Are There Moral Absolutes?

Note: For the record, I’m not a scientist, nor do I have any in-depth knowledge of the science/logic behind these questions.  As such, I apologize for any scientific and/or logical fallacies that may be in this article.  These conclusions are based on what I have read or seen in other media as well as my own thoughts.

Morality is perhaps one of the most controversial topics of discussion that I can think of, mostly because of the highly subjective nature of where people’s morals come from.  Everyone has their own moral code that they stand by, each from different sources, and that is the root of many of the arguments we have amongst ourselves today.  However, aside from the debate over whether a certain action is moral or not, there is a similar debate about whether or not there are moral absolutes, inherent, unchanging laws that determine what is right and what is wrong.  Many claim that morality is absolute regardless of one’s personal opinion of what constitutes being “moral”, while others say that there are no set moral guidelines for people to abide by and that morality really varies from person to person and situation to situation.  The question of whether there are moral absolutes is a difficult one to answer for reasons I’ll cover shortly.  However, I’ll attempt to give an objective view followed by my own personal opinion on the subject.

Objectively, it is actually impossible to determine whether there are moral absolutes, and, if there are, what those absolutes may be.  Regardless of what people may think or the merit of their argument, there is no way to prove things one way or the other.  I can’t prove that there are moral absolutes any more than I can prove that there aren’t.  This is mainly because the concept of morality isn’t a tangible thing that can be shown to exist using evidence; the argument ultimately comes down to logical reasoning.  That may lead some to conclude that there can’t be moral absolutes because there is no evidence to suggest that there are, however, that way of thinking is flawed.  That is essentially the same logical fallacy as arguing that something exists because there is no evidence to suggest that it doesn’t.  In either case, you are making an argument without any evidence to support your claim.  And so, since neither side can prove that it is right, there is no way to know for sure if there are moral absolutes.

However, I believe that there are moral absolutes.  It seems highly paradoxical to say that there aren’t any moral guidelines that determine whether an action or thought is right or wrong.  To suggest that morality is relative is to, in my opinion, contradict oneself.  Let me give you an example: I personally believe that abortion is morally wrong, but there are plenty of people out there who believe the opposite.  How can we both be right?  How can abortion be right and wrong at the same time?  Wouldn’t one of us have to be wrong?  That aside, if morality is relative, how can we as a society ever hold anyone accountable for their actions.  If a murderer believes his actions were right, and his opinion is just as valid as ours, what right have we to sentence him at all?  If the answer is that we don’t then what authority does any governing body, or society, have for that matter.  By that  logic, society should be disbanded because we could never hold each other accountable for doing something “immoral”.

Now, this merely suggests that it wouldn’t really make sense for there to be no moral absolutes, and it doesn’t explain where any sense of morality would be derived from.  So, allow me to explain more concretely where this morality would come from and why it exists in the first place.  I am basing this point on the following assumptions: all humans are inherently equal, as such all humans have certain rights (life, liberty, property, etc.), these rights are inherent to their existence, and these rights are inalienable.

Morality is similar to truth in that it is related to an outside force; truth is related to reality (something is true if it coincides with reality) and morality is related to ownership of the self.  This goes back to my assumptions above in that people automatically take ownership of certain rights inherent to their being human.  To deny this would be to deny our humanity.  Part of what sets man apart from beasts is our ability to think rationally, to use our imagination, and to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.  People own themselves.  Because of that, any attempt at or action resulting in the violation of an individuals rights would be wrong or, in other words, immoral.  So, murder is immoral because it deprives someone of their right to life.  Stealing is immoral because it deprives someone of their right to their property.  Attacking someone is immoral because it deprives someone of their right to pursue happiness.  Morality is inherent to our existence as it is directly related to our natural rights as humans.

We form governments in order to collectively protect the rights of the individual from those who would seek to violate the rights of others.  Governments are not forcing their will on the people, but rather enforcing a moral code that already existed.  But, in the event that the government does begin to impose its will rather than imposing preexisting morality, the people hold the government accountable for any immoral actions it may take.  Now, some may argue that this logic is flawed because of so-called moral “gray areas” in which someone commits an immoral act for what they consider to be the right reasons.  However, regardless of context, any action taken is either moral or immoral, right or wrong.  Even if you kill someone in self-defense, that does not make the act of killing right, it only means that, although what you did was wrong, you were justified in doing so.  There is a distinction in the case of something being justified, but that doesn’t make the action any less immoral.  In essence, it is the concept of the individual that brings about moral absolutes and those moral absolutes are inherent to our existence.  Because all individuals inherently have rights, any violation of those rights is inherently immoral.

My opinion that there are moral absolutes is grounded in the existential belief that individual rights are inherent to one’s existence and that the preservation and protection of those rights are, by necessity, moral while actions taken to violate those rights are immoral.  However, let me reiterate: there is no way to definitively prove that my argument is correct.  My argument is more existential given that the existence of moral absolutes cannot be proven using physical evidence.  That being said, I believe that, given the assumptions listed above, moral absolutism is the only logical conclusion.  If you accept that all humans are created equal and with the same inalienable rights, it seems to me that moral absolutes (namely the preservation of those rights) are inherent to that idea.

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One Response to Are There Moral Absolutes?

  1. Pingback: The Moral Responsibility in Determinism? | Unsettled Christianity

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