Morality informs countless aspects of our lives, from the way we interact with others to the way we think about ourselves. But does our concept of morality objectively reflect absolute ideals of good and evil, or is it a shifting, arbitrary rulebook that varies from culture to culture?
Yes, morality is relativeShow moreShow less
Our definition of what is right and wrong has changed dramatically over time, and will likely continue to do so.
In a world characterized by gray areas, attempts to make morality black-and-white are fruitless. We can support any number of moral maxims, from “thou shalt not kill” to “live and let live,” but it’s easy to poke holes in them when we think about situations where they would be rendered inapplicable.
For example, most people would agree that theft is wrong-but what about stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family? We also consider killing as wrong, but what if it's in self-defense? Torture is wrong-but what if it’s to further the “right side” of a just war? The same questions can be asked to probe actions we consider good. Telling the truth is good-but what if the truth leads to unnecessary pain? Being loyal is good-but what if the object of your fidelity is corrupt?
In light of examples like these, it becomes clear that morality is not absolute. It shifts constantly, depending on the specific circumstances each person finds him- or herself in. What’s wrong in one moment may be right the next, and vice versa. In this way, we can see that morality is far from static, and that to subscribe to rigid moral rules is to accept an idealistic oversimplification of a patently complex world. Not only do right and wrong vary across time and culture, but on a smaller scale, they vary from situation to situation.
Naturally, there are exceptions to moral rules but that doesn’t mean we should deny the rules’ existence entirely. Claims like “lying is always wrong” are true in a broad sense, if not applicable to every situation.
Rejecting the premises
This page was last edited on Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 17:53 UTC