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Moral Relativism is True

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/29/2010 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 5,483 times Debate No: 13830
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (6)
Votes (1)




I thank my opponent in advance for taking the debate with me. My opponent will take up the burden of proof and support the moral relativism that he/she believes in; which he/she must define. I will then critically examine his/her claims.
I would like for my opponent to wait until round two to start.

I would like to define a couple of terms:
1. Morality: the action(s) or intention(s) that one "ought" to do or have or that one "ought" not to do or have.
2. Objective morality (To prevent a strawman): the action(s) or intention(s) that one "ought" to do or have or that one "ought" not to do or have. This self-evident truth holds that moral rule is true regardless of whether anyone believes it. It can't be created by personal taste or conviction; nor does it vanish when an individual or society rejects it.
3. I believe that morality has a hierarchical quality to it. That is to say, that some moral actions "trump" other moral actions. (To prevent a strawman.)



Thank you for this debate.

At the outset, let's keep our focus straight. My argument here is not going to be ethically popular. There are reasons for this. If moral relativism is true then there are ultimately no moral grounds to claim that one act is objectively morally superior to another act. We instinctively don't like this because we instinctively want to believe that our own views of morality are correct. But this goes further. If moral relativism is true then you can't really say that ANY ACT is morally wrong. Well, that's of course something we don't like. But not liking an idea doesn't make it false. The opposite position is a well-known logical fallacy called Argumentum ad Consequentiam or "Appeal to Consequence". For example:

1. If God doesn't exist then my life has no ultimate meaning.
2. It would be bad if my life didn't have ultimate meaning.
3. Therefore God must exist.

I am making this very clear at the outset because I don't want the readers to start off with a negative attitude towards a proposition, for mere emotional reasons. The fact is, we are starting from scratch and we present our arguments from nothing. And whether or not we emotionally like a particular outcome should have nothing to do with it. That's what an HONEST QUEST FOR THE TRUTH is all about.

Let's then get started.

Moral relativism is a philosophical position that essentially denies the existence of a moral absolute. There are three main branches of moral relativism. I prefer to look at them as three types of EVIDENCE for the existence of moral relativism.

These are: Descriptive Realtivism, Meta-ethical Relativism and Normative Relativism. (

Some commentators, however, only see two types, such as: Ethical Subjectivism and Cultural Relativism (

These are just names. The propositions behind them are identical.


Individual morality is relative. This is evident to anyone who has ever considered any moral proposition. Things that some people consider morally right, others consider morally wrong.

Take abortion, for example.

On the one hand, there are people who go out to bomb abortion clinics. Those people are so strongly convinced that abortion is a horrible moral wrong that they consider themselves justified in committing murder in order to punish an abortionist and/or to prevent them from performing abortion. And, on the other hand, there are people who believe that there's nothing wrong with abortion at all.

Another example is that of lying. Most of us believe that (at least in some forms) lying is wrong. However, there are those who have absolutely no problems with telling lies in ANY GIVEN circumstance. That, of course, is one extreme. Then we enter the middle ground with various examples of the types and degrees of lies that are acceptable ("no, honey, you're not fat!"). And of course at the other extreme you find people who believe that it's wrong to tell anything but absolute truth. (It's interesting (though irrelevant) that the 10 Commandments do not prohibit lying. They only prohibit false testimony AGAINST another person.)

Morality is an individual set of standards. Everyone's morality seems to be different (albeit slightly, depending on what culture they are brought up in).

This is evidence of a complete lack of any moral absolute. People have varying moral standards and each believes that his/her standards are right.


Cultural morality is relative. Moral standards differ between various communities.

Christian communities often have members who believe that the Bible is the source of all morality. These people make a moral decision to defer to a particular moral standard.

Muslim communities often have members who believe that all moral values are contained in the Koran. These people equally make a moral decision to defer to a particular moral standard.

Both of the above examples are examples of a morality that usually stems from upbringing. But even in cases where we are concerned with a converted Christian or Muslim, they accept the moral standards of a particular cultural group.

Bikies are another example. The moral standards of a motorbike club are often vastly different to those of many other social groups. Committing a felony is often not looked at as morally wrong. In fact, some bikie gangs have been known to MANDATE it for the purpose of the initiation ritual. That's not to say bikies don't have their own laws. They do. But in their books, it is morally wrong to EVEN TALK to the police. Bikie justice is conducted by bikies.

The above examples are of "sub-cultures". But of course moral relativity can be demonstrated on the examples of cultures as a whole. There are entire countries where huge majorities of the population believe in the Christian moral standards or the Muslim moral standards. And historically there have been many cultures that have had even more widely varied moral values. We've had tribes that thought it justified to eat people. We've had tribes that mandated abortion in certain circumstances.

Morality is largely a factor of upbringing and of group-generated standards. It's relative. Groups differ, just as individuals do.


The above two sections clearly demonstrate that, as a matter of empirical evidence, morality varies from person to person, from community to community and from culture to culture.

