Think Carefully About Falling Back on Moral Relativism

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From NPR.org
“That may be right for you, but it’s not right for me so don’t push your beliefs onto me” might seem like a convenient escape out of moral confrontations, but people don’t seem to be as fond of this kind or moral relativism when they realize the consequences of it. The reality is that moral relativism is a double edged sword. You might find it morally impermissible for other people to judge you since all morals are relative anyways, but since morals are relative somebody else could very well be perfectly morally justified in passing moral judgment onto you if it is in accordance with their subjective moral views.

Why is that the case?

Let’s break it down. Morality is a system of things we ought to do or not do. If this is all relative, then morality is just as up to subjectivity as a favorite flavor of ice cream.

When we say that something is right for someone else but not for us, then we are appealing to moral relativism by agreeing that what we ought to do or not do varies from subject to subject.

But most people use this idea to reach the conclusion that since it is all relative, we can’t judge one another. In other words, they think we ought not judge one another. But if it is really truly the case that somebody cannot rightly judge somebody else, then that means we ought never do such a thing. This is a universal, objective moral claim that is supposedly true regardless of how somebody feels about it.

However, if the moral relativist is consistent with themselves, they cannot say that everybody should or should not judge anybody else. It is just yet another moral decision that is up to moral agents based on their subjective preferences. Some people may decide it is okay to judge other people. Some people may decide otherwise. But within the framework of moral relativism, all these people are equally right in the same way that a person saying vanilla ice cream is the best flavor and another person voting for chocolate ice cream are both right.

This is a tough pill to swallow. It usually defeats the entire purpose of appealing to moral relativism to escape moral judgment, and it has further consequences. Hitler slaughtering Jews, the Aztecs engaging in human sacrifice, and Mother Theresa feeding starving orphans are all equally morally good since these individuals are all acting according to their moral preferences.

This isn’t the place to make a rigorous case for it, but I would at least like to suggest that these conclusions are at a disconnect with what we typically perceive in reality. Maybe it is all just an illusion, but it does seem an awful lot like some things will always, regardless of all opinions, be morally better or worse than other things regardless of what some people think.

The question, then, is how on earth could such a moral system exist? The point of this article is not to argue for the existence of God, but if we conclude that there are objective morals then we must also posit the existence of something like a God to establish a metaethical foundation.

But I digress. The point of this post is simply that moral relativism cuts all ways, and often unfavorably for people who try to use moral relativism to convince people that they should not judge them.

Kyle Huitt
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Kyle Huitt

Part of the multitude that has lost their faith, but part of the few that has returned to it. This blog is my attempt to describe why I returned to the faith, and to maybe prevent somebody else from leaving it in the first place. Studying philosophy and history at Hillsdale College. Member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Kyle Huitt
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