Before I begin this letter, I must preface with my strategy for debate. When discussing anything of significance with others, it is of vital importance to complete two functions: define terms, and take arguments to their logical conclusion. I will perform these two tasks in this Epistle.
A current, widespread philosophy in universities is the notion that Morality is a social construct. That is, Morality is dependent on the culture one was brought up in. Social constructs are perceptions based on the collective views developed and preserved in societies. By this thinking, Morality does not transcend time and is relative to the Individual. Relative Morality postulates Morality as an opinion based on social constructs, that Morality is dependent on the Subject, and I will describe believers of this philosophy as Relativists. Absolute Morality asserts that Morality does transcend time; that it is not up for interpretation and is dependent on the Object. Absolutists believe in basic human Truths. Whether these Truths are a part of Natural Law given by God, or if it is a result of evolution from monkey to Man, is an important conversation for another time.
I must make an important distinction. Semantically, Objective Morality would be Morality that is independent from individual Subjectivity. That is not to say that Subjects are not needed. Morality would not exist if humans did not exist. When I speak of Objective Morality, I mean that Morality is the same for all humans and that it is not a matter of opinion.
Relativists might think, “If there is a class of people that believe in Relativism and a class that believes in Absolutism, does that not prove that Morality is an opinion?” No. Let us look at something that is absolute, mathematics. 2+2=4. This does not change based on the opinion that 2+2=5. It is objectively correct to say that 2+2=4 and it is objectively incorrect to say that 2+2=5. The above question also propagates a contradiction: an Absolutist and Relativist cannot both be correct. If an Absolutist is correct, then Morality is Objective, and it would be a contradiction to say that Morality is Subjective or Relative. If a Relativist is correct, then Morality is Subjective, and it would be a contradiction to say that Morality is Objective or Absolute – that it transcends all societies throughout time. Therefore, it is not appropriate to say, “Your assertion that Morality is Absolute is your opinion.” Absolute opinions cannot exist. There are no relative absolutes.
Before presenting the case for Objective Morality, I must address the ramifications of Subjective Morality. Though this does not prove that Morality is Objective, it is important to take Subjective Morality to its logical conclusion. Relativists contend that societies work based on social contracts – the notion that, to be a member of society, laws must be followed. Social contract theory is generally based on the Golden Rule: treat others how you would like to be treated. For example, we agree through this social contract that we will not murder each other because we do not want to be murdered. A multitude of issues arise from this viewpoint. Social contract theory and Subjective Morality greatly contradict each other. Although murder and rape is against the law, the person that commits these crimes could not be culpable for executing these actions; their Morality would just differ from the generally accepted ethics code. Would it actually be fair to prosecute criminals for their actions, or for laws to exist that inhibit these actions? How could we possibly make and enforce laws in a democracy if everyone’s Moral code is different?
It would also be an inconsistency to judge the Sins of societies that came before us. If Morality is purely a social construct based on societal standards, Adolf Hitler could not be critiqued; Nazi Germany had a different ethics code – one that permitted the slaughter of Jews. It is circular reasoning to say that because societies with differing ethics codes have functioned in the past, Subjective Morality must exist. This asserts that these varying ethics codes are all correct, based on the presupposition that Subjective Morality is correct. It could be the case that although societies have functioned with different Moral standards, societies may have operated better when aligned with Objective Morality. The same thinking applies to religions with contrasting moral codes. Again, the consequences of Subjective Morality do not prove that Objective Morality is correct. It is interesting to note that past atheistic States (Communist Russia, China, Nazi Germany) have been compelled to use force and fear to enforce laws. Hitler could only convince the SS to murder Jews by persuading them that Jewish people were sub-human and Germans were the master race. Even cannibal tribes justify their killings by classifying opposing tribes as nonhuman, yet expunge themselves with rituals after consuming human flesh.
We say that Morality distinguishes between a Right and Wrong, a Good and Evil. It can be argued that the very fact we are able to put our actions in a Right or Wrong category makes them a Subjective experience; a Right for one individual may be a Wrong for another. This is a warped mindset based on a poor definition of Right and Wrong (or Good and Evil). Absolutists believe in a Heaven and Hell. Though religious language is used here, Heaven and Hell are not describing afterlife experiences. Heaven, in this context, is the Utopia on Earth we strive for, a place where suffering does not exist; it is the Ideal Perfect and Ultimate Good. Hell is the opposite – a place where human suffering is everywhere, and perpetuated throughout time; it is the Ideal Imperfect and Ultimate Evil. A proper definition of a Good decision is one that moves us toward Heaven and away from Hell, therefore, one that limits or avoids human suffering and improves our well-beings. A Wrong decision is one that moves us away from this Utopia and stokes human suffering. We are not taught that it is Good to improve our well-beings, it is ingrained in our very Nature.
The reason for the seemingly abundant grey areas in the decisions we make is our lack of foresight. Often times, it is unclear which path will lead to our greater well-being. Say that two men are racing each other from one town to another, and can take two different routes. Regardless of the information both men possess or lack, there is an objectively faster route. Grey areas are also present because our Natures have conflicting values. A man has a survival instinct, but will still jump on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. Relativists may contend that the existence of contradicting Natural values force each Individual to order these values – a decision based on their genetics, societal standards, and past experiences. I maintain that these Natural values can be objectively, properly ordered; that there exists a best decision the man can make when a grenade is thrown in his bunker – one that limits human suffering and improves the well-being of all.
I call this final Subjective Morality argument The Relativist’s Last Stand. The argument is that even though a decision is Good does not mean that we should do it. For example, say that it is raining, and I would like to avoid being cold and wet, which would cause my own human suffering. The Relativist viewpoint is this: it may be the case that being cold and wet would cause human suffering, and using an umbrella would prevent us from being cold and wet, but it does not follow that we should use an umbrella. This is a result of us being able to make any decision we want, but Wrong actions will not align with the ultimate goal to prevent suffering and improve our well-beings. I find this argument the equivalent of convincing a child not to put their hand on a hot stove.
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