Talk:Moral absolutism

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Universal value and Moral absolutism are Different[edit]

Because Universal value and Moral absolutism represent two sides of a same coin, they may appear to some people as the same thing, but they are actually different. Universal value is a phrase to describe there is a common value among humans despite the apparent differences in culture, race, nationality, ... Moral absolutism, on the other hand, is an attempt to dictate a set of morals onto others claiming that this set of values are absolute. Mikefzhu 01:19, 18 May 2007 (UTC)



April, since you ask--I'm not a specialist in ethics and so I can't provide much help here. "Absolutism" isn't used all that much in ethics in English-speaking tradiprior to the 20th century and very many of them after that have been moral absolutists. (It isn't obvious to me that Hume was a moral relativist--but hardly anything is obvious about Hume interpretation.  :-/ ) In the latterghtttttttttttttttt sense, it would be correct to say that Kant was an absolutist and that many others, particularly the consequentialists (Utilitarians), aren't/weren't.

I think "moral relativism" is almost always used by philosophers for the view that what is actually moral or immoral for a person, or for a group of people, depends on something about the person or the group of people (such as their beliefs). It would be silly (sorry) to call someone a moral relativist just because he was a consequentialist. The whole point of developing a moral theory like consequentialism is to articulate a criterion according to which we can say that something really is or really is not moral (obligatory, permissible, good).

Philosophers also use (perhaps more frequently) "ethical relativism" and "ethical absolutism," and I suspect many philosophers find discussions in terms of relativism vs. absolutism not particularly enlightening. The issues in meta-ethics in the 20th century could be construed as a battle over absolutism vs. relativism (with "absolutism" meaning "naturalism" and "relativism" meaning various kinds of "non-cognitivism")--but is not often couched in such terms.

Unfortunately, confusing the issue further is the fact that many religionists and social and political commentators make heavy use of the terms, referring to attitudes that professional philosophers don't often concern themselves with. E.g., "relativists" in common parlance are often just what ethicists would call "moral agnostics" or "amoralists." More often I suspect "relativism" just means "rejection of traditional morality in favor of the attitude of doing your own thing." This isn't a thing philosophers per se have a name for.

I'm going to leave this to a specialist. It would be really great if you could find a grad student or professor who specializes in ethics who could go to work on these articles.  :-) --Larry Sanger

I'd like my view integrated into the text. I'm a moral absolutist: I do believe that there's an actual moral order. However, I also don't think I'm clever (or anyone else I know, actually) enough to know just what that absolute moral order is. But the article seems to imply that if you believe there's an actual moral order, that you must necessarily be an "I'm right, you're wrong" type of person. I behave like a Moral Relativist, despite being a Moral Absolutist. -- Lion Kimbro (http://speakeasy.org/~lion/ and lion at speakeasy dot org)

Deontological ethics is not same as moral absolutism. There are non absolutist deontological ethics is possible as Kurt Baier, Bernard Gert, Stanley I.Benn and others argue. ~~ —Preceding unsigned comment added by Dr.P.Madhu (talkcontribs) 14:36, 16 February 2010 (UTC)

moved from article[edit]

' and typified—although thereby also oversimplified—by such phrases as "Right is right and wrong is wrong." '

I don't agree w this, and besides the example is clearly a bad one. POV as well w the "oversimplified" bit. Sam [Spade] 20:10, 8 Jun 2004 (UTC)


A question[edit]

How is this different than deontological ethics?

It's a wider concept. Deontological ethics or deontological morality refer to an idea of absolute morality based on duty, regardless of consequences. Consequential morality, on the other hand, relates morality to - as the name suggests - the consequences of actions, making morality inseparable from context. Virtue theory is another suggestion, but moral absolutism can encompass all these terms. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by AngryStan (talkcontribs) 22:05, 18 January 2007 (UTC).

Is absolute morality even possible?[edit]

Before one can decide whether an absolute morality exists, one must determine whether absolute morality (that is, a moral code which applies equally to everyone) is even possible. This seems hard to imagine, because in any system of law, someone must be above the law, to enforce it.

