Moral Relativism: Is There Right? What Is Right?

I-am-sorryI believe there are moral absolutes in the midst of moral disagreement. For instance, I know there are some people (e.g., murderers) and some groups (e.g., terrorist organizations) that believe it is acceptable to murder other people. They believe, or act as if they believe, that there are certain causes or goals which, in some way or another, justify killing innocent people. I believe they are wrong about this. Why? Because I am against unjust human suffering.

But why is that wrong? Because there are transcendent moral standards which everyone is morally obligated to obey. Whatever your personal or cultural preferences are, the objective truth is, murder is wrong and morally forbidden.

Some moral relativists (there are many different kinds) would agree with me that murder is wrong – for them. But, they might say, murder might be right for someone else. We are to be tolerant, accepting, and understanding of different perspectives. That’s a very different view than moral absolutism.

So the first thing to notice is that the phrase “moral relativism” means different things to different people. It is wise, before thinking about the arguments against moral relativism, to first ask good questions so that you can better understand the particular form of moral relativism you are considering.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a fair overview of the different kinds of moral relativism. The Wikipedia entry on moral relativism suggests three primary types:

  • Descriptive – the “position that there exist, in fact, fundamental disagreements about the right course of action even when the same facts hold true and the same consequences seem likely to arise.”
  • Meta-ethical – the idea that “terms such as “good,” “bad,” “right” and “wrong” do not stand subject to universal truth conditions at all; rather, they are relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of an individual or a group of people.”
  • Normative – “They argue that meta-ethical relativism implies that we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards.”

Nearly everyone is a descriptive moral relativist, because it is obvious that there are fundamental disagreements about what is moral and immoral. The debate is whether meta-ethical or normative moral relativism are rationally supportable positions.

With this brief overview of the issue in mind, here are links to good resources on the topic of moral relativism and moral absolutism:

Free articles:

Introductory level:

More advanced articles:

Another resource page:

Books:

Videos:

Is moral relativism livable? by Dr. William Lane Craig:

Moral Relativism by Greg Koukl:

Is Good from God? A Debate between Dr. Sam Harris and Dr. William Lane Craig:

Further Resources:

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