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Influence of relative moralism

Published 3:20pm Thursday, February 16, 2012

I have always been fascinated with philosophy and ethics.

Well, let me clarify that statement a bit – I’ve been interested in these subjects since I attended my first philosophy class as an undergraduate back in 1984. The first time I was exposed to the writings of Plato, Kant and Kierkegaard, I was hooked for life.

One of the main branches of philosophy is ethics, which is basically a systemized attempt to study concepts about right and wrong behavior. The topic I find most interesting in this field is moral relativism, which is a belief that challenges the core of most people’s traditional understanding of ethical behavior.

In short, moral relativism claims there is no universal moral code or standard that applies to everyone. Absent any universal ethic, each culture or individual sets their own moral standard, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that good and evil is relative and really doesn’t exist in any real way.

So, what might be immoral in your eyes might be perfectly fine for someone else. Since there is no universal standard of ethical behavior, no one has a right to condemn someone else’s actions, no matter how abhorrent you think it is.

I’ve always been amazed at how easily people accept this belief, and I bet most of you would be surprised too. To be honest, I’ve witnessed hundreds of young people (and some adults) readily accept this as absolute truth. It really is a seductive belief. After all, it just seems right to say we shouldn’t condemn someone else’s actions, especially if we are not from the same culture or background.

For several years I taught philosophy and history on the university level and I always enjoyed discussing this topic with my students. Frankly, most of them believed in relativism. However, I always challenged their thinking with examples like slavery, genocide and other horrible crimes against humanity.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students stumble over the issues of slavery and the Holocaust. Even though they claim to be moral relativists, they all want to condemn these horrendous events without reservation. Something inside them recognizes evil, no matter their supposed beliefs.

I was reminded of these discussions last week during an Alexander City Kiwanis Club meeting. District Attorney E. Paul Jones gave a presentation about the challenges his office is currently facing during this difficult economic climate.

Part of his presentation consisted of a short film that showed horrendous pictures of crimes that have actually occurred in Alabama. Honestly, some of these images were so graphic that I cannot describe them here. Needless to say, they were shocking.

As I viewed this film I couldn’t help but think I was staring evil in the face, not some watered-down relativistic version, but the real thing. My bet is that everyone else in the room felt the same way.

I suppose most people who believe in moral relativism simply want to escape the guilt they feel when they do something they know is wrong. Others probably want to escape belief in God, since a universal moral standard inevitably must come from a universal Supreme Being.

Regardless of their motivations, these folks are doing themselves, and those they influence, a real disservice by ignoring the reality of good and evil.

Even though the district attorney’s film was graphic, I believe good would come from others viewing it, especially young adults. Not only does it show the importance of what his office is doing, it puts on display the fact real evil exists in this world, and its closer to home than you might think.

Plus, these images might get a future university student to challenge a professor proclaiming the truth of moral relativism because they’ve seen real evil and know it exists. Believe me, that’s a good thing.

Steele is general manager and advertising director of The Outlook.

  • sunnylevel

    I can only assume you were a guest lecturer and not paid for such an arrogant opinion.

    It takes REAL arrogance to assume that your set of moral standards is THE set of standards that EVERYONE else must live by.

    Statements like “Others probably want to escape belief in God, since a universal moral standard inevitably must come from a universal Supreme Being.” show a real ignorance about the History of Civilization and the development of (so called) modern religions.

    Modern Churches are mostly social clubs, and are more interested in raising money than saving souls. I’m especially amused by the Baptists, who love to point their shriveled fingers at non-baptists. They spread whatever gossip and slander that comes to their pea-brains just so that they can feel better about their own sad existence. Yes, we are laughing at you….