Moral Relativism Makes Me Relatively Sick

Metaethical Moral Relativism: The truth or falsity of moral judgements, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

Simply put, for those who subscribe to this philosophy, there is no real right or wrong. Groups of people can decide what is moral and what is not, and whatever they decide to be morally acceptable, is by rule correct. It argues that there are no real principles to be upheld, no faith to hold dear, just a lot of tolerance to dole out.

Now I have one friend (admittedly, he’s a big-government liberal) who finds libertarians’ view of the world to be despicable. His argument is that “they only care about themselves, their close family and friends, and their own little plot of land. They don’t care about society as a whole.” Now, while I disagree with him in that I don’t actually think that’s what they believe–they just don’t want the government forcing them to do much–he is right that in that if that is really all you care about then that is pretty despicable. Helping and caring about others is “right,” and should be a universal moral. You should care for and help other people, and if you don’t, then I think it’s “wrong.” So there you have at least one universal moral.

In collegiate international marketing courses everywhere they teach seemingly 99% culture and 1% marketing. They preach avoiding ethnocentrism, which is the belief that your culture is superior to others. To illustrate the concept, my teacher gave an example of something that happened during her trip to China. In China, female children are undesirable. When she was in a Chinese city she saw something move in the trash can. After closer inspection she realized it was actually a female infant that had been thrown in the garbage. Upon realizing what she had seen, an old man briskly shooed her away. In telling us this story, she admitted being disturbed, but then argued that it’s different there and we can’t say it’s wrong because we’re not a part of the culture. I’m sure this isn’t a fair representation of Chinese culture, but I’m willing to say that infanticide is morally wrong, and if you’re culture disagrees, then I do think my culture is superior.

At some point you have to have principles. Tolerance is a truly beautiful thing, especially when we talk about racial and religious beliefs, but at some point you have to have unwavering principles. It’s been my recent observation that many Americans, due to the fear of being deemed judgmental or bigoted, fall victim to being so scared to call something is morally “wrong,” that they fail to hold principles.

Believing that using illicit drugs is “wrong,” doesn’t make you judgmental. Believing that everyone who uses or has used drugs is a bad person is judgmental. You can have principles without being intolerant, bigoted, or judgmental.

Now to deviate slightly from moral relativism’s dictionary definition, I’ve also noticed that some people look to the legality or social/moral acceptability of one action to justify another relatively similar action. For example, last week I overheard two people who support the legalization of marijuana discussing the topic. They agreed that marijuana was no worse than tobacco and since tobacco is legal, surely marijuana should be legal as well. My first thought was, if we are to accept that tobacco is just as bad as marijuana, shouldn’t we question the legality of tobacco before we question the illegality of marijuana? Now I believe in small government and wouldn’t advocate crushing the tobacco companies and the jobs that already exist thanks to them, but the point remains the same. If we accept one thing as being immoral, and something that we deem to be relatively similar isn’t considered immoral, maybe we should be examining the morality of latter, before using it to justify the former.

A more succinct example comes from a picture I’ve seen floating around Facebook that compares the number of states currently allowing same-sex marriage to the number of states that allow marriage between cousins. It’s meant to be an attack on the moral argument against gay marriage. It makes the assumption that if marriage between cousins is legal so should gay marriage. Regardless of your thoughts on same-sex marriage, and that isn’t really the point, I wonder why this doesn’t make more people say, “Hey, this marriage between first cousins thing is messed up. That shouldn’t be allowed.” Why does society always look to justify actions first, rather than examine if our current actions are sinful? If society is always looking to justify more and more actions, then how long until there are just a couple of things that aren’t ok?

As time passes, it seems we give up our principles in an effort to avoid feeling judgmental or bigoted. We use socially acceptable actions (such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol) to justify other less acceptable actions (such as illicit drug use). As we take these steps, we slowly deteriorate the universal morals and personal principles that we all should fight for, for they are what make the world worth fighting for!

God bless you, and God bless America! (I’ve always wanted to work that into a speech.)

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25 thoughts on “Moral Relativism Makes Me Relatively Sick

  1. You totally missed our point on the legalization of marijuana issue. We weren’t saying that it should be legalized because tobacco is legal; rather, we were saying that it should be legalized because we both agree on the principle that people should be allowed to put whatever they want into their bodies. It is not the place of government to tell them otherwise. Of course, I wouldn’t do drugs because I understand the ramifications and I fear them, but that’s my personal choice. If people want to do drugs, then that’s their choice. If anything, this makes us the opposite of moral relativists — we have a principle about the notion of drug use, and we are applying it to marijuana.

