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: 22

Comment by Atheist Ninja on April 2, 2009 at 6:33pm
What if there's just one absolute moral? That being, do what is best for mankind. All other morals being a subset of that moral, and are relative depending on the understanding of an individual and a society. After all, in any situation, can one knowingly and intentionally do something detrimental to mankind and consider it moral?
Comment by Johnny on April 2, 2009 at 7:18pm
> "After all, in any situation, can one knowingly and intentionally do something detrimental to mankind and consider it moral?"

I think your idea makes for a good 'theory argument' Ninja; but where do you draw the line in a "for the greater good" scenario? As-in, sacrificing 1 to save 100, or 100 to save 1000, 1000 to save 10,000, etc. Because in a "greater good" scenario you could reach a point where the choice is detrimental to mankind, but deemed the greater good to save mankind, thus some might interpret as moral.

I'm mostly talking theoretical, and probably in the realm of science fiction; but just wondered how it would fit against your idea.
Comment by Johnny on April 2, 2009 at 7:18pm
Nice post Gabriel. You make a good case for no moral absolutes. Do you think there are universal morals? Or would you classify this as too similar to absolutes.

From what I have read, and how I see it, 'cultural acceptance' dictates morals. And I think there is some room for universal morals; I would actually equate this to the "one absolute moral" Ninja mentions (but call it universal instead of absolute). A universal drive for all cultures is to prosper and multiply; so rooted in that drive I think we can find a few basic universal morals (child rearing, protection of the tribe, etc). An interesting twist on that line of thought is that the drive could also be associated with evolution (the drive for the survival of the species). So then have we derived morals from evolutionary needs?
Comment by Gabriel Garcia on April 2, 2009 at 7:47pm
Ninja; you're asking the wrong question. Of course you can, oil tycoons do it all the time. Surely they know that the more oil they produce, the more that is used, the more environmental pollution that results. It's not really something you can deny, and yet they continue to do what they do what they do. So yes, it is possible to do something that you know is detrimental to mankind.

Johnny; It's difficult to say. Moral absolutism and moral universalism are very similar (I was about to include it in my post), but I'm still not so sure about it.

And yes, in terms of culture, there are probably a few basic universal morals, but a few might not be when what is moral becomes the survival of the individual. Let's take child rearing as a example; sometimes, it is possible that in birthing, that either the mother or the child will die. Is it morally right to let the child live at the expense of the mother's life? Or is that morally wrong?
Comment by Johnny on April 2, 2009 at 7:59pm
In regard to the oil tycoon... Ninja said "detrimental to mankind and consider it moral" - so I'm not sure if the mining and distribution of oil quite meets it. Detrimental to mankind, yes; but it seems hard to attribute a moral bearing to it. If at all, it might be considered unmoral then.

Good point on child birthing. Although that kind of circles back to the "greater good" or the cliche "lesser of two evils."
Comment by Gabriel Garcia on April 2, 2009 at 8:02pm
Johnny; sorry, I was just using a (poorly thought out) example. But you understand what I mean, right?

And yeah, that was the problem with absolute morals in the first place, I think.
Comment by Johnny on April 2, 2009 at 8:04pm
I do understand what you were implying; just thought the analogy didn't work.
Comment by Gabriel Garcia on April 2, 2009 at 8:05pm
Oh yeah, I thought so too, but I was sort of busy, so I was kind of hoping someone else would point that out.
Comment by Atheist Ninja on April 3, 2009 at 7:44am
People steal, and kill too, doesn't mean they think it's moral. I'd imagine every social moral is disregarded on a regular basis. Not to mention, half the people in charge of the oil industry probably don't believe in global warming, or claim not to at least lol
Comment by Pam on April 3, 2009 at 8:02am
I'd have to agree that there are no moral absolutes (not being well-versed in meta-ethics myself) because it's impossible to separate the act from the context. If I learned one thing over the years of studying literature, it's that there is always a context, and it's immensely important.


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