Graded absolutism

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Graded absolutism is a theory of moral absolutism which resolves the objection to absolutism that in moral conflicts we are obligated to opposites. Moral absolutism is the ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong regardless of other contexts such as their consequences or the intentions behind them. Graded absolutism is moral absolutism but qualifies that a moral absolute, like "Do not kill," can be greater or lesser than another moral absolute, like "Do not lie". Graded absolutism, also called contextual absolutism or the greater good view, is an alternative to the third alternative view and the lesser evil view, both discussed below, regarding moral conflict resolution.[citation needed]

According to graded absolutism, in moral conflicts, the dilemma is not that we are obligated to opposites, because greater absolutes are not opposites of lesser absolutes, and evil is not the opposite of good but is instead the privation of good. Since evil is the privation of good, only the privation of the greater good counts as evil, since whenever there is a moral conflict, we are only obligated to the greater good. The real dilemma is that we cannot perform both conflicting absolutes at the same time. 'Which' absolutes are in conflict depends on the context, but which conflicting absolute is ‘greater’ does not depend on the context. That is why graded absolutism is also called 'contextual absolutism' but is not to be confused with situational ethics. The conflict is resolved in acting according to the greater absolute. That is why graded absolutism is also called the 'greater good view', but is not to be confused with utilitarianism.

The third alternative view[edit]

This is the view that there are never any real moral conflicts [1] and that there is always a third alternative. However, if there is no real dilemma, what is the need for a third alternative? And surely moral dilemmas exist which have no real third alternative. When asked by a potential murderer the location of a would-be victim, it is possible to either consider it more important to save the potential victim's life—or it is possible to consider it more important to tell the truth to the victim's would-be murderer—it is not possible to do both, and there is no third alternative between them.

However, even in such cases, lateral thinking may produce creative alternatives with that could be effective. A tactic that has been noted for resolving this dilemma, which would work in certain contexts, would be simply to state, "I would rather not say."

The lesser evil view[edit]

The lesser evil view is the view that the only way out of a moral conflict is to violate one of the moral absolutes and choose the lesser evil. For example, if we disagree with Kant's thoughts on the categorical imperative and say that lying is a lesser evil than helping a would-be murderer, the lesser evil view would have us lie rather than help a would-be murderer. This violates the ought implies can principle and defeats itself in obligating evil.

The greater good view[edit]

Graded absolutism, or the greater good view, is the view that there are real moral conflicts between absolutes, but rather than requiring a third alternative (as in the case of the third alternative view above) or obligating evil (as in the case of the lesser evil view above), this view obligates the greater absolute, or greater good. For example, when one saves a life rather than telling the truth to a would-be murderer, one is committing the greater good of saving life, rather than violating the lesser good of telling the truth or committing the lesser (than aiding a murderer) evil of lying. Since evil is the privation of good, only the privation of the greater good counts as evil, since whenever there is a moral conflict, we are only obligated to the greater good.

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