Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Moral Relativism

At the dinner table tonight, I brought up the concept of morality. Reading the texts from these various civilizations and trying to understand their different, sometimes strange ways of life made me really confused and, actually, kind of sad for some reason. Is morality truly objective or subjective? For example, ancient Greeks believed that avenging your father by killing his murderer was the write thing to do. Was it, in fact, the right thing to do? Or did the Greeks get it wrong? To us, the answer seems obvious: the Greeks were wrong because murdering another person is flat out wrong. My brother played devils advocate at our dinner table, though, and pointed out that maybe morality is subjective. Maybe killing another person isn't actually wrong, but we believe it is because thats our perspective. And mind you, that perspective is heavily influenced by the society we've grown up in, the religion we follow, etc. He went so far as to say that maybe if we weren't influenced by any of these external factors, we would have grown up with a completely different set of morals, and killing someone would not fall under the "wrong"category. Who knows? It's difficult to grasp at first, this concept that whats "right" and "wrong" to us might not actually be "right" and "wrong".
On the other hand though, maybe their is an objective moral path that a greater power knows about. If so, its depressing to think that the majority of the world lives their life on the wrong path. Think about it... with so many different religions that consist of completely disparate ethical guidelines, we can't all be getting it right. I think Taoists and Confucianists would agree with the latter argument: morality is objective. Nietzsche would vouch for the opposite.
I'm going to try to build a table (subjective vs. objective) or further discuss the philosophers we've studied (plus a few more?) who took a stand on this concept, so look out for my next post!

5 comments:

Kincy GIbson said...

If you take the question of subjectivity and objectivity further, you can also bring in the teachings of Plato. You can make the argument that everything is subjective because we receive knowledge from our senses. Is the table really there when we leave the room? Or if we dream that we are a butterfly, are we a butterfly or a human in reality. I think the questioning of subjectivity or objectivity could go on forever. The topic of subjectivity makes my head hurt!

Megan Hoolahan said...

I would agree that morality is subjective. In our own society we often debate between what is right and what is wrong. Consider same-sex marriage, some consider it morally incorrect and others consider it okay. It all depends on the environment in which we grow up in.

Ian Kuehne said...

I would definitely subscribe to the idea that morals are objective. Of course humans have limited capacity for judgment and we cannot come up with a perfect, immutable, and universal set of morals, but that does not mean we cannot use whatever standards society comes up with. A successful society will be successful because whatever ideas it comes up with work well, and just because in some sense its mores may be arbitrary does not mean that they are not worth following. I think that the best thing a limited person can do is to come up with a set of principles that he or she believes are worthwhile, and follow them as if they were objective truth. Of course such principles arise from social factors and are not perfect, but since the entire purpose of principles is to hold them firmly, taking a relativist stance on morality is equivalent to having no morals at all.

Amy Clement said...

Megan, I love that you brought that up! The reactions to same-sex relationships within the religious community is so interesting. It seems that those who preach love and acceptance would be the first ones to condemn the unfair treatment of gay individuals. Instead, they are usually the main proponents of violating their rights. However, it seems that their morals and treatment of others depends on the situation. To some people, "treat others how you want to be treated" is more important than the black and white of "a man shall not lie with another man." But others see the direct and spelled out teachings to be absolute.

Brooke M. Hathaway said...

Ian, I completely agree with you that it is up to individuals to follow the religion, principles, morals, ect. of their choosing. When people attempt to inflict their own religions or principles on others, that's when things get messy. I once read somewhere, "Religion doesn't cause war, people do." For example, it wasn't Catholicism that started the Crusades, it was the people who decided to force their religion on others that started the Crusades. I think this quote can apply to so much more than religious wars. Even in the 21st century, principles are constantly being debated over. For example, like Megan brought up with same-sex marriage. Honestly, it's human nature to believe that our own beliefs and principles are the correct ones. In a perfect world, everyone would be free to believe and live by what they want. However, there isn't a universally accepted idea of what is true or what is right.