To understand moral relativism we first need to discuss the issue of truth. Truth is sometimes hard to define. When someone asks, what is truth? I ask them, do you know what a lie is? When they reply yes, I tell them truth is the opposite. Truth is the way things really are.Let give you a few more descriptors.
- Truth is true – Even if no one knows it.
- Truth is true – Even if no one admits it.
- Truth is true – Even if no one agrees what it is.
- Truth is true – Even if no one follows it.
- Truth is true – Even if no one but God grasps it fully.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say I believe the earth is flat and you believe its square. Does our belief change the truth? Does the earth go from being round to being square because of our beliefs? Let’s test these beliefs with the list. Truth is true even if both of us don’t know its round. It’s true even if neither of us will admit we are wrong. If the entire world believes the earth is flat or square that doesn’t alter the fact that the earth is still round and it’s still true even if only God knows it. Bottom line, truth matches reality. Truth cannot be changed.
Now I would like to look at two different categories of truth; subjective and objective truth. To help you grasp these concepts I will illustrate them by contrasting ice cream and insulin.
I will begin with subjective truth. When it comes to choosing a flavor of ice cream, you choose what you like or what is true for you. There is no “right” flavor you must choose and no one is going to take issue if you like chocolate more than vanilla. This is called a “subjective truth.” It seems very odd for me to say, you are wrong because you think chocolate ice cream is the best. There are no right and wrongs with subjective truths; there are just preferences. Remember subjective truth is true for the subject, the person.
The other type is objective truth. When it comes to choosing medicine you do not choose what you like or what is true for you; rather, you choose the medicine that will actually heal you, like insulin if you have diabetes. This qualifies as an objective truth. Objective truths are things we discover and cannot be changed by our internal feelings. Objective truths focus on the object at hand, whereas subjective truths focus on the subject; the person making the judgment.
These are important distinctions in understanding morality. A moral relativist believes all morality is subjective and a moral objectivist believes all morality is objective. I will go into further detail on both of these systems of morality as this series progresses.