Skip to content

My Thoughts On Moral Relativity

June 16, 2009

I do not think there is a universal absolute morality. However, I do think there is a basis for morality for humans. All humans are restricted by three constructs: pain, death, and our genes. We can build up a tolerance to pain and can even learn to fight our primal urges, but, ultimately, death is the only construct that cannot be tampered with. For humanity, a morality using those 3 constructs as a basis is logically sound and anything not based on them is illogical.

For example; trying to avoid pain, death, and causing other humans pain or death would would be a simple form of morality that has logical ground based on the human condition.

This kind of morality is easily extended to non-human species who also have genetic predispositions, feel pain, and die.

Before humanity can have a conversion on morality they must have some point to start from. I posit that the different kinds of human moral systems can be judged on how moral they are based on the criteria shown above.

So what do you think?

Moral Relativism

I do not think there is a universal absolute morality. However, I do think there is a basis for morality for humans. All humans are restricted by three constructs: pain, death, and our genes. We can build up a tolerance to pain and can even learn to fight our primal urges, but, ultimately, death is the only construct that cannot be tampered with. For humanity, a morality using those 3 constructs as a basis is logically sound and anything not based on them is illogical.

For example; trying to avoid pain, death, and causing other humans pain or death would would be a simple form of morality that has logical ground based on the human condition.

This kind of morality is easily extended to non-human species who also have genetic predispositions, feel pain, and die.

Before humanity can have a conversion on morality they must have some point to start from. I posit that the different kinds of human moral systems can be judged on how moral they are based on the criteria shown above.

So what do you think?

Advertisements
8 Comments
  1. June 16, 2009 3:47 am

    I just think you just reinvented the consequentialist wheel. Was it intentional (i.e. for rhetorical purposes)?

  2. Schevus permalink
    June 16, 2009 6:53 am

    “I posit that the different kinds of human moral systems can be judged on how moral they are based on the criteria shown above.”

    Care to elaborate? Example?

    – Schev

  3. June 16, 2009 7:12 am

    I’m not sure you can argue that there is no universal absolute morality and then simultaneously argue that there is, in fact, a moral base. Considering pain, death, and genetics are your base, and those three things are shared by all humans, I would say you have just implicated a universal morality.

    Another problematic area is the large jump between “trying to avoid pain and death” and “causing other humans pain or death.” The first concept deals completely with self-preservation, and there really is no connection between self-preservation and the apparent golden rule that your propose second. They may actually be opposed to one another as self-preservation can often lead to causing others suffering rather than leading to selflessness. You are using these two things as your definition of moral structure, but in actuality there has to be a moral construct inbetween the two. Avoiding causing other human beings pain and death is a result of some moral structure and isn’t a moral structure in of itself.

    • June 16, 2009 11:58 am

      There is a moral base for humans.

      When I say genetic predispositions I am also alluding to empathy, because all humans have some level of it. Humans are social animals and in order to live socially applying the negative golden rule makes logical sense.

  4. June 16, 2009 8:16 am

    Somewhat following on what agentsmith says, even if there is not an absolute or universal morality there can still be an objective one. Objective in this case meaning something that exists outside our own relative perception of it. Death, pain, and genes are certainly objective things.

    My own personal thoughts on morality are currently similar to those of the Atheist Ethicist’s Desire Utilitarianism. Which is similar to the preference utilitarianism of Hare and Singer.

  5. June 16, 2009 10:50 am

    If there is a simple set of principles that is the only possible logical basis for morality, the question arises: why have most humans throughout recorded history failed to notice that fact and based morality in other concepts?

    It seems to me that the only way to determine whether there is an objective or absolute morality is to try to verify it observationally. Are there cross-cultural universals in moral values? Are there even basic moral principles that are generally accepted in a representative sample of cultures (that is, a sample not too biased towards Western or Western-influenced cultures, or cultures historically rooted in a particular religion)? Otherwise, there’s too much risk that one’s sense of what is “absolute” or “universal” is simply reflecting the influence of one’s own culture.

    I suspect the evidence would not support such universals in any useful way. Slavery, for example, was considered morally acceptable in pretty much all complex cultures until a couple of centuries ago, but now most of them consider it abhorrent.

    death is the only construct that cannot be tampered with.

    Not for much longer.

  6. June 16, 2009 11:23 am

    “I suspect the evidence would not support such universals in any useful way. Slavery, for example, was considered morally acceptable in pretty much all complex cultures until a couple of centuries ago, but now most of them consider it abhorrent.”

    I’m not so sure about that. I think it really depends on which way you look at it. I think there are really two conclusions you can draw about any shift in action over time:

    1.) The subject/action was moral, but now it is immoral, or
    2.) The subject/action has always been immoral, but now we finally realize it.

    I find it a lot like science. Just because something has yet to be discovered does not mean that it isn’t true and operational up until that point. Some people thought the world was flat before we discovered otherwise, for example, but that doesn’t mean the world actually WAS flat up until the point of discovery. Likewise, gravity didn’t come into existence at the moment someone discovered it.

    The relativistic notion that there is no universal truth is, in fact, a paradox in of itself. You are seeking to declare that statement true, while the statement itself says there is no truth. I think moral truth is no different. We can surmise there is a universal moral truth under the same structure because there is universal truth. The question then becomes what is that universal morality rather than does it exist, and although our udnerstanding of it may change it in of itself does not.

  7. June 16, 2009 12:21 pm

    I think there are really two conclusions you can draw about any shift in action over time:

    I think there’s at least one more possibility: that “moral” and “immoral” are subjective judgments and not absolutes, and that different societies (or even the same society at different stages in its development) pass different judgments on the same thing — or, as I personally believe, whatever innate moral principles we do have are so capable of different interpretation based on culture that it might as well be that way. It’s like saying “guitar music is popular”. The statement is neither meaningless nor inherently false, but it may be true for some times and places yet false for others.

    Just because something has yet to be discovered does not mean that it isn’t true and operational up until that point.

    Except that what’s being discussed here is a set of rules governing human social interaction, not an objective fact of physics. The Earth was still spherical even 100 million years ago when there were no humans living on it to have opinions on the subject. I don’t see how it’s meaningful to say that “X was immoral” when referring to a time when no humans considered it immoral.

    Also, things like the shape of the Earth and the law of gravity can be objectively verified by observation and experiment. How can the existence of moral absolutes be similarly verified?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: