what would you like to replace it with?

        “Gov’t is instituted among men to PROTECT the objective moral values that YOU have by nature, and I’m guessing you lay claim to!”

        The elected representatives of the people will institute and protect the laws they’ve come to agree on. This agreement comes about through a completely subjective political process and is subject to change so it’s clearly not objective. This was my point: democracy is inherently subjective. If you think this is a bad thing, what do you suggest to replace it with?

        “I suggest you pick up a few books and do some reading so that you stop embarrassing yourself with such naive statements.”

        I might very well do that but since I apparently have an expert right here, would you mind answering a few more questions? It would clear up a few problems I’m having concerning these objective moral values.

        1) What are these objective moral values? Do you have a list?
        2) How do you access these objective moral values?
        3) How do you determine that they are in fact objective rather than subjective?

        Reply
        • David says:

          It seems the democracy your referring to is actually a constitutional republic, like the United States. If you recall, the founders were very concerned about having a central gov’t run by men or women. As a result, they created three branches of gov’t with separate but coequal powers. Those very founders also wrote about the laws of nature and natures God. They boiled them down to life, liberty, and property (otherwise stated as the pursuit of happiness). And they wrote about those rights being evident from nature.

          Why do you deny the objective moral values they recognized, and built a government to protect, while enjoying the benefits of that system of government. I just don’t understand why you overlook the reason that our constitutional republic was established. It would have never existed if people did not recognize objective moral values.

          As for a list, you know you don’t need me to give you one. You just don’t want to embrace the implications of accepting objective moral values.

          Reply
        • KR says:

          “It seems the democracy your referring to is actually a constitutional republic, like the United States.”

          I’m referring to the system of lawmaking that’s being applied where you live, right now. I’m assuming it’s some form of democracy. This makes the rules you live by subjective, not objective. The choices indicated in the original post were objective morals or total nihilism. The fact that you live in a society with subjectively agreed-upon rules which is not a nihilistic free-for-all demonstrates that the dichotomy presented in the OP is false.

          “If you recall, the founders were very concerned about having a central gov’t run by men or women. As a result, they created three branches of gov’t with separate but coequal powers. Those very founders also wrote about the laws of nature and natures God. They boiled them down to life, liberty, and property (otherwise stated as the pursuit of happiness). And they wrote about those rights being evident from nature.”

          If you take a look around the world, every country has a constitution. Most of them establish a set of rights, enjoyed by all its citizens. The thing is, these rights are not the same in all countries, neither in number or content. This indicates to me that these rights are subjective, not objective. If you disagree with this, can you please indicate which (if any) of these constitutions is objectively correct – and how you know that?

          “Why do you deny the objective moral values they recognized, and built a government to protect, while enjoying the benefits of that system of government.”

          Because I see no indication that they’re objective and every indication that they’re subjective. If we’re talking about the US constitution, it’s obviously a living document since it’s been amended to many times. This alone suggests subjectivity rather than objectivity – why the need to make amendments to an objectively correct document? The original constitution had no problem with slavery. Do you think slavery is wrong? Does this indicate that the founding fathers had access to a set of objective moral values when they wrote the constitution or were they going by a set of Enlightenment values that were a product of their times? If you believe it was the former, please explain the omission of a law against owning other people as property.

          “I just don’t understand why you overlook the reason that our constitutional republic was established. It would have never existed if people did not recognize objective moral values.”

          Well, I don’t understand why you insist that the reason was objective when everything about it suggests that it was subjectice. The evidence for your position seems rather thin on the ground.

          “As for a list, you know you don’t need me to give you one. You just don’t want to embrace the implications of accepting objective moral values.”

          This strikes me as a bit of a cop-out and makes me suspicious that you’re claiming to know things you don’t actually know. As for my motivations to argue against objective moral values, you’re definitely wrong. I think objective moral values would be a great thing – it would give us a way to resolve all conflicts on moral issues and save us from a world of heartbreak. But we never see objective moral values resolving disagreements, do we? The method we’re using to come to an agreement on contentious moral issues is good old democracy – a completely subjective political process. I tend to go with the preponderance of evidence and it’s clearly not on the side of objective morality.

          You seem to be avoiding the most important question: how do we know if a moral position is objective or subjective? In a situation with conflicting views on a moral issue, how do we objectively determine who’s right?

          Reply
      • Nate says:

        Kindness must be seen in our responses otherwise we are not reaching but reacting; we are not responding but retaliating.

        Reply
    • Robby Hall says:

      If you leave morality to a vote, you run into the Ad Populum Fallacy. No, if you are going to posit something to truly be good or evil, you must show it to be so outside of a popular vote.

      Reply
      • KR says:

        Robby Hall wrote: “If you leave morality to a vote, you run into the Ad Populum Fallacy. No, if you are going to posit something to truly be good or evil, you must show it to be so outside of a popular vote.”

        So you think democratic rule is an ad populum fallacy? Will you be the first one to answer the question everyone seems to be ignoring: what better system of government would you suggest?

        Also, how do you show that something is objectively good or evil?

        Reply
        • Robby Hall says:

          Just so we have a good definition, Ad Populum states that X proposition is true because popular belief is that the proposition is true which is a fallacy.

          So, are you stating that if popular opinion is that X is evil, it is truly evil or just evil in majority opinion?

          Reply
          • Robby Hall says:

            Democracy is a good form of government. Now, are you stating that there is no such thing as evil, just a popular opinion?

          • KR says:

            I’m stating that I’ve seen no evidence for any objective moral values and plenty of evidence for subjective moral values (since we seem to disagree on various moral issues all the time). If democracy – which is a subjective system for coming to agreement on moral issues – is a good form of government, it would seem we’re getting along just fine without objective moral values, whether they exist or not.

          • KR says:

            May I ask, if you think that there are objective moral values and that society should adhere to these values, why would you accept a subjective democratic system of government? How do you make sure that such a system makes rules that line up with these objective moral values? Also, when the rules do line up with these objective moral values, how do you make sure these rules won’t be changed at a later date?

      • Andy Ryan says:

        Can you point to something that is evil then and demonstrate that it’s evil without referencing popular opinion, or your opinion or my opinion on the issue? Because normally when we ask this question, we’re told that baby torture is wrong, or something similar, and that ‘everyone knows this’ – an appeal to popular opinion. Further down the line we might eventually get told it’s wrong because God thinks it’s wrong, or (supposedly a more sophisticated argument) that the wrongness of baby torture is derived from God’s nature. This begs the question of why rights and wrongs can be derived from God’s nature.

        Reply
        • Robby Hall says:

          If I point out something is evil and then use popular opinion to ground it, all I have done is successfully show that it is in fact not evil because there would be no such thing.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            So Robby, KR and I have asked you several times to demonstrate that something is ‘truly good or truly evil’. You’ve replied three times without attempting to demonstrate it. You’ve defined popular opinion, you’ve told us what does NOT demonstrate that something is truly good or truly evil. But you’ve not answered the question. Are we to conclude that you can’t?

          • Robby Hall says:

            | But you’ve not answered the question. Are we to conclude that you can’t? |

            Because I agree with the idea of objective moral values and duties, I will demonstrate that something is truly evil by first stating that

            It is true that torturing babies is objectively evil because a baby is created in the image of God and God gives a baby intrinsic value. If it is not true that torturing babies is objectively evil and is only subjectively evil, then a baby is not created and God’s image and does not have intrinsic value [or you have to demonstrate how it would have such value in an atheistic universe] and therefore it is ok to torture babies if a particular society agrees with it.

            Now, I will demonstrate it also by asking you this:

            Is it true that torturing babies is objectively evil or is it true that it is only subjectively evil?

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “torturing babies is objectively evil because a baby is created in the image of God and God gives a baby intrinsic value”
            How does God give a baby intrinsic value? What does ‘intrinsic value’ actually mean and why would that make baby torture wrong? How do you figure that a baby NOT made by God, that has all the same ability to feel pain, would have no value and can be tortured?

