Part 6 What is moral relativism? What is objective morality?

Moral relativism: All morality is decided by people.  It teaches right and wrong is determined by the beliefs of an individual or society.  Basically when it comes to right and wrong, you do your own thing.

  • Moral truths are mere preferences, much like our taste in ice cream.
  • There are no universally valid moral principles.  Rather, all moral principles are valid relative to culture or individual choice.
  • Everyone's morality is equal. No individual morality should be imposed on others.  No one’s morality can be labeled as wrong.

Basically, people decide what is right and wrong according to their culture or individual tastes.  A moral relativist would say moral rules change according to differences in the culture or situation.

Objective morality: A standard that has authority above the human race and is the rule for everyone, everywhere, and for all time; it never changes.

  • A moral rule is true regardless of whether or not anyone believes it. It doesn't change with individuals or culture.
  • We don't invent morality; we discover it much like we might discover math principles.

Morality isn't created by personal conviction, and it doesn't disappear when an individual or a culture rejects it.  On this view, moral rules are frequently self-evident in the same way that mathematical truth is self-evident.  A moral rule is universally binding even though people choose to ignore it.

The preferences and human desires have no effect on objective morality.  It sits above mankind and is not subject to it.   In fact objective morality sits in judgment of man’s desires and preferences.  If objective morality exists it is an excellent argument for the existence of God.  The basic argument goes something like this: If objective morality is transcendent then it needs a transcendent law maker; that law maker is God.  This is a major reason many people refuse to accept objective morality.

A research survey among adults showed 64% believe morals are relative and only 22% of adults believe they are absolute or objective.  Among teenagers it gets worse; 83% believe morals are relative and only 6% say morality is absolute.  In other words, 83% of teens say we or society determines right or wrong and only 6% believe morality is unchanging and for everyone, everywhere. [1]  50 years ago these statistics would have been drastically different; with far more believing in objective morality.  Yet, things have dramatically changed, especially since the late 60’s.

I believe these statistics explain why a society based on moral relativism is so dangerous.  A moral relativist can say to himself, “I can cheat my business and if I get away with it, then its okay.”  Stealing becomes acceptable as long as you don’t get caught.  They may say who are you to say I am wrong?  Others may say if I want to view child pornography it is totally up to me.  If I want to have sex outside of marriage, who are you to judge?  My sense is much of our economic problems can be tied to greed, which seems to be a result of honesty becoming a relative moral, and not an objective truth.

We then look at the rising birth rates and abortions among the unwed, why do we wonder what went wrong?  CS Lewis spoke about the problems that occur when we get rid of objective morality and then wonder what happened to society.  He writes about this in his classic, The Abolition of Man,

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.  We make men   without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”[2]

Go to part 7 here


[1]Barna Research, “Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings,” Feb. 12, 2002

[2] Lewis, CS, “The Abolition of Man,” Touchstone Books, 1996 p. 37

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