Ludlum and Mascaloinov conducted a survey on the perception of the nature of right and wrong; this survey was concentrated on college students.
Ludlum and Mascaloinov’s comprehensive study of ethics perception and college students can give us a clue to the current state the youth’s awareness of objectivity. In the study, they wanted to determine whether students supported uniform standards of right and wrong. The fundamental approach in the survey was to gage the response to two philosophical statements that grounds students to their world view.
The first philosophical statement was: “There are clear and uniform standards of right and wrong by which everyone can be judged”. The second philosophical statement was: “What is right and wrong depends on individual values and cultural diversity”. These statements indicate a clear standpoint that will direct and dominate ones ethical thinking.
According to Ludlum and Mascaloinov, 51.77% agreed or strongly agreed that right and wrong were based on cultural diversity. This survey reflects the undergoing change in our culture. It reveals our clouded thinking and our lack of self examination.
In a more broad and thorough survey conducted by Barna Research, people were asked if they believe if there are moral absolutes that are unchanging or that moral truth is relative to the circumstances. Their findings are as follows:
In two national surveys conducted by Barna Research, one among adults and one among teenagers, people were asked if they believe that there are moral absolutes that are unchanging or that moral truth is relative to the circumstances. By a 3-to-1 margin (64% vs. 22%) adults said truth is always relative to the person and their situation. The perspective was even more lopsided among teenagers, 83% of whom said moral truth depends on the circumstances, and only 6% of whom said moral truth is absolute.
The gap between teen and adult views was not surprising, however, when the adult views are considered by generation. While six out of ten people 36 and older embraced moral relativism, 75% of the adults 18 to 35 did so. Thus, it appears that relativism is gaining ground, largely because relativism appears to have taken root with the generation that preceded today's teens.
As statically shown, moral relativism has grown quit popular. In order to examine why, let us explore some arguments of relativism. However, before we undertake the first argument of relativism, we must define what we mean by moral relativism. In an article from Christian Research Institute, according to Frances Beckwith, moral relativism is the belief that there are no objective moral values that transcend culture or the individual. So in a sense, it seems that moral relativism is more of a rejection of moral standards than a “different” morality.
Failures of ethical/moral subjectivism:
The fist and most prevalent argument used to support relativism is the vast array of disagreement on moral issues. Some of these issues involve topics such as abortion and euthanasia that receive high media attention. The relativist argues that since there is such intense disagreement on so many vital issues, there is no way to absolutely know anything. In other words, since everybody cannot agree, there is no certainty to the matter and; therefore, nether side is right and neither side is wrong.
There is, however, a fundamental flaw in this thinking. Simply put, just because there is disagreement, it does not mean that there is no right answer. For example, if people disagree about whether or not the earth is round, it is not proof that the earth has no shape. Moral relativism fails to make the vital distinction between our opinions about morality and morality itself. To perform genuine moral thinking and deliver judgment between alternative points of view, one must make distinctions between our opinions about morality and morality itself, or there simply is no such thing as ethical deliberation.
To further examine the case for disagreement, it should be noted that in most cases, disagreements stem from factual discord, rather than having different morals. For example, in abortion, the pro-life position is that fetuses are full and valuable human beings. There is no doubt, that the pro-choice position holds that it is morally wrong to kill innocent persons. Therefore, we are in total agreement on this moral standard. However, where the disagreement stands, is whether or not the fetus is a person. The abortion debate is a debate about facts, not what is moral and what is not.
Another clear example of factual dispute, rather than moral dispute is cows in India. Frances Bewitch tells us that many people who live in India do not eat cows because they believe in reincarnation. In their belief, these cows may possess the souls of deceased human beings and ancestors. In the U.S., we do not hold that cows have human souls. For this reason, we eat cows (and their good) — but we do not eat Grandma. It appears on the surface, therefore, that there is a fundamental value difference between Indians and Americans. Beckwith says, “This is a hasty conclusion, however, for both cultures do believe it is wrong to eat Grandma; the Indians, however, believe the cow may be Grandma. Thus it is a factual and not a value difference that divides our culinary habits”
Another argument relativists use to support their position is the argument from natural causes. This argument roots from Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the Darwinist framework, morality (along with any other sociological phenomenon) is purely the result of natural selection; there is no other law or entity that “causes” persuasion.
Robert Wright, in his book The Moral Animal - Why we are the way we are: The new science of evolutionary psychology, says, “We believe the things—about morality, personal worth, even objective truth—that lead to behaviors that get our genes into the next generation…”. Wright, among many others, believes that morality is not transcendent and can be explained by natural causes. However, this is not an explanation of morality, but a denial.
There are two essential problems with natural causes or “Evolutionary Psychology”. First, as stated above, natural selection does not explain morality but only denies it. Second, we, as human beings, seem to be free moral agents, thus we can make our own decisions. If natural selection is the case, the outcome, or decisions we make is predetermined by nature. Under these circumstances, rationality can be thrown out the window. No quantity of reason can determine moral action or perspective because one would be predetermined to act or think in a certain way.
Another interesting concept to consider with Evolutionary Psychology is that it cannot posit a good reason to be moral in the future. In other words, activities that can be identified as iniquitous or immoral can be explained by evolutionary progressions. This evolutionary theory is insufficient in explaining the transcendent morality that is conspicuous in our conscious and gives us no reason to be moral and virtuous human beings in the future. With postmodern philosophy, any moral action taken by a person is devoid of any virtue.
