In my last (and first) blog post, I brought up the problem that atheists usually have with religious people (that of, "atheists have no morals"). Emma Coomber brought something up that I agree with and have been thinking for a while now.

There are no absolute morals.

I think I can safely assume that most (if not all) of us here would agree that morals are created by society and nothing else. So really, is it such a leap to assume that there are no absolute morals?

If you don't know the difference, moral absolutism is the view that certain actions are always right or wrong (ex. lying is always wrong).

If your objection is that societies tend to have the same morals, it's really only because morals are there as a way to make sure we don't end up doing things that are detrimental to our survival, so it's only logical that most societies will share much of the same morals. However, this doesn't mean that these morals are absolute. As well, just take a look at the differences in morality between the societies and you'll see how there cannot be moral absolutes.

Let's take murder as an example. In the ancient Aztec society, people (those captured from enemy tribes and those from their own tribes who volunteered) were commonly sacrificed for various reasons. Therefor, it's easy to say that to the Aztecs, murder is okay if it's sacrificial. However, try doing that today, and you won't convince any judges or juries. In most modern societies, sacrificial murder is wrong because of the fact that it's still murder. So who's right? For there to be an absolute in this, one of the two has to be wrong, otherwise it's not absolute. If you say that the second moral is the right one, think about it for a second. Why do you think this way? It's simply, it's because that is the moral that was instilled in you. If you grew up in the Aztec society, where sacrificial murder was condoned, you'd be thinking differently.

Ok, so you try to distance yourself from your own morals and look at it unbiased point of view. We'll try to decide which moral the more "correct" moral by which allows society to function better. At first, it seems obvious, the second moral does. If murder is wrong, even if its for a sacrifice, then a person is able to live to contribute to society. But wait a minute, that's assuming the sacrifice did nothing to help the society. Ok, being realistically, it didn't, but in the eyes of the Aztec people, it did something important. It made the god that the sacrifice was done for happy, and it brought about good things for the people (whether it be rain to bring water for agricultural or what have you).

Both morals have a reasoning behind them in their own societies, so how can you decide whether one is more correct than the other without bring in your own prejudices? The truth is, you can't. The only way for you to be able to decide which one is more correct or "right" is for you to look at it through the eyes of the society.

You might say that sacrificial murder is only one instance of it, and that for all the other morals, there are absolutes. Well, not really. Even if all the societies that have ever exist on the planet earth had one moral that they all shared, it'd still be possible to find a way to justify the opposite of that moral. And this doesn't make it worth any less than the actual morals that the societies have had/do have, because it's still a moral. The only difference between the hypothetical moral and the moral that is or has been used is how much it's been used.

So I ask you, can there really be moral absolutes? Or are do all morals only apply in the society from which they came?

Note: I do not claim to be well versed in meta-ethics. This is all just coming from what I've thought so far.

Views: 36

Comment by Dave G on April 3, 2009 at 1:56pm
An interesting take on the morals of murder that I read somewhere (I wish I could recall where). If you define murder as 'killing someone without a valid reason', then in just about every society, murder is seen as immoral. The differences in societies are in what is or is not considered a valid reason. In the ancient Aztec society that Gabriel refers to, sacrifice was considered a valid reason, so the deaths of the sacrifices would not be considered murder.
Comment by Gabriel Garcia on April 3, 2009 at 3:46pm
Dave G.: But then we still have a problem. To us, it would be considered murder, because to us, sacrifice isn't a valid reason. But to them, it wouldn't be, because sacrifice was a valid reason (to them). So then we come back to the original problem, just with different words. Is sacrifice murder or not? You can't answer that question without using a society's definition of murder, which, although is the same in this context, would have different specifics.
Comment by Dave G on April 3, 2009 at 4:04pm
Gabriel: True. I think that morals are mutable, changing with society's mores and as the people in the society learn more and grow more. Ethical constraints are more lasting, so you might say that 'killing without cause is wrong' is an ethical statement, while the details of what constitutes 'cause' would be a moral judgment.
Comment by Gabriel Garcia on April 3, 2009 at 4:37pm
Dave G: That makes sense. : )


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