          • TGM says:

            It’s a contradiction to suggest that something (God, in this case) can give something else (a baby) intrinsic value. INTRINSIC: belonging to the essential nature of a thing. (Mirriam-Webster)

    • Daniel says:

      At this point in your view of ethics, you cannot explain the “why”.

      If objective morality does not exist and ethics are merely subjective, it seems we would live in a governing society much like the one we live in today, it is not problematic to say morality is both objective and subjective. Where your view fails is this: when a person sexually abuses a child, it is abhorrent, we do not say oh well the governerning laws dictate this an atrocity. We know it is truly wrong intuitively.

      If the governing laws were all that carries moral weight for right and wrong, raping a child would not be truly wrong, it would just be taboo. In contemporary society we can see that is not the case. If acts like these were just subjective then there is no real reason to punish these people based on there relativistic view of morality, there is at least no paradigm or locus of good and evil, right or wrong, what is good for one person may be wrong for the next. Again we see that is not the case.

      But that begs the question, how do we know good and evil? Right or wrong? If it’s subjective there is no valid bases for governing laws of a people when it is moral relativism we must hold to. It shows the need for a being such as God, giving the law. By negation we know what evil and wrong are, but without good or right, we cannot know, the universe and its laws do not give us laws such as morality, being no way to have good or evil without a personal creator giving us laws.

      Reply
      • KR says:

        “Where your view fails is this: when a person sexually abuses a child, it is abhorrent, we do not say oh well the governerning laws dictate this an atrocity. We know it is truly wrong intuitively.”

        The point you’re missing is that if our moral intuitions were objective, they would all be the same and we wouldn’t need any laws. The fact that some moral intuitions are shared by a vast majority doesn’t make them objective, just shared. Laws represent the moral intuitions that most people agree on and this has obviously changed over time. Do you think slavery is abhorrent? Up until a couple of centuries ago a lot of people were just fine with it. Do you think it’s abhorrent for a man to rape his wife? Marital rape was legal in some US states right up until the early 90’s.

        “If the governing laws were all that carries moral weight for right and wrong, raping a child would not be truly wrong, it would just be taboo.”

        The fact that it is taboo means that we think it’s truly wrong so the distinction seems rather meaningless.

        “If acts like these were just subjective then there is no real reason to punish these people based on there relativistic view of morality, there is at least no paradigm or locus of good and evil, right or wrong, what is good for one person may be wrong for the next.”

        If people agree that something is wrong and harmful, why on earth would they not try to stop it by punishing the people who commit these harmful acts? This is the whole point of making it a law.

        “If it’s subjective there is no valid bases for governing laws of a people when it is moral relativism we must hold to. It shows the need for a being such as God, giving the law.”

        But God doesn’t give us our laws, that’s my point. Our laws are made by a political process where opposing opinions are aired in debates and discussions and an agreement is reached by a vote. It couldn’t be more subjective. The fact that laws change as the general consensus changes just underlines this.

        Will you answer the question that the proponents of objective morality consistently avoid: if people’s moral intuitions conflict on a given issue (which happens all the time), how do you decide which position is the objectively correct one?

        Reply
  3. ANTHONY says:

    I find this line of argument puzzling. It’s as if the examples of immoral behaviour are ok, as long as the belief in objective moral values grounded in God is maintained. It’s a nonsensical approach.

    Reply
    • Mike edwards says:

      Well , it wouldn’t be immoral if no objective morality existed . Also your just judging by saying they are immoral , that would subjective to you only . I think your missing the point here

      Reply
    • ANTHONY says:

      Exactly! Whether moral relativism or objective moral values are true, the moral landscape is exactly the same.

      The real absurdity here is the idea that if moral relativism were suddenly proven true, everyone would suddenly start running around doing exactly as they pleased.

      Reply
  4. Rob says:

    Something can exist even if no one acknowledges or is aware of it or practices it. The way to demonstrate that there are objective moral principles would be to demonstrate first that there is a basis in reality for them. If prime reality has a moral aspect to it, then there is such a basis. If the universe had a beginning and was on purpose, and the cause is eternal, personal (purposeful) and unchanging, the unchanging character of that personal cause would provide an objective basis. Even if we weren’t told what the principles were, there would still be principles. If we were told, we would have a list of sort. On the other hand materialism has no real basis for distinguishing between kindness and cruelty since both are equally real aspects of physical reality in the universe. Materialism doesn’t prohibit you from making up your own rules individually or as a society. The problem with being guided by materialism is that cruelty is not prohibited. When a Christian beats his wife, it doesn’t say anything to whether or not there are objective moral principles, for he could be in violation of them. Hs behavior violates Christianity. However he is not violating any principle of atheism, is he? How could he? So I assume if someone denies the existence of objective morality, they are not just denying the existence of objective morals, but the basis for them as well. So the discussion ultimately must focus on whether the universe had a beginning/cause and is on purpose. If so, objective morality at least has a basis in reality. And if not, then not.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “the unchanging character of that personal cause would provide an objective basis”
      How so? Let’s grant that a being creates a universe and does so for some reason, and let’s also grant that the being’s character is unchanging. How do you get from that to ‘Objective moral principles exist’. I see absolutely no connection whatsoever between the premise we’ve granted and the conclusion you draw from it. Let’s say that a being decides to create a universe filled with humans for the purpose of torturing the humans and for watching them torture each other. Would this make all the ensuing torture ‘morally principled’?
      “His behavior violates Christianity”
      Ignoring that no two Christians can agree exactly on what the principles of Christianity actually ARE, why would ‘violating Christianity’ be any more or less moral than, say ‘violating the rules of chess’?
      “If so, objective morality at least has a basis in reality”
      You’ve done nothing to show that it would, even granting that the universe ‘is on purpose’.

      Reply
      • John says:

        The way to connect the creation of the universe to the fact that objective moral principles exist is through the interaction of the creator and the created. We were not simply made and left to fend for ourselves. God has been interacting with us since the days of creation. So the creator has given us the knowledge that there are objective moral principles in the universe that guide us. We are the ones that continually stray from these truths. The truth does not change, because God the creator does not change.

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “So the creator has given us the knowledge that there are objective moral principles in the universe”
          How are you getting from ‘God interacts with us’ to ‘objective moral principles exist’? You need to explain how you know they exist, and why God creating us would mean they exist. Just saying ‘God gave us knowledge that they exist’ is begging the question.

          Reply
    • KR says:

      Rob wrote: “Something can exist even if no one acknowledges or is aware of it or practices it.”

      Sure – but if the proponents want us not only to believe that objective moral values exist but that it would have dire consequences if they didn’t, they need to do better than “well, they might exist”, wouldn’t you agree? If no-one can demonstrate that they exist, how to access them or how to determine that they’re even objective in the first place and the moral guidelines we actually do use all come from a subjective political process, the existence of these objective moral values seems indistinguishable from non-existence – so why should we care about them?

      “If the universe had a beginning and was on purpose, and the cause is eternal, personal (purposeful) and unchanging, the unchanging character of that personal cause would provide an objective basis.”

      Andy has already addressed this and pointed out the non sequitur.

      “On the other hand materialism has no real basis for distinguishing between kindness and cruelty since both are equally real aspects of physical reality in the universe.”

      I disagree. The physical and emotional needs of sentient biological beings such as ourselves seems like a much more solid grounding for why some things are kind and others cruel than “because God says so” which seems completely arbitrary by comparison.

      “The problem with being guided by materialism is that cruelty is not prohibited.”

      I don’t even know what it means to be “guided by materialism”. I don’t believe in the supernatural but why would that determine how I treat other people? We tend to mostly not be cruel to each other because we have an innate capacity for compassion, which makes perfect evolutionary sense for social creatures that rely on each other for their survival.