  2. So then I assume this principle would hold if they wanted to put high amounts of arensic into their bodies, right?

    My argument wasn’t meant to be political as far as what should be legal and what shouldn’t, that’s a question about the scope of government, moreso it was meant to hightlight the graying difference between right and wrong. The conversation I heard, which may or may NOT have included you involved at least one person arguing that pot is less harmful than tobacco, and should be legal. I couldn’t and can’t think any reason why the comparison would be drawn unless it was to say one is worse than the other and the one that is the lesser of the two evils should be allowed.

    Thanks for the comment. Just followed your blog.

  3. Yes, the principle would indeed hold. I don’t advocate the insertion of arsenic into the human body, but that doesn’t change the principle.

    Most of your discussion was indeed about right and wrong and not government, but the marijuana portion was about government and that’s what I chose to hone in on.

  4. WOW… We simply have different values then. The government would rush in and stop a the mass cult suicide via rat poisoned fruit punch if they knew it was coming. You’re making the argument that they shouldn’t because those people have the right to do such?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven%27s_Gate_(cult)
    If so, and some will disagree, but I actually think that’s real sick my dear friend. I believe we should all care about the well being of others to the extent that we would want our government to intervene to save their life.

  5. to wrap up the debate, Tom told me in person that intentional suicide is wrong, but still wouldn’t admit that the principle that everyone can put whatever they want into their body becomes void because of it.

  6. I read this Ryan but didn’t know that it was the post you were referring to.

    Wow! You must think I’m a really sick person also because I subscribe to the premise that adults have a right to do with their bodies what they wish without interference from the .gov.

    The political side of this is, govt are only constitutional authorized to do certain things, passing laws of morality is not one of them. Govt is not constitutionally authorized to come to our rescue and/or to save us from ourselves. You need to read the constitution my friend.

    Morally is a whole different issue. We were founded as a Christian nation, Christianity provides us the moral compass of which to live and as christian people we have the right to decide morality issues as individuals. We don’t subscribe to the every man for himself theory as you implied/stated in your post but some things are off limits to others.

    For instance, if a woman wants to prostitute herself, that’s her right to keep doing it as long as there is a market for it and she wants to, a child on the other hand has no right to prostitute themselves even if they want to because crimes against children are morally wrong and society has the moral obligation to dictate that. We don’t sanction pedophilia because it’s a moral crime against children. If adults want to have sex it’s their right even if it’s homosexual in nature but a moral society can agree that it’s wrong but govt shouldn’t pass laws to prohibit it, nor should they pass laws to condone it, a moral society will take care of it on their own.

    You also have to make the distinction between crimes against society and victimless crimes. If I want to smoke pot, who am I hurting, that’s a victimless crime, if I want to sell it to children then that’s a crime against another person. If a person wants to commit suicide, yes, we have a moral obligation to try and stop them but it’s hard to pass a moral law that says suicide is illegal, who are they going to charge if the suicide succeeds? If adults want to drink the arsenic laced kool aid then they’re dumbasses and we’re better off without them.

    A moral society can take action by themselves without govt passing morality laws. If I smoke then you have a right to shun me if you disapprove. If I engage in homosexuality, you have a right to shun me if you disapprove. Get the idea? But to think that the govt has a right to swoop in and save us from ourselves is absurd. Govt by it’s definition is not moral.

  7. In case I wasn’t clear in my examples, govt has a right to pass laws regarding victim crimes because we live in a moral society that doesn’t condone immoral acts against each other.

  8. Pingback: Moral Relativism Makes Me Relatively Sick « Phoebe's Detention Room

  9. Also forgot to mention that the word “tolerant” isn’t in my vocabulary. Tolerant just means that I’m forced to condone something that I believe is morally wrong. .

  10. It’s not her right to prostitute herself out, that’s why it’s illegal almost everywhere…

    You say, “yes, we have a moral obligation to try and stop them but it’s hard to pass a moral law that says suicide is illegal, who are they going to charge if the suicide succeeds?”

    If we have a moral obligation to stop them, then why shouldn’t the government try to stop them? My argument was that if the government could swoop in the save lives they should. You say no, but then say we have a moral obligation?

    Also you say, “Govt by it’s definition is not moral.” What do you mean?

    In addition you say using illegal drugs is a victimless crime. I’d question that on multiple levels. First drugs are highly dangerous and you could be the victim yourself (as well as your family and friends). In addition others could learn about your habits and think it’s ok to do and subsequently hurt themselves following your example. Finally putting your money in the coughers of drug lords very likely supports the sale of extremely dangerous drugs such as cocaine and the intense violence that surrounds them. To say it’s a victimless crime…I respectfully disagree.

