Moral Relativism is Nonsensical

If “the fundamental principles of right conduct” are not mere legalities, enactment, or custom, then they must be objective, for the obvious reason that if the standard for right conduct is subjective, then no such standard exists, not being a fundamental principle. Morality not only is not subjective, it cannot be subjective, because a subjective fundamental principle is both an oxymoron and an actual contradiction in terms.

Vox Day

One cannot be both a cultural relativist and a revolutionary. The revolutionary proposes changing the culture. A cultural relativist can never propose such a change. What standard could be used? A cultural relativist, were he honest, would hold his own culture to the same standards as a foreign culture, and say that our laws, traditions, and customs cannot be changed or criticized.

John C. Wright

Moral Relativism is merely a circular argument made in a vain attempt to escape one’s own conscience.

The Relativist begins by saying there must not be any moral absolutes, because no one agrees on what the absolutes are; people simply follow the morals of their own society because that is what they believe for whatever reason.

This is rather obvious in and of itself. I am fairly sure most readers will agree that humans around the world and throughout history have followed rather different codes of morality. There may be similarities between them in some regards, but in other regards they seem nothing alike. Christian morality, for example, states that human life is sacred, and the human body is a gift from God that ought not to be desecrated. A Pagan morality, on the other hand, may not see the lives of rival tribes as sacred at all, and may kill and eat other humans whenever possible. (Some scholars, if they look hard enough, might be able to tease out some underlying thread between these two extremes, which to me is plausible, because how else would Christian missionaries have ever converted a tribe of barbaric cannibals??)

Anyhow, the first tenet of Relativism is that because there is no common morality between peoples, there must be no such thing as an Absolute Morality. To me this is as silly as saying that because some people thought the world is flat (and still do!) and others think it is round, therefore the world must have no true shape.

So really, what the Relativists are saying is that morality is whatever someone believes it to be. That is, it is an opinion that has no basis in reality – hence the lack of an Absolute Morality. People come up with various moral ‘tastes’ because it suits them, or is somehow useful to them, but there is no actual truth behind it all.

The circular part comes in when the Moral Relativist insists that we still ought to obey the moral edicts of our own society as if they were still absolutes. Why? Where exactly is this ‘ought’ coming from? It certainly can’t be a moral ‘ought’, because that would either mean the Relativist was attempting to impose their relative standards on us, or else that they were appealing to some higher (i.e. Absolute) morality that they just said didn’t exist.

According to the Relativist, groups of people create and follow their own moral standards because of a variety of factors: biological, environmental, psychological, etc. These factors may explain how a moral standard arises, but they do not justify it. Morality is a natural phenomenon like any other: one cat may have a preference for mice, and another for birds. One person may like violence while another hates it. Perhaps a society endorses certain violent activities, perhaps it does not.

The trouble arises when, say, one person living in a violent society prefers peace: is that person wrong simply because he disagrees with his society’s precepts?

The Circle

What is the circular argument? It is that we continue to follow the moral edicts of our society because that is simply what they are. In other words: “Do what everyone else is doing, because that is what everyone else is doing.”

It’s like the Relativist just up and forgot that societies are composed of individuals, which tend to be…I don’t know…somewhat different from one-another? If societies are all allowed to follow their respective moral codes, why can’t the individuals in those societies also follow their own codes? (This is what criminals do, after all…and the rest of us to some extent, whether we’re breaking the law or not). Sure, if individual moral codes become too diverse, the society falls apart. But then, there’s nothing morally wrong with that, as the Relativist just said. It may be impractical in the long run, but some people like to prioritize short-term fun over long-term loss! It is just a matter of taste, after all!

The truth is the moral Relativist cannot escape the instinct to obey an Authority…and if that authority be not God, then it must be Society.

What the moral Relativist is actually trying to do, whether he admits it or not, is to have his cake and eat it to. He wants to escape the dictates of his own conscience while insisting everyone else still follow theirs. If morality is relative and everyone should just do as they’re told, then the relativist can have his own quiet corner in which to safely (and guiltlessly) practice whatever morality he sees fit.

Except society doesn’t work that way.

It’s like a kid who draws lines on the playroom floor in order to mark out ‘territories’ depending on what every other kid happens to be doing at the moment. “You’re in the sandbox now? Good, this is your sandbox. You’re playing with the blocks? Okay, these are your blocks….” And after that, he can comfortably sit in his own corner with his own toys, and call them “his” without interference from anyone else. It gives the Relativist a comfortable sense of control over life. The world may be chaotic, but it has been made orderly nonetheless.

All is good.

And then the Relativist freaks out when the other kids start to cross ‘their’ boundaries. “What are you doing?! That’s your sandbox! You’re supposed to stay in there!!”

And the other kids look at him, confused, and say: “Why? Because you said so? You’re not the boss of me!!”

Moral Relativism is an attractive concept, promising freedom from Absolute Morality and allowing everyone to ‘just do their own thing’. It rejects the Tyranny of Heaven in favor of the Freedom of Man.

Yet in the end, Relativism has only traded one kind of tyranny for another. The Relativist forgets that man is his own tyrant, and has no fundamental reason to obey the arbitrary boundaries other men create against his ambitions.

What the Relativist blatantly neglects to ask is: how did so many different moral standards come to exist in the first place? Moral diversity is not created by social conformists, but by revolutionaries. And yet, according to Relativism, moral revolution — going one’s own way — is precisely what makes immoral behavior, well, immoral.

Thus, the entire philosophy of Moral Relativism is based precisely on what it claims to abhor. It is nonsensical.

Simply put, the Moral Relativist wants to be a rebel while pretending that he isn’t one.

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