      “When a Christian beats his wife, it doesn’t say anything to whether or not there are objective moral principles, for he could be in violation of them. Hs behavior violates Christianity. However he is not violating any principle of atheism, is he? How could he?”

      How could he, indeed – since atheism is not a set of principles but a lack of belief in any deities. A person’s lack of belief in a god obviously says nothing about their moral views.

      “So I assume if someone denies the existence of objective morality, they are not just denying the existence of objective morals, but the basis for them as well. So the discussion ultimately must focus on whether the universe had a beginning/cause and is on purpose. If so, objective morality at least has a basis in reality. And if not, then not.”

      My skepticism against objective moral values is based on the fact that I see no evidence that they exist. As Andy has pointed out, it doesn’t seem to follow that objective moral values must exist just because the universe had a purpose. Wouldn’t it be easier just to demonstrate the existence of these objective moral values? If their existence is so crucial to us, doesn’t it seem odd that they can’t be demonstrated?

      Reply
  5. william russell says:

    A democratic system may be a valid system for setting up rules but it is a flawed system in which we have imprisoned and executed many innocent individuals while at the same time allowing many murderers and rapists and the like to roam free. And though you may sit back and claim that it’s not a perfect system but it’s a good one, I suspect you would change your mind if it was you or one of your children who were falsely imprisoned for rape or murder, or one of your children who was raped or murdered while the perpetrator roamed free, then I suspect that you would demand justice. But if there is no objective morality then everything goes, whether you agree or not. If we really did evolve from a mud slushy then there is no such thing as right and wrong, and any dictator such as Hitler, Stalin, or Mao or anyone else can be anything they like and commit any act they like, and the millions of people tortured and murdered by them were simply in the way of them doing what was best for them, survival of the fittest I believe Darwin called it. In fact, the full title of his book was “Origin of species by means of natural selection and favored races.” In which he posited that Africans and Aborigines were just above apes, and he predicted that the stronger white race would eventually eliminate those inferior races. And in evolution is true then that is exactly what should happen all over the world, we do not need to be concerned about those in our society who are inferior in any way, nature dictates that the strong survive, and this is what we see when we observe the natural order of things. And the only reason that rampant crime does not sky rocket in our current system is due to the heavy handed, and often extremely flawed and brutal system of law enforcement, and not out of the subjective moral goodness of our hearts, which atheist Steven Pinker demonstrated in his book “The Better Angels of our Nature: why violence has declined.” History has shown that just because the majority rules doesn’t mean they are right.

    And yes there is a better system that God has offered in scripture, it is summed up in the following manner. Mark 12:30-31New International Version (NIV) 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” The use of “Neighbor” here can be interpreted “Fellowman”, and the list encompassed here is quite extensive and is also far superior to our current system. It would include not only all actions committed, such as rape, murder, slavery, lying, cheating, stealing…etc. But also many actions that are omitted, meaning we would not only not do those things which were harmful to others, but we would consciously go out of our way to do the things we knew were beneficial to our fellowman, and it cannot be denied that everyone across this planet would practice this system, our world would be the beautiful place that God intended it to be. But God rather than forcing objective moral standard on us, left it in our hands and to our free will and we opted for the flawed system we now have. It is also important not to confuse Sociology with Morality, Sociology is how we behave, which is why the world is the way it is now, Morality is how we ought to behave, which would be the way God has commanded, which is to love and treat every other human being the way you would want them to love and treat you.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “And in evolution is true then that is exactly what should happen all over the world”
      Should? That’s your judgement, and yours alone. Evolution is descriptive, not prescriptive. It says what does happen and makes no comment on what should. So, William, why do you think genocide should happen? Is this belief influenced by your religious views?

      You also chide people for thinking democracy is a good system. Which would you prefer? Communist China, perhaps, or some murderous theocracy? If decisions aren’t reached by majority, what’s your alternative? Perhaps you think YOU should be allowed the decide for us, or some hopefully benevolent King.

      Finally, your reading of Darwin is ignorant, right down to your misrepresentation of the title. Race, as used by Darwin, refers to varieties, not to human races. It simply points out that some variations that occur naturally survive in greater numbers. Origin of Species hardly refers to humans at all.

      Reply
    • KR says:

      William Russell wrote: “And though you may sit back and claim that it’s not a perfect system but it’s a good one, I suspect you would change your mind if it was you or one of your children who were falsely imprisoned for rape or murder, or one of your children who was raped or murdered while the perpetrator roamed free, then I suspect that you would demand justice.”

      My argument wasn’t that democracy is a perfect system but that democracy is a subjective system of lawmaking that doesn’t seem to descend into nihilism, proving that the original post presented a false dichotomy. So far no-one has shown me othwerwise.

      “But if there is no objective morality then everything goes, whether you agree or not.”

      Well I don’t agree, that’s my point – and you seem to be disagreeing with yourself on this. You start off by saying that democracy is a valid system and then you say that the only alternative to objective morality is “anything goes”. Well, democracy is a subjective system so which is it: is it a valid system or does it lead to “anything goes”?

      “If we really did evolve from a mud slushy then there is no such thing as right and wrong, and any dictator such as Hitler, Stalin, or Mao or anyone else can be anything they like and commit any act they like, and the millions of people tortured and murdered by them were simply in the way of them doing what was best for them, survival of the fittest I believe Darwin called it.”

      Neither of these men were leaders of a democratic state so I fail to see how this addresses my argument. Your mischaracterization of Darwin and his ideas have already been addressed by Andy so I’ll just leave that.

      “And yes there is a better system that God has offered in scripture, it is summed up in the following manner. Mark 12:30-31New International Version (NIV) 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” The use of “Neighbor” here can be interpreted “Fellowman”, and the list encompassed here is quite extensive and is also far superior to our current system. It would include not only all actions committed, such as rape, murder, slavery, lying, cheating, stealing…etc. But also many actions that are omitted, meaning we would not only not do those things which were harmful to others, but we would consciously go out of our way to do the things we knew were beneficial to our fellowman, and it cannot be denied that everyone across this planet would practice this system, our world would be the beautiful place that God intended it to be.”

      So we should apply the Bible as a source of objective morality? How do we determine that the moral rules of the Bible are objectively correct? If you think the Bible is a source of objective morality, we must obviously apply all of the rules in there – otherwise we would be cherry-picking according to our own subjective morality and the objectivity would fly out of the window. This means that slavery is allowed again, homosexuality is punishable by death as is adultery or simply being disobedient to your parents. Do you see a slight problem trying to implement this in a modern society? Would you accept a law based on the Quran? If not, why would you expect Muslims (or any non-Christians) to accept such a law? Also, how would this system guarantee that no-one is falsely imprisoned and that no perpetrator goes free? I’m assuming cases will be arbitered by some kind of judges? Who appoints these judges? Is it a democratic process or a total theocracy?

      As for mandating good deeds, how do we objectively determine what is beneficial to others? If doing what is beneficial to someone else is harmful to me, would I still be required to do it? If I feel it would be beneficial to me that everyone I meet give me their money, would the law compel them to comply? Wouldn’t the entire system be completely bogged down by disgruntled people filing complaints against those that they feel could have done soo many more beneficial things for them? I just don’t see how this could work – which is probably why we don’t see this kind of legislation.

      Reply
  6. @joesw0rld says:

    Not sure how this shows the absurdity of moral relativity. People excusing awful actions they’ve committed is exactly what we’d expect if morals were subjective.

    Reply
  7. Rob says:

    Varieties? Race might represent a lesser degree of variation than that between species, but is still something. In fact there is variation between almost all individuals within the same race as well as across races, and in many cases they are more significant than those represented by race. On democracy : The reason we have a republic and not a pure democracy was so that there were some givens that could not be ignored constitutionally by the majority. The founders understood these principles/givens to be rooted in a reality that transcended government, including kings and majorities. So their view of objective rights as reflected in the declaration and Constitution was the opposite of the notion that morality is simply relative to majority opinion or will. I think we should all be grateful for that!