Not sure this is the appropriate forum for this discussion, and it might have to be removed for that reason, but since it ends with a request for a citation, I'll consider myself loosely justified in responding...
Morality and law are not the same thing. It is not necessary for anybody to enforce morality. Taking your example below, if we assume that violating traffic law was immoral, then police would be acting immorally for breaking it. If we took a more consequentialist approach, we might argue that the consequences of allowing police to break the law led to good (e.g. by enabling them to better apprehend criminals) but those consequences do not follow are a result of allowing the rest of the public to break the law (e.g. on the argument that private citizens have no business apprehending criminals). So I think absolute morality is *logically* possible, although as a moral skeptic I have no idea at all where such absolute moral standard may derive from.

As an example, ordinary road users must obey traffic law, but the police who enforce traffic law routinely violate various aspects of it. Governments do things which are illegal for their citizens to do, such as imprison (or even execute) criminals, send police officers undercover in which they falsify their identities in ways that would be illegal for ordinary citizens, sieze private property, spy on citizens, carry weapons of greater destructive power than ordinary citizens may possess, and so on. Either nobody knows how to constitute a government which obeys the same restrictions it places on its subjects, or nobody has seriously tried.

Extending the analogy to divine punishment, one can argue that a punitive God who sends people to Hell is doing something much worse to them than the worst human tyrants in history did to their victims. Is sending people to Hell for eternity an absolutely moral act? If it is an absolutely moral act, then why is punishing people to far lesser degrees considered immoral? If one argues that only an omniscient God is qualified to send people to Hell, then one has rejected absolute morality, by making the morality of an act relative to the one who does it.

But this is nothing unusual. For instance, we may say that it is moral to eat the meat of (and therefore kill)) animals, but immoral to eat the meat of (and therefore kill) other humans. In the same way, a consistent code of absolute morality may leave it perfectly moral for a god to kill people, but not for people to kill other people. In the case of eternal torment, the qualifying distinction might be that only a god has the capacity to judge such a case, and the act of eternal damnation only becomes moral when the actor has such a capacity. The morality of certain actions being contingent on various events is not incompatible with absolute morality, so I do not think your point follows.

As another example, most people would agree that crimes such as murder, pedophilia, and theft are immoral acts. In legal terms, a person can become an accessory to such a crime, without committing the crime directly, simply by having advance knowledge that someone else is going to commit such a crime, and failing to report it to the proper authorities. A person with knowledge of an impending crime has, in many jurisdictions, a legal obligation to report it, and most people would probably say the obligation is moral as well. However, an omniscient God appears to be under no such moral obligation, by knowing the inner thoughts and intentions of people, and failing to report evildoers to the (human) authorities, either before or after they act.

If we agree it is absolutely wrong to remain silent if one knows one's neighbor is regularly molesting children, then we agree that God's behavior is absolutely wrong, because an omniscient God must know where all the child molesters are hiding.

Yes, but only if we agree that it is absolutely wrong to do that. This is not required for moral absolutism, since we could just as well agree that it is only absolutely wrong for people to do that (for instance, we wouldn't be likely to agree that it is absolutely wrong for dogs to remain silent in such a case).

One possible counterargument is that God is trying to tell the authorities these things, but they are not listening correctly. However, even a fairly young child knows how to call the police, and we would expect a sufficiently capable child to talk to the police in a way the police can understand readily. If God is under no obligation to do what a young child could be considered responsible to do, then we are saying God obeys different morals than people, which is just another denial of absolute morality.

As another example, suppose a human has knowledge of some impending natural disaster and fails to take any action to warn people in its path. If the warning would have been easy to give, the person who failed to act might be found liable for negligence, perhaps criminal negligence. An omniscient God, of course, must have full knowledge of when and where all such disasters will occur, and thus is negligent for failing to warn people in language they can understand. The only way to let God off the hook is, once again, to deny absolute morality---we have to make the definition of morality relative to the actor. It's OK for God to be negligent and fail to warn people of impending calamity, but it is not OK for people to be similarly negligent when they have comparable knowledge and similar capacity to warn potential victims.