But what about a purely philosophical perspective? Is there an entirely A Priori (literally "from the front" but refers to "purely logical, without relying on observed facts" argument in favour of moral relativity?

Yes, there is. If you were to postulate the existence of a moral absolute, you'd have to say that some moral values are wrong whilst others are right. But in order to do so, you would have to demonstrate that there exists an independent moral yardstick that allows you to assess which moral values are right and which ones are wrong. What is that moral yardstick? Well it would have to be a moral absolute. So, in order to demonstrate that a moral absolute exists, you have to first rely on the existence of a moral absolute. The argument is circular! It begs the question. It relies on a logical fallacy (


Morality is relative in every sense of the word. It is empirically seen to be relative. It is also A Priori relative, as the alternative relies on a logical fallacy.

I look forward to my opponent's argument.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you again for accepting the argument.

You start off by saying that your moral argument will not be "ethically popular". You say this because, as you admit, moral relativism has some very alarming conclusions. But with the same breath, you say that we should forget about these concerns. Why? Because such an argument appeals to emotion and, thus, commits the fallacy "Appeal to Consequence". There is an exception to this logical fallacy: Ethics! The "Appeal to Consequences" only refers to arguments which assert the truth of a premise based on it's consequences; appeal to consequences does not refer to arguments that address a premises desirability (good or bad, or right or wrong) instead of its truth value. Thus, an argument based upon an "Appeal to Consequence" is valid in ethics. [1] Therefore, you created an argument against your position by admitting that relativism has unacceptable conclusions against our feelings and common sense. The readers and voters, therefore, have a right to base their decisions on emotion.

I want to take this a little further by introducing a concept known as "intuition" or "a priori knowledge".
Consider this conversation:
Me: "My hand is injured."
You: "How do you know it's injured?"
Me: "Because it hurts."
You: "How do you know it hurts?"
Me: "Because I feel it."
You: "But how do you know you feel it?"

I guess I'm at an impasse. The knowledge that I'm injured is based on my direct access to introspection. It's just obvious; no evidence or reason required. Let's apply this to morality. I know that torturing innocent babies for fun is morally wrong. No justification needed. Those who deny obvious moral rules- like the one I just gave- do not merely have a different moral point of view; they have something very wrong with them. So, when you say, " you can't really say that ANY ACT is morally wrong." Anyone with a working sense of moral intuition would find this statement very, very wrong. No justification needed. This premise of relativism is just plain "wrong".

Later in your argument you appeal to morality based upon the individual and upon the culture. Here are the problems with this:

At first glance, the wide variations in moral practices of variations cultures seem to indicate a broad diversity of basic moral values. Apparent moral differences often only represent differences in perception of the known facts. Facts are descriptive, answering the question, "What is the case?". A fetus is or isn't a human. Lies are or aren't always wrong? Values, on the other hand, are prescriptive answering the question "What ought to be the case"? One ought not to murder etc.
Unjustified killing of human beings have always been wrong in any given culture throughout time; what has changed is the concept of justification. Hitler killed the Jews because (justification) he thought they were subhuman. People blow up abortion clinics because (justification) they think they are murdering people.

Thus your "evidences" for relativism are false. In many cases, apparent moral discrepancies between cultures represent only a difference in the perception of the facts of a given circumstance, not an actual conflict in the moral values themselves. Furthermore, just because cultures and individuals have different moral viewpoints doesn't mean objective moral truth is a mere fiction of the mind. In logic, this is called a non sequitur, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The simple fact of disagreement on morality does not lead to the conclusion that there is no moral truth. This confuses the epistemological issue (the accurate knowledge of objective morality) with the ontological issue (the existence of objective morality).

"If you were to postulate the existence of a moral absolute, you'd have to say that some moral values are wrong whilst others are right. But in order to do so, you would have to demonstrate that there exists an independent moral yardstick that allows you to assess which moral values are right and which ones are wrong."

Consider the following:
You: "If you were to postulate the existence of objective mathematical truth, you'd have to say that some mathematical equations are wrong whilst others are right. But in order to do so, you would have to demonstrate that there exists an independent mathematical yardstick that allows you to asses which mathematical equations are right and which ones are wrong. So, in order to demonstrate that a mathematical absolute exists, you have to first rely on the existence of a mathematical absolute."
You can see the fallacious logic in this can't you? How do we know that a mathematical absolute exists? Intuition. No evidence required. It's just plain common sense. How do we know that absolute morality exists? Intuition.



1.Unpopular argument etc

My opponent is already appealing to „alarming conclusions". He does that despite the fact that I had explained in very clear terms that this reasoning is a fallacy. Additionally, by doing so, he is stepping outside of the SCOPE of the debate. The proposition I am told to prove is a FACTUAL proposition.

The question is "is moral relativism true?". In other words, "is morality based on principles and standards that are subjective and varied as opposed to a single, absolute set of standards?" That's the question. The question is NOT "would we prefer a world in which a single absolute set of moral standards existed?"