    As for the argument that materialism provides a basis in reality for what is normative simply because of the evolutionary survival value of being kind rather than cruel, it seems that strangely we are in agreement that there is a basis in reality for objective morality. One argues from design and a law-giver and the other argues from the objective reality of the nature of social beings (which we study through the disciplines of science). Although I’m not sure which humans are referenced. For example, are we talking about the survival of the human race over other creatures or of one of the human races over another? On the one hand, perhaps kindness is the better strategy. In the second case, maybe genocide gives your race a better advantage. So both Mother Teresa and the ethnic cleanser can rightly claim their place on the moral high ground.

    On the existence of objective moral principles, demonstrating that there is a basis for them is where I think we should start (not end). And no, not knowing what they are is not in reality the same as their non-existence. Although I do see your point that it’s important to know. Not knowing of them is kind of senseless, isn’t it? Two people will never agree on this if one believes in the basis for them and the other does not. I do think there are reasons to believe in a basis for them and for knowing at some level what they are. Maybe I’ll share those some time. Maybe when we discuss these things without attacking each other’s person we are lining up with some objective moral principle. I’d like to think it is.

    Reply
    • KR says:

      Rob wrote: ” On democracy : The reason we have a republic and not a pure democracy was so that there were some givens that could not be ignored constitutionally by the majority.”

      That’s probably a good thing but what rights to put in the document was still a subjective consideration by the founding fathers and has been amended many times since. The fact that we need judges to interpret the constitution and that the final determination of what is constitutional is made by a SCOTUS vote just underlines that it will always be a fundamentally subjective system.

      “As for the argument that materialism provides a basis in reality for what is normative simply because of the evolutionary survival value of being kind rather than cruel, it seems that strangely we are in agreement that there is a basis in reality for objective morality. One argues from design and a law-giver and the other argues from the objective reality of the nature of social beings (which we study through the disciplines of science).”

      Like Andy, I don’t see how you get from the designer to objectivity. It seems to me that you’re simply re-labeling the designer’s subjective opinion as objective. What’s the justification for this? Someone else on this forum stated that God has the creator’s right to do as He pleases with His creation but why should I accept that – and how is this any different from “might makes right”?

      “Although I’m not sure which humans are referenced. For example, are we talking about the survival of the human race over other creatures or of one of the human races over another? On the one hand, perhaps kindness is the better strategy. In the second case, maybe genocide gives your race a better advantage. So both Mother Teresa and the ethnic cleanser can rightly claim their place on the moral high ground.”

      The evolutionary benefits of certain behaviours can explain the origin of morality but that’s just the “is”, not the “ought”. As I stated earlier, I’m not convinced a naturally-derived objective morality can be reached and I’m willing to provisionally accept that morality is inherently subjective, since that’s what the evidence tells me. Typically, the people arguing for a materialistic objective morality don’t refer to survival but rather to the well-being of conscious creatures. This is certainly a commendable goal but difficult to shape into something that can be objectively determined.

      “On the existence of objective moral principles, demonstrating that there is a basis for them is where I think we should start (not end). And no, not knowing what they are is not in reality the same as their non-existence.”

      I didn’t say they were the same but I do maintain that if we have no way of accessing these objective moral values and never seem to see them demonstrated, they’re at least irrelevant.

      “Although I do see your point that it’s important to know. Not knowing of them is kind of senseless, isn’t it? Two people will never agree on this if one believes in the basis for them and the other does not.”

      This is why moral claims and truth claims about objective reality are clearly in different categories. Disagreements over truth claims about objective reality can be resolved by empirical evidence. This never happens with moral disagreements (or esthetic disagreements for that matter). To me, this is pretty solid evidence that moral claims are not objective truth claims but subjective preferences.

      “Maybe when we discuss these things without attacking each other’s person we are lining up with some objective moral principle. I’d like to think it is.”

      I don’t know if it’s objective but it’s a principle I endorse.

      Reply
  8. Andy Ryan says:

    “demonstrating that there is a basis for them is where I think we should start”
    I agree. Please go ahead and do so.
    “Race might represent a lesser degree of variation than that between species, but is still something”
    William was arguing that the ‘favoured races’ part of the title pointed to racism. I’ve pointed out that it doesn’t.
    “maybe genocide gives your race a better advantage”
    It didn’t help the Germans. They diverted valuable resources away from fighting the war to killing Jews. They went on to lose the war and most of the perpetrators of the holocaust killed themselves and their children or got executed.
    “I think we should all be grateful for that!”
    Shame it took so many decades for the law to catch up with slavery!

    Reply
    • Barrett says:

      Andy,

      You said “Shame it took so many decades for the law to catch up with slavery!”

      Why? There is nothing morally wrong with slavery as long as the majority says that there is nothing morally wrong with slavery.

      Reply
      • KR says:

        “There is nothing morally wrong with slavery as long as the majority says that there is nothing morally wrong with slavery.”

        I don’t think there’s any disagreement here that slavery is morally wrong. The point of contention is whether it’s objectively wrong. If you think it is, how do you know? Let’s say you could travel back in time to the year 1830. Andrew Jackson, himself a slave owner, is president. How would you demonstrate to Mr Jackson that owning people as property is not just wrong in your opinion but obectively wrong?

        Reply
        • Barrett says:

          KR,
          You said “I don’t think there’s any disagreement here that slavery is morally wrong.” But there is disagreement. As you pointed out Andrew Jackson disagrees with the idea that slavery is morally wrong. As do I. Good luck trying to convince me otherwise. In order for Person A to convince Person B that C is objectively immoral A would need to appeal to D that B feels is objective, and then show how if D then C. Andrew Jackson was a Presbyterian. So if I were to try and convince him that slavery was objectively wrong I would probably try to use the Scriptures to do so.

          Reply
          • KR says:

            The problem with that is of course that the people who defended slavery in the 1800’s also referred to Scripture. I would also question the premise that Scripture is objective – how would that be determined?

      • Andy Ryan says:

        So Barrett, are you saying it was NOT a shame for black people that they had to endure a century or so of beating, enslavement, horrible living conditions, rape etc? Are you saying that it was GOOD for black people, that they enjoyed it, that they should have been, in your words, ‘grateful for that’?
        I’m taking a wild stab in the dark here that you’re white, Barrett.

        Reply
        • Barrett says:

          I’m asking if morality is determined by societies, and slave societies have determined that slavery is perfectly moral, then why would it be a shame that those societies practice slavery? If morality is determined by societies, and slave societies have determined that beating and raping slaves is perfectly moral then why would it be a shame that those societies beat and rape slaves? African societies practiced slavery as well. So while they most likely did not like being slaves themselves they were not necessarily against the institution itself. I’m Jewish.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “why would it be a shame that those societies beat and rape slaves?”
            Barrett, you’re pretty disgusting if you don’t see it as a shame for slaves to get beaten and raped. Your justification for that is that the slavers didn’t see it as bad. That’s no justification at all. That societies determine what they believe is moral is a statement of fact. It doesn’t follow that anyone who accepts that fact must figure it’s not ‘a shame that slaves got beaten and raped’. You’re either saying you don’t have a problem with slavery, or you’re strawmanning a position here that no-one has advanced.
            “I’m Jewish”
            Are you saying that your Judaism is why you don’t have a problem with slavery?

  9. Susan Tan says:

    Moral relativism could be what results when people haven’t properly understood the need for repentance. David repented of his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah the Hittite and asked God for a whole new heart. See Psalm 51.

    Christians are imputed justification but we need tp learn to reckon ourselves dead to sin and just walk in the New Creation man. The old is over and done with….A Christian has a whole new life in Christ no matter the pulls of the flesh that may occur. The flesh is passing away…the spiritual is for forever.