In response to postmodernism and moral relativism’s concept of reality, it is simply not livable. People who assert to a world of no absolute standard of morality simply do not live their lives in that fashion—none of us do. Often, the relativist will be the first person to object when some cuts in front of them in line, or gets cut off on the freeway. It is utterly ridiculous to suggest that Mother Teresa and Charles Manson are essentially the same, which would be the case if morals are relative. If moral relativism is true, there is no basis to object to slavery, murder, polygamy and even genocide.
It is perfectly okay to hold that a certain culture is wrong in their views. Without objecting to moral wrongs, Jews would have been annihilated by Hitler, women would still have no rights, and African Americans would still be slaves. Objecting to cultural decadency has always been morally justified. Ethical subjectivism leaves no opportunity for moral reform. If what a person thinks is right = right, then no one would ever need to change his or her moral point of view. Yet, isn’t this conclusion counter-intuitive to our ethical deliberations that recurrently demand the need for moral reform?
Morality is a self evident intuition that is known by everyone. There is no necessity to justify basic moral principals—they are self evident and all people know them. I am not the least bit inclined to justify the fact that killing babies for fun is wrong. It just is. There is, however, a certain few who do not recognize these basic principals—they are called PSYCHOPATHS.
Not enough people have truly examined why they believe what they do. People tend to go with whatever ideological trend is popular in the culture. In our culture today, there is a trend of what is called “tolerance”. It is no longer politically correct to tell some one their wrong; especially if it is of a moral nature. This modern myth can be seen in the media, schools, and especially Hollywood.
Tolerance is unquestionably a virtue. However, tolerance has been redefined by postmodernism. Tolerance now means that that a person is to occupy neutral ground and make no judgment about other peoples views. There is no forcing of views on another person. This is a postmodern definition of tolerance, but not a historical definition.
According to Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, the word tolerate means to allow or to permit, to recognize and respect others' beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked. Notice that we cannot tolerate things to which we like. I do not tolerate chocolate chip cookies. I love them. As can be seen, the essential meaning of tolerance has been lost, and along with it the right to express our view if we fall prey to this definition.
On the other hand, one gets slapped with the label intolerant. The Wikipedia Encyclopedia has the elements of this re-definition. First, Wikipedia defines intolerance, as “the lack of ability or willingness to tolerate something.” However, I their descriptive, they show the “double meaning” that I suggested. It states:
In a social or political sense, it is the absence of tolerance toward others of differing viewpoints. As a social construct, it is very much open to subjective interpretation. For example, one of its current meanings in the American political sphere is "an expressed attitude of disagreement with another's views", with no direct action taken to squelch the opposing views or silence those who hold them. This definition is highly rhetorical, as it would imply a definition of its contrast, tolerance, as "an attitude of agreement". The irony is that tolerance can mean "disagreeing peaceably". [Emphasis added]
Most of what passes for tolerance today is not tolerance at all, but rather intellectual cowardice. Those who hide behind the myth of neutrality are often afraid of intelligent engagement. Unwilling to be challenged by alternate points of view, they don't engage contrary opinions or even consider them. It's easier to hurl an insult--"you intolerant bigot"--than to confront the idea and either refute it or be changed by it. "Tolerance" has become intolerance.
The classical rule of tolerance is this: Tolerate persons in all circumstances, by according them respect and courtesy even when their ideas are false or silly. Tolerate (i.e., allow) behavior that is moral and consistent with the common good. Finally, tolerate (i.e., embrace and believe) ideas that are sound. This is still a good guideline.
Wrapping it up
It is not my point to say that moral judgments are easy to make. It is far from the case. But, there are the foundational objective guidelines we can attest to, and as free moral agents, we should hold fast to our intuitions. Some math problems we can do in our head, but some times you have to get out a sheet of paper and work some problems out; you may even have to do calculus. Just like math, some moral decisions are complicated and some are easy. And some times we get are sums wrong. Not all decisions are easy, especially in morality, there are a lot of factors and variables to wok with, but as long as we have our grounding of right and wrong, we can make morally correct decisions, and be truthful to ourselves.
My Philosophy Professor, Kenneth Samples makes a clear statement about morality, he says:
Any careful reflection on these moral obligations will indicate that they are certainly more than mere transitory or culturally imposed feelings. Ultimately, the subjectivist approach to morality collapses because it lacks an adequate metaphysical basis (a transcendent and morally perfect one, like the God of the Bible).
Ethical principles cannot exist in a metaphysical vacuum; they need a ground or foundation that can justify them. Unlike secular ethics, Christian ethics are grounded in the holy, just, righteous, and loving nature of God. And this God has decisively revealed Himself in the historical person of Jesus Christ.
Clearly, ethical subjectivism is a shallow and incoherent approach to moral values. Given the importance of morality, no one can afford to settle for deficient ideas about it.
Postmodernism has watered down people’s judgment of right and wrong to the extent that moral standards are not upheld; and in some circumstances in history, categorically ignored. With postmodernism, people are able to rationalize their iniquitous actions. The failure to address this issue at its root will only bring more treachery into our world. But we can learn from the mistakes by examining our own beliefs. However, we need to do so quickly and persuasively, in order to regain the moral intuition that has been clouded by our cultures influence.
In my next post, I will attempt to show that absolute morality requires a law giver and cannot be a result of natural law.