Again, the concept of negligence applies to law more than morality. It is perfectly possible that from a god's point of view, failing to prevent - or even directly causing - a natural disaster would be a good thing. I think you are making the mistake of thinking that a coherent system of absolute morality *must* include particular standards, but it need not. "Torturing babies for sexual pleasure is a good thing" could be part of a consistent absolute moral standard, even though hardly anybody alive would agree with it. It's logically possible that there is an absolute moral standard which results in us acting immorally when we don't randomly kill every third person we meet.

An omniscient God in a world with persistent, preventable evil is routinely negligent, even an accessory in every sort of preventable crime or disaster, and thus is incompatible with the existence of absolute morality. It does not make much sense to postulate the existence of a God as the source of morality, when God routinely fails to report impending crimes and disasters, and this negligence defies the human moral sense.

Again, "preventable evil" being inconsistent with absolute morality relies on that code of absolute morality both specifying that such a thing is evil, and that failing to prevent it is evil. This need not be the case, as discussed.

Could someone with more knowledge of the history of philosophy find a citation for the above argument? Given that the greatest minds in history have hashed over the God question from every angle, I'm sure someone must have realized the logical incompatibility of absolute morality with a sinless (i.e., compliant with absolute moral law) yet deliberately negligent omniscient God.

I do not think it is logically incompatible for the reasons given above - I am not aware of any such argument being made, although that's not to say it hasn't been. There are a number of criticisms of the idea of "absolute morality deriving from god", however, the most crushing being that something is either morally good because a god commands it, or that a god commands it because it is good. In the first case, it makes morality awfully arbitrary and hardly worthy of the title "absolute", and in the second case, it means the god does not decide what is good, and hence morality does not come from a god. Not to mention the fact that it assumes god exists in the first place. AngryStan 22:25, 18 January 2007 (UTC)

Again, it's not enough to claim that God has already taken sufficient action against evil, because no amount of prior good deeds are relevant in a specific violation of law. And if they were, that would be another rejection of absolute morality. --Teratornis 00:19, 6 January 2007 (UTC)

Proposed deletion[edit]

"Moral Absolutism is the belief that decisions that people make are right or wrong, there is no other choice. It does not depend on the situation or the people involved."

I think this needs to be deleted or at least reworded as it is not representative of philosophical thought:

Kant makes quite clear that be believes it is the *intention* that makes an act moral, in particular that for an act to qualify as moral it must be done out of a sense of duty. The same act, done in search of personal gain, for instance, would not qualify as moral. Thus, the intent, as distinct from the "decision" itself is what determines morality.

Also the idea that "it does not depend on the situation" - we would have to exclude consequentialism from our domain of moral absolutism to make this true.

Next, "it does not depend on...the people involved", most moral philosophers would hold that the decisions of a mentally incapable person cannot be called immoral, so it certainly does depend on the people involved.

Finally, there can be room for "morally neutral" actions, so "there is no other choice" does not have to be true.

In the absence of any objections, I'll go ahead and delete this paragraph. AngryStan 22:40, 18 January 2007 (UTC)

Update: No objections, so paragraph deleted. AngryStan 01:26, 22 January 2007 (UTC)

Merger with Moral objectivism[edit]

Should the pages be merged? alternatively, should the difference be explained, if there is one.1Z 23:36, 28 February 2007 (UTC)

Personally, I think merging them makes sense. AngryStan 01:48, 1 March 2007 (UTC)

They are different concepts, however the article on moral objectivism isn't any good, so if you want to redirect to moral absolutism, go ahead. Addhoc 23:10, 9 June 2007 (UTC)

Don't merge they are different concepts, and not really sufficiently closely related to be covered on the same page. Both pages need work, but that is a different issue. Anarchia 20:57, 1 September 2007 (UTC)