    We live in a culture today where it is hard to assimilate sound doctrine but Jesus Christ said ‘Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

    You can play at philosophy with people who never accepted Jesus or you can accept Jesus into your heart and learn spiritual truth.

    Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.”

    You have to get Jesus first to understand Christian doctrine at all.

    Start by simply accepting what God says. He first loved us.

    1 John 4
    10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

    A Christian just accepts and stands in the love of God. We have already accepted Him through the evidence of our own senses and judge Him to be true.

    You can accept what a person tells you at face value or not.

    I simply accept God at the face value provided in His Word.

    He first loved me and divine love is more precious than human love. I have been disappointed by human love many times.

    But God’s love never fails cf. Psalm 118, 1 Cor. 13:8.

    Please learn to reason from the godly examples in scripture. Do not relate to the ungodly examples in scripture. It will confuse you in understanding God’s Word.

    We want to be spiritual successes not failures. So atheists focus on and learn from the spiritual successes. Stop muddying the water in your own mind relating to the people who did wrong in the Bible.

    We’re not living in a time where Jesus was unavailable to most people.

    He is available now and gives the gift of the Spirit to all that love him.

    Atheists are being spiritually delayed. Atheists will have to examine themselves and determine why they are spiritually delayed because Christ is waiting for them to catch up with him so they can keep company with him and become his true disciples.
    Christ knows atheists love to study so they need to throw out whatever false worldly notion is blocking them. If you can’t figure it out then pray to Christ to reveal it to you. People are self deceptive and sometimes incapable of seeing what causes their spiritual blindness but pray to God for an assist. He is the revealer of truth and He does like to get personal with people if they permit Him, too and He likes it when people pray in conjunction with His will.

    Saul of Tarsus would have always permitted God to correct him because he was a believer with great reverence for God so God just did on the Road to Damascus.

    Atheists need to read “Absolute Surrender” a short essay on ccel.org by Andrew Murray.

    Anyone could have an involuntary problem with his will that blocks him from understanding God more personally.

    I trust in the ability of God to make a true disciple out of an atheist. If he can do it with Derek Prince the companion of Wittgenstein then he can do it with any atheist.

    Everyone all just needs to learn receptivity to Him and God encourages it by explaining that he first loved us….and that includes all people regardless of the label. Mormon, atheist, agnostic, Hindu, Jehovah Witness, etc. They can all accept that God loves them and convert.

    Just read all the love passages in the Bible. This is a divine steady, all forgiving love being offered.

    Romans 10;9 is the most personally effective passage of the whole Bible.

    Remember God loves everyone all the time but in our own thought lives we can train ourselves to tune people out or tear them down. You see this propensity in people who go through marriage counseling. Miscommunicating, tearing down the other person and tuning them out. That is what some people do to God.

    But it makes no sense to treat God like the worst human person you ever met. God loves everyone all the time and proved it through Jesus’ work on the Cross so ask God to remove whatever false idea or evil sentiment is prompting your access to His most holy person.

    A Person can’t be evil and holy. An all knowing holy Person knows to reject evil.
    So we have to be humble and repentant to properly enter His presence.

    So if you are rejecting God’s love and making arguments against God all the time then how can you come into His Divine Presence?

    Meditate on all the love passages over and over until you get God’s message and feel included.

    Atheism Is a mere label. You have to learn to be a diligent seeker to come into God’s Presence.

    King James Bible
    Hebrew 11:6
    But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

    Atheism is a mere label but names are important in the Bible. Don’t let a name fool you into being less than God can make you to be.
    Atheism is a misnomer. You really can be anything God intends you to be if you learn how to come into His Presence.

    It is just a fact that everyone has spiritual blockages to his education. We all need to pray to God to increase our faith and remove all spiritual blindness and blockages.

    We have to learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

    Reply
  10. Barrett says:

    KR,

    I never said that Scripture is objective. You asked me how I would convince Andrew Jackson of an objective moral truth? I said in order to do that “A would need to appeal to D that B FEELS is objective, and then show how if D then C”. In Andrew Jackson’s case D=Scripture not because it really is or is not objective but because Andrew Jackson FEELS them to be objective. You said “The problem with that is of course that the people who defended slavery in the 1800’s also referred to Scripture”. This is true. Which is why it would be difficult to convince Andrew Jackson that slavery was objectively immoral. But in Andrew Jackson’s case it is still the best option to appeal to Scripture. I’ll ask you the same question I asked Andy. If societies determine what is moral, then why is slavery in a slave society morally wrong? If societies determine what is moral, then why is racism in a racist society morally wrong? If societies determine what is moral, then why is Nazism in a Nazi society morally wrong?

    Reply
    • KR says:

      Wrong according to who? Some kind of objective standard? I don’t think there’s any such thing. I happen to think that slavery and racism are wrong but that’s my own subjective moral intuition, which I believe to be the result of my genetic and environmental programming.

      Reply
      • Barrett says:

        KR,

        You ask “Wrong according to who?”

        That is my point. If the “who” is society (which is what you appear to have argued for in earlier comments). Then it is not morally wrong for a slave society to practice slavery and it is not morally wrong for a racist society to practice racism and it is not morally wrong for a Nazi society to practice Nazism. But in order to avoid having to admit this you are know having to change the “who” from the society to the individual. And so you say “I happen to think that slavery and racism are wrong”. But that is not even a subjective moral statement. If you had said “I happen to think that slavery and racism are wrong for me” that would have been a subjective moral statement. But to say that “I happen to think that slavery and racism are wrong” implies that you believe that slavery and racism are wrong for everybody. Which is the same as saying that you believe that slavery and racism are objectively wrong. It appears to me that you don’t understand what subjective and objective moral codes really are.

        Reply
        • KR says:

          “If the “who” is society (which is what you appear to have argued for in earlier comments). Then it is not morally wrong for a slave society to practice slavery and it is not morally wrong for a racist society to practice racism and it is not morally wrong for a Nazi society to practice Nazism.”

          What I’ve argued is that morality is inherently subjective. My subjective morality is the only standard I have, so when you ask me “why is slavery in a slave society morally wrong?”, my answer is that it’s wrong according to my subjective morality. Your question seemed to be implying that there’s an objective morality that we should be applying and I asked you for clarification on this – I still think that would be useful.

          “But in order to avoid having to admit this you are know having to change the “who” from the society to the individual.”

          What exactly am I avoiding to admit? That I see no evidence that there are any objective moral truths? It’s been my entire argument!

          “And so you say “I happen to think that slavery and racism are wrong”. But that is not even a subjective moral statement. If you had said “I happen to think that slavery and racism are wrong for me” that would have been a subjective moral statement. But to say that “I happen to think that slavery and racism are wrong” implies that you believe that slavery and racism are wrong for everybody. Which is the same as saying that you believe that slavery and racism are objectively wrong.”

          This seems little more than pedantic nitpicking. It should be abundantly clear by now that I think morality is subjective, so when I say that I think slavery is wrong I don’t see why I would need to add “for me” to the end of the statement. Surely that should be a given?

          “It appears to me that you don’t understand what subjective and objective moral codes really are.”

          That may well be the case. It could also be the case that you haven’t quite understood my argument.

          Reply
          • Barrett says:

            KR,

            You said “What I’ve argued is that morality is inherently subjective. My subjective morality is the only standard I have, so when you ask me “why is slavery in a slave society morally wrong?”, my answer is that it’s wrong according to my subjective morality.”

            But that “answer” does not even attempt to address the question. I’ll explain below.

            You said “Your question seemed to be implying that there’s an objective morality that we should be applying and I asked you for clarification on this – I still think that would be useful.”

            No, the question was meant to see if you really believed that morality was determined by the society. But being how your “answer” did not even address the question I don’t know if you do or not. More on this below.

