Moral Relativism Refuted

Have you ever heard these words: ‘What is true for you is not true for me’ -- ‘Don’t impose your values on me’ -- ‘You have no right to tell me what to do’? Sure you have. These words are very popular. Unfortunately, they have been taught in schools. How many teachers have you heard say, “Come on guys, don’t be scared. There is no right or wrong opinions.”

This is from the idea called relativism. Relativism is the philosophy that denies absolutes or what is really true. There are four kinds of relativism: metaphysical, epistemological, moral, and religious. The metaphysical relativism is the claim that there are no absolutes in reality; epistemological is that there are no absolutes in knowledge; morality is the denial of moral absolutes; and religious is the clam that there is no true religion. We are going to deal mostly with moral relativism in this essay. But first, I must refute the propositions ‘what is true for you is not true for me’ and ‘there is no right or wrong opinion.’

The first proposition, what is true for you is not true for me, is self-contradictory since it asserts an absolute, which is, what is true for you is not true for me. In other words, is it absolutely true that what is true for you is not true for me? Again, it asserts an absolute, making it self-contradictory.

The second proposition, that there is no right or wrong opinions, is a wrong proposition too. Let me give an example of an opinion that can either be right or wrong. If someone says, ‘In my opinion, Osama Bin Laden is dead,’ can he be right or wrong? If Osama is dead, then he is right, if not, then he is wrong. He might not know if he is right or wrong, but he is either right or wrong. Both cannot be true at the same time. Therefore the proposition that there is no right or wrong opinion is false.

Let us start with moral relativism. Moral relativism is the belief that there are no moral absolutes; that morality is relative to something (i.e. individual or society). The other philosophy is called moral absolutism, that there are moral absolutes. Moral means what we ought to do and ought not to do. The question is whether they are absolute or relative. They cannot be both right at the same time, so one must be true. Here are some arguments for relativism.

Argument #1

Values differ from culture to culture. What is right in one culture is not right for another. Since they differ from culture to culture, we can conclude that values are relative.

Response: This argument assumes what it is supposed to be proving; that is, values differ from culture to culture. It doesn’t. What they differ about is what they think value is or their opinions on values. As I have shown before, opinions can be wrong. If one culture believes that murdering six million Jews is morally right, it doesn’t make it so. Also, if this is true, then how can we condemn the Nazis? If there is no objective standard to apply to, then we ought not to condemn them because it would be meaningless. The only reason why we can condemn some things such as the holocaust is that we presuppose an objective or absolute standard that everyone ought to apply to.

Second, this argument presupposes that one should always obey the culture in which he lives in. If my culture says that slavery is okay, does it make it so? Slavery was once permitted by the Supreme Court in the United States. However, we all know that slavery is wrong. So what made us overturn that decision? The answer is that there is a higher law than the civil law in which the government ought to apply to. This is what we call the natural law or moral law. Morality is not dependent on the government, but the government is dependent on the morality.

Argument #2

People have different values. Some believe for example that the death penalty is right and some don’t. Therefore values are relative.

Response: This is pretty much the same thing with the first argument. People can be wrong on what they believe in. If one believes murdering women is okay, we condemn that person. Since we condemn people, it shows that we presuppose an objective value.

Argument #3

Morality is determined by situations. For example, lying is wrong. But lying to the Nazis where the Jews are is right. Since situations are relative and changing, then morality is relative and changing.

Response: Morality is not determined by situations, but conditioned by it. It determines it partly, not wholly. There are three things that make a moral act good or bad: situation, motive, and the act itself. All this means is that one should apply objective principles to situations. Also, this does not prove moral relativism, but situational relativism. For example, murder is wrong, but one must murder someone for self-defense.

What situation does is making a deed right. Killing for self-defense makes killing not murder. Therefore killing for self-defense is not wrong. Also, lying to the Nazis isn’t lying at all because the Nazis don’t have the right to know where the Jews are. Another point people think is true is that good intentions is enough. It is not. Hitler had good intentions, but his actions were not. A good intention can make a deed good, but a good intention does not make a bad deed good.

Argument #4

Morality comes from evolution. Groups that developed morality survived. “Survival for the Fittest” explains it all.

Response: This violates a basic law of all science: the law of causality. It puts more in the effect than the cause. It says that morality comes from non-morality. This is absurd. Therefore it is false. It is also an assumption since biology doesn’t explain anything how or why the mind works, but what happens. Morality doesn’t depend on physical or natural science, but metaphysics, the study of reality or being. Right depends on what is (i.e. animal rights, human rights, etc).

Rebuttal to Response to Argument #4

A greater can come from a less. A person who is older is much smarter, much fatter, and much older than a baby. Also, children tend to be better than their parents. Also, army can come from non-army.

Response to Rebuttal: The example of the person getting older is just growth. Also, if one looks at all the causes, such as all the education and food, it shows that the greater did not come from the less. One must add all the causes. The Mona Lisa is not caused by Da Vinci’s brush. The brush is just an instrument and there is more in Da Vinci than Mona Lisa. Same goes for the army. First, there must be an idea. Then, there must some kind of organized people to make up all the weapons. And then there is all the training one must have. So the army did come from something.

Arguments for Moral Absolutism

Even though the arguments for moral relativism are refuted, it can still be true. To show it isn’t, one must offer some kind of argument for moral absolutism as well. This is what we would look at now.

Argument #1

The first moral experience we have is absolute. For example, we believe the good for ourselves or for the humanity. However we may disagree on how to accomplish this is a different story. Also, there is never a kind of culture that had a totally different kind of values. Honesty, courage, cooperation, wisdom, and self-control has never thought to be evil, while things like lying, theft, murder, torture, and selfishness was never thought to be good. Some may have different definitions of them, but all agree on those points.

Argument #2

The second argument is from moral language. We condemn wrong actions and praise good actions. We say things like “That is not fair!” or “You are wrong!” Those are imperative words and it appeals to a universal or objective standard. This proves that either moral absolutism is true or that all moral argument is impossible and meaningless. But moral argument is possible. Therefore moral absolutism is true.

Argument #3

This argument shows that relativistic morality is self-contradictory. There are no other alternatives to absolute morality because there is no other kind of morality, but no morality at all, just feelings, or conventions, or consensus, or games, or social approval. Absolute morality is saying something like three-sided triangle. If it isn’t three sided, it isn’t a triangle.

Argument #4

The last argument is the practical self-contradictory argument. This argument finds a self-contradiction in a relativist’s practice. Relativists try convincing us that relativism is true. But that is exactly the problem. They suggest that relativism is really right and absolutism really wrong. This is what absolutism is. They assert an absolute. They also condemn actions, which show that they appeal to an absolute.

Great Books On This Subject

A Refutation of Moral Relativism by Peter Kreeft
Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald Tacelli
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Apolonio Latar