Issues with the sudden Minority Opinion...[edit]

We've got kind of a contradiction in the first and third paragraphs. The first two paragrpahs describe 'moral absoluteness' as exactly that, an absolute condidtion. But paragraph 3 opens with describing the same conditins outlined in the opening paragraph and the second paragrpah as "a minority position".

to be exact--- "Moral absolutism is the belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are right or wrong, devoid of the context of the act. "Absolutism" is often philosophically contrasted with moral relativism, which is a belief that moral truths are relative to social, cultural, historical or personal references, and to situational ethics, which holds that the morality of an act depends on the context of the act.

Morals are inherent in the laws of the universe, the nature of humanity, the will or character of God or gods, or some other fundamental source. Moral absolutists regard actions as inherently moral or immoral. Moral absolutists might, for example, judge slavery, war, dictatorship, the death penalty, or childhood abuse to be absolutely and inarguably immoral regardless of the beliefs and goals of a culture that engages in these practices.

In a minority of cases, moral absolutism is taken to the more constrained position that actions are moral or immoral regardless of the circumstances in which they occur."

I don't know if this was paraphrased from someones work, but the second paragrpah needs some work as well, as it is taking a postion in the first sentence. But the third paragraph basically seems to say "The actual, basic definition mentioned above is a minority view. NJM4 Peterpandus (talk) 22:51, 29 March 2008 (UTC) A better third paragraph might read, "In actual usage, it is rare that Moral Absolutism is taken to the most extreme position." NJM4 Peterpandus (talk) 22:21, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

Disambiguation and meta-ethics reorganization[edit]

I notice there has already been much discussion here about whether moral absolutism means the same thing as moral univeralism, and so forth. That question is a part of a larger project I am undertaking, regarding disambiguating the terms moral realism, moral objectivism, moral universalism, moral absolutism, and moral relativism. I have started a discussion about this at Talk:Meta-ethics#More_extensive_reorganization; please come by and contribute your thoughts there. -Pfhorrest (talk) 22:56, 4 October 2008 (UTC)

Since no one has commented in over a week, I've gone ahead and cleaned up this article per the larger metaethics reorganization in progress. As a part of that, I've removed the following unclear and unsourced passage from the article, which I post here in case anyone cares to work it back in in better form:

Semi-religious arguments for moral absolutism have to do with the relationship between free will, choice, and morals. Some have argued that without free will, the universe is deterministic and therefore morally uninteresting (i.e., if all moral choices and moral behavior are determined by outside forces, there can be no need for any person to ponder morality), though this would depend on whether free choice is required for an action to be 'moral'. If free will exists, it stands to reason that the universe allows moral behavior [who?]. From this, some believe this feature is integral to the universe's reason for being. A softer, more theological, line of reasoning is that God may 'need' to permit us to have choices, but leaves the concerns of those choices (and their consequences) up to the people making them [who?]. In this case, moral absolutism is a subjective decision (i.e., free will must, by definition, include the freedom to choose what is moral).

These views are generally not accepted by those who deny free will. Some, in fact, deny free will and still accept moral absolutism—and argue that these two beliefs are inextricably tied [who?].

A primary criticism of moral absolutism regards how we come to know what the "absolute" morals are. The authorities that are quoted as sources of absolute morality are all subject to human interpretation, and multiple views abound on them. For morals to be truly absolute, they would have to have a universally unquestioned source, interpretation and authority. Therefore, so critics say, there is no conceivable source of such morals, and none can be called "absolute" [who?]. So even if there are absolute morals, there will never be universal agreement on just what those morals are [citation needed].

The philosopher Immanuel Kant was a promoter of moral absolutism. The philosopher Plato and his student, Aristotle, also believed in universalism, opposing the moral relativism of the Sophists.