            You said “What exactly am I avoiding to admit? That I see no evidence that there are any objective moral truths? It’s been my entire argument!”

            No, that is not what you are avoiding to admit. You are avoiding to admit that if the society determines morality then it follows that racism in a racist society is not immoral.

            You said “This seems little more than pedantic nitpicking. It should be abundantly clear by now that I think morality is subjective, so when I say that I think slavery is wrong I don’t see why I would need to add “for me” to the end of the statement. Surely that should be a given?”

            But you see it was not a given because of the question you were supposedly answering. The question was If societies determine what is moral, then why is racism in a racist society morally wrong? Your “answer” was I happen to think that racism is wrong for me. At least that is what you say you meant. Look at the question. It is asking for your opinion on racism in regards to a racist society. It is not asking for your opinion on racism in regards to a non racist individual. Without the words “for me” at the end of your answer it appeared to be answering the question because it appeared to be addressing the racist society. But if you had written the words “for me” at the end then it would have been obvious you were not addressing the racist society at all but your non racist self. Which means that you did not answer the question at all.

            Maybe you are right, maybe I am misunderstanding your argument. So, I’ll ask you some yes or no questions that will hopefully help me to understand where you are coming from.

            Do you believe that morality is determined by the society? If yes, do you believe that racism in a racist society is perfectly moral?

          • KR says:

            Barrett,

            You wrote: “You said “What I’ve argued is that morality is inherently subjective. My subjective morality is the only standard I have, so when you ask me “why is slavery in a slave society morally wrong?”, my answer is that it’s wrong according to my subjective morality.”
            But that “answer” does not even attempt to address the question.”

            It’s the only answer I can give you – and I believe it’s the only answer anyone can give. If morality is subjective, then moral claims of right and wrong are by definition opinions, not facts. From my perspective, when you ask me why slavery in a slave society is wrong, you are by definition asking me for my opinion. Your statement that I haven’t answered your question makes no sense to me.

            “No, the question was meant to see if you really believed that morality was determined by the society.”

            I don’t know why you would think that’s my argument. I’m not even sure I understand what it means for morality to be determined by the society. If morality is subjective, that means it’s personal. I’ve already stated that I believe our individual morality is the result of our biological and environmental programming, i.e. our genes plus the sum total of our life experiences: family background, cultural background, education etc.

            Obviously, the society we live in is going to be a big part of the environment that shapes our morality but in the end, societies are made up of individuals who each have their own set of moral intuitions. For society to function, it needs an agreed-upon set of rules. This agreement could be described as the morals of the society but to go from that to stating that society determines morality seems like, at best, a rather awkward over-simplification.

            “Look at the question. It is asking for your opinion on racism in regards to a racist society. It is not asking for your opinion on racism in regards to a non racist individual.”

            I don’t know what this means. My opinion on racism is my opinion on racism, it’s not going to be different whether I’m evaluating a society or an individual.

            Let me ask you this: when you make a determination on whether something is moral or immoral, what are you referencing if it’s not your personal opinion?

          • KR says:

            Thinking a bit more about this, maybe what you’re really asking is if I believe in some kind of moral relativism where all moral positions are equally valid? This is definitely not the case. I think my positions on moral issues are better than other positions – that’s why I hold to them. Being subjective, these positions are not static – if I come across a moral viewpoint that makes more sense to me than my present one, I’ll change it.

  11. Barrett says:

    KR,

    Moral relativism is the belief that moral judgments are true or false and actions are right or wrong only relative to some particular standpoint. Most moral relativists believe the standpoint that should be used is the society. Which is what I thought you implied you believed in your first comment on this page. You said “Ever heard of democracy? You know, that system that sets up moral rules (i.e. laws) through a subjective political process?” But now I know you believe the standpoint is the individual. This would imply that for a racist individual to practice racism is not immoral. But it appears to me that in order to avoid this you appeal to your belief that your “positions on moral issues are better than other positions”. My question is why are your morals better than other peoples morals? To say this implies that there is some kind of morality that transcends the individuals in question and against which the individuals morals can be rated. You might say that your not appealing to any such thing and that you are only appealing to your own moral code. But if you say this you are only saying that your moral code is better than other peoples moral codes because your moral code says so. This is just circular reasoning. And it is imposing your moral code on everyone else.

    You ask ” when you make a determination on whether something is moral or immoral, what are you referencing if it’s not your personal opinion?”

    I believe that every man does what is right in his own eyes.

    Reply
    • KR says:

      “You said “Ever heard of democracy? You know, that system that sets up moral rules (i.e. laws) through a subjective political process?” But now I know you believe the standpoint is the individual. This would imply that for a racist individual to practice racism is not immoral.”

      I’m sure it’s not immoral to the racist but what does that have to do with my morality? You do realize that to acknowledge that a racist might feel morally justified in his racism doesn’t mean I accept his standpoint?

      “But it appears to me that in order to avoid this you appeal to your belief that your “positions on moral issues are better than other positions”.”

      I’m still having trouble understanding exactly what it is I’m supposed to be trying to avoid?

      “My question is why are your morals better than other peoples morals?”

      Your question is malformed. Since I’ve stated repeatedly that I think morality is subjective, you should realize by now that my position is not that my morals are better than anyone else’s by some objective standard but that I *think* they are better according to my personal moral intuitions. If you’re asking how I’ve arrived at those moral intuitions, I believe I’ve answered that twice already: my genetic and environmental programming.

      “You might say that your not appealing to any such thing and that you are only appealing to your own moral code. But if you say this you are only saying that your moral code is better than other peoples moral codes because your moral code says so. This is just circular reasoning.”

      You keep missing the point. I’m not claiming that my morals are better than anyone else’s – I’m claiming that I *think* they are better than other morals. “Morality is subjective” – ring a bell? Not only is this not circular reasoning, it’s not reasoning at all – it’s a statement of fact: this is what I think – because that’s what my moral intuition tells me.

      “And it is imposing your moral code on everyone else.”

      No, it’s not. Saying that I think my morals are better than other morals does in no way force anybody else to agree with me. If someone doesn’t agree with me and can convince me that their morals are better my moral position will change.

      “I believe that every man does what is right in his own eyes.”

      Well, that’s what I believe, too. I have to admit I’m at a loss as to what your position actually is – I’m having difficulty seeing any clear line of argument.

      Reply
  12. Barrett says:

    KR,

    I’m trying to show you that your belief in moral relativism is at odds with your moral intuitions. Moral relativism says that racism is morally good for the racist. But your moral intuitions are saying that racism is morally bad even for the racist. So which is it?

    Reply
    • KR says:

      You really seem to be struggling with the concept of subjectivity (not to mention your reading skills – I specifically stated I’m not a moral relativist). You seem to think that because I say I think my morals are better than other morals, I have somehow appealed to an objective morality. This is of course nonsense. What I have done is to state an opinion: this is what I think. That’s what subjective means – an opinion. Is this really so hard to grasp?

      Isn’t it about time you stepped up and explained what your own position is? Do you think racism is morally good for the racist? What do you base your determination on?

      Reply
      • Barrett says:

        KR,

        You said “Thinking a bit more about this, maybe what you’re really asking is if I believe in some kind of moral relativism where all moral positions are equally valid? This is definitely not the case.”

        I thought you were saying that you were some kind of an ethnocentric moral relativist. But now that you have clarified that you are not a moral relativist at all what exactly is your position?

        I’m a moral objectivist.

        You ask “Do you think racism is morally good for the racist?”

        No.

        You ask “What do you base your determination on?”

        My moral intuitions.

        Reply
        • KR says:

          My position should be pretty clear from my posts in this thread: I think morality is subjective. The reason I responded to the original post is that it presented a dichotomy which I consider to be false: that either morality is objective or anything goes. To show this I pointed to the fact that all modern societies operate on some kind of democratic system in which laws (i.e. the moral guidelines we live by) are made through an inherently subjective political process which doesn’t result in a nihilistic chaos.

          Reply
          • KR says:

            Not if you by relative mean that all moral positions are equally valid. As I’ve already stated, I think my moral positions are better than other positions. I believe morals are personal opinions or preferences and I obviously hold mine to be better than others – that’s what a preference is.

        • Susan says:

          That sounds like a good answer. Moral intuition.

          Anybody thinking morality is strictly subjective is probably not being realistic.

          Morality always needs to be an objectively upheld standard. People can’t agree on terms without objective morality and standards.

          The fact that some people want to be moral relativists so they can redefine and twist terms when things aren’t working out in their favor is probably why this whole world practically runs on contracts.

          A while back some cultures used to seal deals with a word and a handshake but that is almost never observed in Western culture these days especially since the Age of Enlightenment made everything about the individual.

          Now to get anything seriously done in this world you have to get a lawyer because you can’t trust anybody any more to do what they promise to do and middle men like lawyers are expensive.

          This world is evil just like the Bible says and when you can’t rely on someone to keep his word then that just validates the Bible further.

          But nobody wants to be perceived as evil that offends their delicate sensibilities.

          Still do you see anybody winging it without contracts these days?

          No. Most people must know in their hearts that moral relativism stinks but they’re not going to do anything about it. They just buy the lie and protect themselves as best they can.

          There really was a time and a few societies in which your word was your bond and if you broke your word then your name was mud.

          That is why Jesus said in Matthew 5:

          37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

          Reply
    • Susan says:

      Great to meet you, Barrett.

      I think you may be the first Messianic Jew that I ever exchanged words with. If you are fluent in Hebrew then you really have a lot of extra insight into the scriptures don’t you? I have a Hebrew book but am weak at languages so I really am only a little familiar with the alphabet so far.

      Reply
      • Barrett says:

        Susan,

        Nice to meet you as well.

        Sadly I am not fluent in Hebrew (I grew up in the States). But many of my friends are and it does give them an edge when it comes to studying Scripture.

        Shalom

        Reply
  13. Susan says:

    Wiki explanation of moral relativism:

    Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.

    That is what you get from consulting philosophers: “Nobody is objectively right or wrong.”

    Except Christians know God is.

    If God creates the Earth then He can create morality too through giving moral laws.

    But some people don’t want to keep the law or find it inconvenient so they invent moral relativism.

    If God doesn’t exist then the individual stands in God’s place and thinks he can decide for himself what is moral or not.

    Except that is an error on the moral relativist’s part because a person doesn’t live in isolation.

    There are interpersonal boundaries to respect that moral relativism ignores with slip shod self rationalizations that benefit the individual at the expense of others.

    When you start to entertain moral relativism in yiur mind then you can start to permit things like abortion which is a total interpersonal boundary violation.

    The baby belongs to God. Half of the baby’s DNA is from a man so obviously the woman doesn’t own the baby exclusively. No matter how much people want to argue she has a right to own her own body.

    If the woman wanted to own her own body she should have asserted that right before she got pregnant.

    All people belong to God but lots of people are interpersonal boundary violators that refuse to obey God and live by His rules.

    Imagine a game of basketball without rules. You couldn’t play it because dirty practices like throwing elbows would become the norm so the game would become more and more unplayable unless people lowered their own morals and accepted a risk to themselves.

    But society is not usually the beneficiary of lowered moral standards and the individual isn’t either.

    A world with higher standards is always a better world to live in and if you don’t believe me then go live in a society where bribery is the norm or women are totally devalued and made to bear the brunt of the lack of other people’s self control.

    Why do women wear burqas in the Middle East. Because of boundary issues. Why should a woman have to control the way a man thinks about her? A woman has to wear a burqa in
    some countries because the men haven’t the Fruit of the Spirit of self control which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Beware what you settle for in this world because you get what you settle for and then you have to make do with it.

    Reply
  14. Barrett says:

    KR,

    You ask “How do you know that what your moral intuitions are sensing are objective truths?”

    Why not believe that my moral intuitions are sensing objective moral truths when that is what my moral intuitions are telling me? The only alternative I see is to say that my moral intuitions are an illusion caused by the brain. Which seems to me to be closer to moral skepticism than moral relativism.

    You said “I believe morals are personal opinions or preferences”

    It seems that you are saying that morality is in reality nothing more than personal preference. If this is true then when you say that racism is wrong all you are really saying is that you do not personally prefer racism. But I have a hard time believing that your moral intuitions are only telling you that you do not personally prefer that people rape your mother for example. I would hope that your moral intuitions are telling you that it is more than just your personal preference that people not rape your mother but that it is objectively (meaning whether you prefer it or not) wrong. If your moral intuitions are not telling you that it is objectively wrong for people to rape your mother, I’m going suggest that you should probably spend less time talking to people online and spend more time talking to a therapist.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      Barrett, you’re telling KR to see a therapist after you said it’s not a shame for people to be enslaved, beaten and raped?

      Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          Really? You seemed pretty baffled by the notion of wanting to avoid the suffering of slaves, or empathising with their suffering. Even saying their fate was ‘a shame’ confused you, and you suggested slaves might support the idea of slavery (while allowing that they may well not want to be slaves themselves).

          Reply
          • Barrett says:

            Andy,

            I was only baffled by the notion that you would think slavery a shame for the slave society.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Pretty sure I said it was a shame for the slaves. Like KR said, you don’t seem to be debating in good faith. Either way, I think one could argue that slavery debases everyone concerned and thus is a shame for all.

    • KR says:

      “Why not believe that my moral intuitions are sensing objective moral truths when that is what my moral intuitions are telling me?”

      It seems to me the reasonable question is “why believe it?”. The only good reason I can think of to accept a claim (at least one that seems to have some kind of impact on my life) is that it’s supported by our empirical experience and makes logical sense. In the case of morality, my experience is that people disagree on all kinds of moral issues and that these disagreements are never resolved by someone demonstrating any objective moral position. The way we resolve these conflicts and set up rules for how to behave and treat each other is always entirely subjective.

      When I ask proponents of objective morality how they know that a particular moral proposition is objective rather than subjective, they don’t have any answers. So tell me – if you don’t know what these objective moral values are and have no reliable method of finding out, what reason do you have to believe they even exist? If no-one can demonstrate these objective moral values and the moral rules we actually live by are reached by a subjective agreement, then objective morality is at best irrelevant whether it exists or not.

      “The only alternative I see is to say that my moral intuitions are an illusion caused by the brain. Which seems to me to be closer to moral skepticism than moral relativism.”

      So if something is caused by the brain it’s an illusion? Do you think emotions are illusions? If you’re feeling angry, sad, happy or scared, those are just illusions and you’re not actually feeling these things?

      “It seems that you are saying that morality is in reality nothing more than personal preference. If this is true then when you say that racism is wrong all you are really saying is that you do not personally prefer racism. But I have a hard time believing that your moral intuitions are only telling you that you do not personally prefer that people rape your mother for example. I would hope that your moral intuitions are telling you that it is more than just your personal preference that people not rape your mother but that it is objectively (meaning whether you prefer it or not) wrong.”

      Wow. I have stated (and re-stated) my position so many times just to have you consistently misrepresent it that it’s becoming difficult to believe you’re arguing in good faith. Before we go any further I need you to answer two questions:

      1) Do you understand that subjective morality does not mean that all moral positions are equally valid and that when I state that I think something is morally wrong, I don’t mean it’s just wrong for me but for everyone?
      2) Do you understand that when I state that I think something is morally wrong (not just for me but for everyone), I’m stating an opinion and not referencing an objective moral truth?

      If you can’t even get these fundamentals right, I really can’t help you.

      “If your moral intuitions are not telling you that it is objectively wrong for people to rape your mother, I’m going suggest that you should probably spend less time talking to people online and spend more time talking to a therapist.”