    Finally, I thank you for commenting on my blog. I appreciate it.

  11. Because our country was founded on our believe in God, our moral compass is based on God and God’s laws. The Bible states that man shall not lie with man, that’s what dictates our moral views about homosexuality but it’s not a crime because it’s victimless any more than prostitution is a crime, they are sins. It’s a crime to lie, cheat, steal and murder because those are acts that are committed against another person.

    If a person wants to commit suicide we have a moral/Christian obligation to help that person, govt does not have that responsibility. Take the case recently out in California, police and firefighters watched a man commit suicide by drowning, this should answer your question of Govt’s moral obligation.

    http://phoebe53.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/alameda-police-firefighters-watch-as-man-drowns/

    Federal govt has limited constitutional responsibilities, none of which are to pass morality laws, all others are left to the states and the people of those states. The Federal Govt has overstepped their constitutional authority in going after pot farms in California, that’s a state’s rights issue.

    And speaking of “illicit” drugs, your argument holds no weight, made me wonder if you weren’t on a couple of “illicit” drugs yourself when you wrote…..”In addition others could learn about your habits and think it’s ok to do and subsequently hurt themselves following your example.”

    I am a firm believer in personal responsibility. If others choose not to take responsibility for themselves, it’s not my fault. When I told my parents “well Suzie and Bobby did it”, my parents, and I’m sure yours too, replied, “if Susie and Bobby jumped off a cliff are you going to jump off too”. My response was always, “not without a parachute”, that’s what taking personal responsibility is all about.

    Isn’t putting money in the coffers of the drug lords what we’re doing now? How about if we legalize a few drugs here, keep the money here, may even promote job growth, surprised that’s not part of Obama’s job plan.

    Why do I get the feeling that this post and debate is just you playing devils advocate? You can’t really be serious, I know you’re smarter than some of the stuff you’ve spewed here. I enjoy a good debate as much as you do.

  12. it’s a tough debate… As shown in the debate where Ron Paul said the government shouldn’t pay to save someones life in a hospital. It would be a moral obligation to save them, but it’s not the government’s role to tax others and give to those who chose not to buy insurance. Tricky business…

    Anyway, thanks for the debate.

  13. I agree with him on that except I enjoy having the benefit, does that make me a bad person? Doctors take an oath of moral conduct but they do they live up to it?

    I have a better solution to the medical problem. Govt makes 100% education loans for anyone in the medical profession with a signed contract that they will be limited to how much they can charge for medical care and be assigned different areas of the country where they are needed until they pay off the loan. That would do one of two things, either make medical care more affordable or decrease the amount of doctors.

    Hospitals are a different matter, not sure how to deal with them except to make them “truly” non profit but does that fly in the face of capitalism?

    I was in the hospital earlier this year for 4 days to the tune of $10,000, the only treatment I received was 24 hours of intravenous antibiotic and prednisone that I can get for $4 at the Walmart pharmacy which I could have used but they don’t allow outside drugs in the hospital. I could have used my own personal nebulizer for breathing treatments, at no cost to them, but they said no. The only other care I got was 3 times a day a nurses aide would take my vitals and a doctor would visit me for 5 min a day. My personal physician would pop his head in every day to say hello and then charged me $50 per day for the privilege. Send me a f*ckin’ card for .42 cents. It’s all about the money!!

  14. I’m sorry if I was unclear. I meant I don’t support the notion of suicide, but in the end, we do with our own bodies what we want to, as long as those physical acts are not inflicted on others who want no part of them.

    I know this discussion has taken a turn to issues of government and legality, but that was my main point of contention. My basis for morality is not Christianity, as I am not religious at all. My basis for morality is the golden rule: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. If it’s just about yourself, do what you want.

  15. Ok, that’s a big clarification, and makes your principle consistent albiet disagreeable.
    I consider life a gift from God and our parents and we are to honor our parents and glorify God with it. While you are welcome to disagree with that notion, surely that explains my position on these issues. That coupled with the above states disagreement about “victimless” crimes gives a pretty concise explaination of my view.
    Anyway, I thank you for the earnest debate. To those who are not already following Tommy D’s movie blog, the URL is tommydtalksmovies.com

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  18. I never made it past the little baby girl in the garbage in China. PLEASE tell me your teacher didn’t just walk away and leave that baby in the trashcan!?! It makes me sick. China has lost its soul. And America’s not that far behind.

    • I remember a classmate in the program from the University of Alabama stopped her and said that it was morally wrong and that it was a problem with their culture. She was a European Socialist. They have an actual party there.

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