AfD: Manichaean paranoia[edit]

Please partake in the discussion whether Manichaean paranoia should be deleted or not on this page (WP:AfD/Manichaean paranoia (2nd nomination)! ... said: Rursus (bork²) 13:57, 31 January 2009 (UTC)

The definition of slavery in biblical times is not as we know it today, although that form of slavery did exist. The more literal translation for the term slavery used in the new testament isbond-servant. They were considered servants rather than slaves, and usually worked to pay off debts. The average term was six years, possibly longer depending on the debt. At the end of their indentured service, they were free to go. Not exactly a relevant comparison to the slavery of the Confederate states. The writers bias oozes all over this article. Not to mention the complete lack of substance. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 76.91.107.227 (talk) 22:58, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

Philosophical background[edit]

For a page devoted to such a prominent philosophical concept, this page seems surprisingly short and unsatisfactory. Shouldn't there be a "History" section tracing the concept of the moral absolute through religious and philosophical history, discussing which prominent philosophers asserted it, which ones specifically denied it, and so forth? I should think that, at the very least, someone who wanted to know whether any of the great Oriental philosophers believed in absolute morality, or whether Hegel's concept of the Absolute Mind is in any way construable as a form of this belief, should be able to find the answer on this page.

Also, perhaps the page would be better entitled "Moral absolute", not "Moral absolutism". After all, there never was an identifiable school that called themselves the Absolutists; what there was was a clearly defined concept of the Absolute, which was defended by philosophers of various schools all over the world. -Agur bar Jacé (talk) 03:01, 13 May 2009 (UTC)

Unfavorable Presentation[edit]

The opening section unfavorable portrays moral absolutism as the view that ignores context. This is less than accurate or fair. Absolutism does not involve overlooking context. What it stipulates is that morality is a matter of fact independent of the mores or conventions of societies, groups or individuals. I have edited it to reflect this better. —Preceding unsigned comment added by GPeoples (talkcontribs) 05:39, 18 January 2010 (UTC)

The position you are thinking of is what we currently have listed as moral universalism. This article is not about that theory, which is opposed to relativism, but about the theory opposed to consequentialism and such. I've reverted your edits but tried to make that distinction more clear.
This article has been bothering me for a while, and I just did some Googling for better articles out there that might give us some inspiration to improve this one. I found a well-sourced article on another wiki here which speaks of two senses of absolutism: one meta-ethical sense synonymous with moral universalism, and opposed to moral relativism; and one normative sense opposed to consequentialism, seemingly synonymous to (or at least a subspecies of) what we have listed on wikipedia here as Deontological ethics (as one of the three classes of normative theories along with virtue ethics and consequentialism).
In light of that, I propose that we merge the opposed-to-consequentialism content of this article into our article on Deontology, and make this a disambiguation page between the pages on moral universalism and deontology. --Pfhorrest (talk) 10:09, 18 January 2010 (UTC)
If the view that there are moral facts regardless of what social conventions might make of them is listed as moral universalism, then something has gone wrong. To say there exist objective moral facts is to espouse absolutism. If these two things are listed separately, then they should be merged. 60.234.140.4 (talk) 10:16, 18 January 2010 (UTC)
I'm not contesting that "moral absolutism" may be a proper name for the position we have listed as "moral universalism"; I'm only pointing out that there is another sense of that term as well, which is what this article is currently about. I too am proposing a merger, but given the ambiguous nature of the term under which this article is presently titled ("moral absolutism"), I think that the page at this name should disambiguate the term, directing readers either to the page titled moral universalism, or to the page titled deontological ethics. I have already, many months ago, merged the opposed-to-relativism content of this page in with moral universalism, so there is no need to merge any content there; only to merge the content still here in with deontological ethics. --Pfhorrest (talk) 10:27, 18 January 2010 (UTC)

Weasel Words & Faulty Logic?[edit]

Just reading the last paragraph given below and had some issues with it.

The historical character of religious belief is seen by some[2][Need quotation on talk to verify] as grounds for criticism of religious moral absolutism. On the other hand, the fact that some moral changes, such as from permitting slavery to prohibiting it,[3] apparently are "progress", is seen by others as evidence for absolutism, not necessarily religious. This can be a criticism of certain religions who abide by such rules.

Seen by some is ... Isn't that weasel words? Some is how many?

Also there's confusion over societal morals and actual morals. Take slavery. It was popular in Britain a supposedly Christian nation, for a while, yet was outlawed because of one Christian politician's lifelong efforts. He based his arguments on his scriptural reading not the common culture. The culture has obviously changed but the Bible hasn't in some 2,000 years. Perhaps my confusion is due to the sentence construction? As I read it the paragraph says if people claiming to be religious act in a way we don't like it's proof of the failings of their belief system, clearly not a perfect absolute moral system. If they change it means that absolute morals exist but are not derived from their religion but are instead recognised in spite of their beliefs.

Myself I take the reverse position as shown by my comments above. Slavery is and always has been unscriptural but in different times and cultures has been accepted. The Biblical moral abolute position is that it is always wrong BUT when part of a culture must be accepted but worked against, as Wilberforce did. 118.208.169.73 (talk) 11:12, 4 April 2010 (UTC)

Fundamentalism[edit]

I went looking for words like "fundamentalism" or "fundamentalist" in this article in order to understand whether "fundamentalism" is a synonym, a competitor, or just a word in another arena of topics. Not finding any mention of it, I'm left still wondering. It would be helpful if anyone who understands the nuances of this could add some sort of explanation about how the two concepts relate. (By the way, it is similarly true that "absolutist" and "absolutism" don't occur in the discussion of fundamentalism.) --Netsettler (talk) 23:19, 7 October 2010 (UTC)

Just wrong[edit]

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

This isn't true. A moral absolutist could say that all actions based on certain intentions are absolutely wrong because wrong intentions make wrong actions. Or he could say intentions don't matter and only the acts themselves can be right or wrong. Absolutism is about there being an objective external standard to measure the rightness or wrongness of things against, which applies the same to everyone, not about particular results vs particular intentions or particular means vs particular ends.

Absolutism is a reactionary term for all points of view contrary to moral relativism or ethical subjectivism, whether they pre-date those philosophies or reject them after their emergence. Socrates, Jesus and Kant would be three examples of moral absolutists. See Peter Kreeft's book "A Refutation of Moral Relativism (Interviews with an Absolutist)" or the short live talk with the same title here: http://www.peterkreeft.com/audio/05_relativism.htm

That is one sense of the term, yes. However, we already have an article on that sense of the term, which has synonyms such as "moral objectivism" or "moral universalism", the latter being the title of the article on that sense, the opposite of moral relativism.
Another sense of the term is that discussed in this article, the sense contrary to consequentialism or situationalism or any other context-sensitive category of normative ethical theories. That sense does not have any synonyms (as least none that have been brought up here), so that sense has to go under this title.
If you will note, the very first line of the article (the disambiguation hatnote), and the whole second paragraph and it's associated quote from Pojman, establish that difference and the scope of this article. --Pfhorrest (talk) 03:12, 23 October 2010 (UTC)

Contradiction[edit]

"However, many religions have morally absolutist positions as well, regarding their system of morality as deriving from divine commands. Therefore, they regard such a moral system as absolute, (usually) perfect, and unchangeable."

This seems to imply that for a moral system to be absolute, it only need be regarded as perfect, unchangeable, and of divine origin, but of these three things, only "unchangeability" is relevant to the definition of moral absolutism given at the head of the article, and in fact, many Christians seems very much not to be moral absolutists when it comes to things like the prohibition on killing, despite the fact that they believe their moral system is of divine origin, perfect, and unchangeable. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 96.44.187.199 (talk) 08:01, 19 January 2013 (UTC)

Why does moral law redirect here?[edit]

Moral law tends to be morally absolute, but there's nothing in this topic that explains what moral law is.2601:A:5200:5A2:F9EE:F9FF:9CD5:B4A2 (talk) 04:17, 25 August 2013 (UTC)