      So yet again you demonstrate that you don’t have the first clue what subjective morality is. You’re also demonstrating that you don’t even understand your own position. When I asked you how you know that what your moral intuitions are sensing are objective truths, you replied: “Why not believe that my moral intuitions are sensing objective moral truths when that is what my moral intuitions are telling me?”. You *believe* you can sense moral truths. Unless you’re going to tell me that your beliefs are objectively true (which would be nonsensical as they would then be statements of fact, not beliefs), it would seem your morality is subjective after all. We both base our morality on personal beliefs – welcome to the club.

      In addition to this internal inconsistency in your position, there’s also the fact that I can demonstrate the existence of subjective morals (since there can be conflicting moral opinions) while you seem unable to demonstrate the existence of objective moral values. Maybe you should get off that horse – it seems far too high for you.

      Reply
      • Barrett says:

        KR,

        You ask “Do you understand that subjective morality does not mean that all moral positions are equally valid and that when I state that I think something is morally wrong, I don’t mean it’s just wrong for me but for everyone?”

        Yes I do understand that that is what you think. But do you understand that when you say that “I think something is morally wrong, I don’t mean it’s just wrong for me but for everyone?” that you are saying that you think it is objectively wrong?

        You ask “Do you understand that when I state that I think something is morally wrong (not just for me but for everyone), I’m stating an opinion and not referencing an objective moral truth?”

        Yes I do. But do you know that when you say it is your opinion that “something is morally wrong (not just for me but for everyone)” that you are saying that it is objectively wrong in your opinion.

        Do you think that morality is subjective or do you think that morality is objective? Is it your opinion that morality is subjective or is it your opinion that morality is objective?

        Reply
        • KR says:

          “Yes I do understand that that is what you think. But do you understand that when you say that “I think something is morally wrong, I don’t mean it’s just wrong for me but for everyone?” that you are saying that you think it is objectively wrong?”

          “I think X is morally wrong” is a subjective statement. Why? Because it contains the qualifier “I think”, which means it’s by definition a personal opinion and not a statement of fact. “I think X is objectively morally wrong” is still a subjective statement because it has the same qualifier. Adding “objectively” doesn’t change that, it’s still a statement of opinion that X is wrong.

          “Yes I do. But do you know that when you say it is your opinion that “something is morally wrong (not just for me but for everyone)” that you are saying that it is objectively wrong in your opinion.”

          “It is objectively wrong in my opinion” is still a subjective statement. An opinion is an opinion and not a statement of fact, so it’s by definition subjective.

          “Do you think that morality is subjective or do you think that morality is objective? Is it your opinion that morality is subjective or is it your opinion that morality is objective?”

          I think morality is subjective. This is my opinion. I have very little remaining hope that you’ll ever understand what this means. What’s odd is that you’ve conceded that your morals are subjective (since they’re built on a personal belief that you can sense objective moral truths) but you don’t seem to realize it.

          Reply
          • Barrett says:

            KR,

            You seem to be saying that if someone says “I think X.” that that means X can’t be objectively true. But this is false. Say a child says “I think one plus one equals two” this in no way means that “one plus one equals two” can’t be objectively true. Likewise when someone says “I think morality is objective” this in no way means that “morality is objective” can’t be objectively true.

            I think that what you are saying is that as far as your mind is concerned morality is objective. But as far as reality is concerned morality is not objective. But if you go there what you are really saying is that as far as your mind is concerned it is morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother. But as far as reality is concerned it is not morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother. But if you say that as far as reality is concerned that it is morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother, you are saying that as far as reality is concerned it is objectively wrong to rape your mother. Do you really believe that in reality it is not morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother? But that it is only morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother in your mind? I don’t see how you could. But even if you do believe this to be true you still need to explain how you are not contradicting yourself when you say that you believe in your mind that it is morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother, but you believe that in reality it is not morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother. The problem is your belief that in reality it is not morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother is still in your mind which means that you actually don’t believe in your mind that it is morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother. Whatever you believe about reality is what you actually believe in your mind. So when you say that you believe or think or that it is your opinion that it is morally wrong for everyone to rape your mother but that in reality morality is not objective, then you don’t really believe in reality or in your mind that it is wrong for everyone to rape your mother and you are just lying to yourself about thinking something different in your mind.

          • KR says:

            “You seem to be saying that if someone says “I think X.” that that means X can’t be objectively true.”

            No, that’s not what I’m saying – but why would you get it right this time? I have of course never suggested that the statement “I think X” means X can’t be objectively true and it’s a complete mystery to me why you would think this is the case. What I’m saying – and which should be perfectly obvious by now – is that “I think X” is not a statement of fact that X is objectively true but a statement of opinion that it’s true, which makes it a subjective statement. I’m sure the difference completely escapes you but I’m still going to claim that it’s there.

            “I think that what you are saying is that as far as your mind is concerned morality is objective. But as far as reality is concerned morality is not objective.”

            This makes no sense to me. My mind is collecting observations of reality and drawing conclusions from these observations. What’s completely missing in these observations is any kind of demonstration of objective moral values. My conclusion is to remain skeptical of any claims that objective moral values exist until someone can actually provide such a demonstration.

            Meanwhile, this doesn’t stop me from having strong opinions on various moral issues. E.g., I think rape is morally abhorrent. I wouldn’t mind being able to say that this is an objective fact but then I would be intellectually inconsistent since I have no way of demonstrating this. If you think otherwise, please prove to me that rape is morally wrong.

            It’s completely obvious to me that moral claims are different from claims about objective reality. Claims about objective reality can be demonstrated by empirical evidence, moral claims cannot. This is of course why moral disagreements are never resolved by demonstrating a moral claim as a fact – because they’re not facts, they’re opinions or preferences. There’s no more reason to view moral claims as facts than to view esthetic claims as facts – they’re simply in a different category than factual claims about objective reality.

            You still haven’t addressed the apparent inconsistency between your claim that morals are objective and your acknowledgement that your perception of these morals is based on a personal belief that they exist. Are your beliefs objectively true?

        • Andy Ryan says:

          Barrett, let’s move on. Can you give evidence that objective morality exists? You’ve effectively said you feel it exists and you figure that the feelings you have about the rightness or wrongness of things points to a ‘moral intuition’ about ‘moral truths’.
          This is not compelling. I understand the distinction you’ve made about a subjective opinion about an objective fact, but it’s still not evidence. I can feel very strongly that Scarlett Johanson is more beautiful than Lily Tomlin, and I can get many to agree with me, but it’s a leap to say my feeling points to her being OBJECTIVELY more beautiful. Likewise my contention that ice cream tastes nicer than dung. I get that these are both preferences, so it’s not a perfect analogy.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            …Now, it makes a lot of sense to me that my preference for ice cream over dung can be explained by our evolutionary history – unlike dung beetles, I get no nutritional value from dung, whereas sweet things like fruit would have been healthy for humans to eat for tens of thousands of years. And there’s good evolutionary reasons why we find some faces and body types more attractive than others.
            So we have very strong feelings or instincts towards and against different things. They may be ‘intuitions’ towards behaviour that helps us as individuals or as a species, but it’s a huge leap to say that’s evidence of some code given to us by a deity.
            Similarly, it’s pretty obvious that we will want to protect our own families – I’ll have a strong reaction against the idea of someone attacking my children, wife, or parents. Further, there are good reasons for a social species to develop empathy and concern for others. These are compelling, non-supernatural reasons for why you wouldn’t want people to rape your mother – and good grief do you apologists love using poor taste examples to drop into your arguments.
            So all that said – where’s the actual EVIDENCE for objective morality? Something testable, something that doesn’t amount to you feeling very strongly about something? What’s a way of demonstrating objective morality that removes fallible human feelings from the equation?

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