My opponent then says that Appeal to Consequence is valid in Ethics and quotes wiki for that proposition. Well, let us see what wiki REALLY says about the matter. I quote from my opponent's (and mine) source:

"appeal to consequences does not refer to arguments that address a premise's DESIRABILITY (good or bad, or right or wrong) instead of its truth value. Therefore, an argument based on appeal to consequences is valid in ethics, and in fact such arguments are the cornerstones of many moral theories, particularly related to consequentialism."
(capitalised emphasis is mine)

Yes, of course, if there is an argument about whether a premise is DESIRABLE then naturally you can (you even HAVE TO) appeal to consequence. Do we want people to smoke pot? Yes, we do, otherwise we destroy personal freedom and that's bad. Or, no we don't because that puts them at risk of schizophrenia. These are arguments about ethical values and NOT about a TRUTH VALUE.

But our current argument is not about ethical values. Our debate is about truth value. The question is whether a particular state of affairs (that of the non-existence of absolute morality) is TRUE. The answer to this is either a yes or a no. And even if some of us prefer that there would be a moral absolute (or that there wouldn't be), that doesn't affect the answer.

My opponent then says that morality is based on intuition. Fine. A lot of it may be intuitive. But that's the problem. Different people have different intuition. Countless examples of that. There are people to whom abortion feels wrong and those to whom it doesn't. There are people to whom theft feels wrong. And then there are people who think that it's justified in their circumstances and for reasons of their own. And there are people who don't believe in the existence of proprietary rights at all.

My opponent then takes the matter to the extreme, giving an example of torturing babies for fun. Sure, by far most of us feel that it's very wrong to torture babies for fun. And yet, at the same time, there are examples of people who do torture babies for fun and don't appear to be too worried about it (except for getting caught). Protecting your young is a natural instinct amongst most humans (and many other species). But it's not universal, even within a species. There are always exceptions.

2.Individual and cultural basis

My opponent says that it's always considered immoral to kill a human without justification. Well, with respect, it's immoral to do ANYTHING without justification. That's the very basis of morality, whether it's absolute or not. An unjustified act is an immoral act, by definition.

Where the differences arise is on the issue of WHAT JUSTIFIES an act. In Deuteronomy ancient Jews justify killing their own spouses and children for merely believing in a different God. In the USA many justify the killing of a person for committing a murder. Scores of innocents perished in Hiroshima so that the US government could intimidate the Japanese government into submission. Some will say these are justified killings, some will not. Why is that? Because morality is relative.

We can't even say that killing is universally considered to be the worst act. Deuteronomy laws are an example of killing FOR BELIEF. Thus, belief was considered a worse thing than killing. Similar goes for many British laws in the 17-18th centuries. It wasn't until 1808 that Britain abandoned death penalty for PICKPOCKETS and lesser offenders (yes, you read correctly, PICKPOCKETS):

What about stoning people for adultery? If killing is the worst thing one can do, why are some courts killing people for a simple act of sexual intercourse? Obviously, they consider chastity to be of higher value than life.

It's all relative, you see. Moral relativism.

My opponent says that the inconsistencies between cultures are factual and not value-based. Well, that's not true. The inconsistencies I'm referring to are very much value-based. As illustrated above.

3.The A Priori argument

My opponent draws an analogy with mathematics. Well, with all due respect, that is an entirely new kettle of fish.

Where mathematics comes from, what are its sources and whether it is absolute is subject to much debate. Philosophical viewpoints vary from Logicism (ie, mathematics is derived directly from logic) to New Empiricism (ie, all knowledge is based on observation). And then there is Fictionalism, Aristotelian Realism, Social Constructivism, Quasi-Empiricism (although this one doesn't completely challenge the others), Intuitionism, Formalism and last but not least Platonism. That's SEVEN largely inconsistent philosophical schools of thought about what mathematics really is and what it's based on. Source (*gulps*):

To more directly address my opponent's analogy, he is, in a way, right! Mathematics is indeed based on axioms (unproven assumptions). By convention, mathematicians agree that these assumptions are true. They agree that if A is A then A can't be NOT-A (in logic we call this the Law of the Excluded Middle). It's an axiom, an assumption, an agreed convention which does appear (from our OBSERVATIONS) to be self-evident. It just always seems to come true (until you start observing the behaviour of some subatomic particles, that is, and things get very weird from then onwards).

But my opponent's analogy is out of place altogether.

You see, there is a huge difference. When asking "is Equation A true?", you are really asking "given the convention of the accepted mathematical model, do we agree with the FACTUAL claim that Equation A is true?" And yes, this DOES start from accepting the mathematical model. Of course it does.

In ethics, the question is different. The question is "is Normative Standard A more correct than Normative Standard B?" and, unlike in mathematics, there is no agreed model. Standards differ. Models differ. You cannot verify any moral model by observation. You cannot observe that an adulterer's life is more important than fidelity. The only thing you can do is say "I'm right because my standard is more correct than yours because I said so", then block your ears and sing "la la la la, I can't hear you".

To sum it up, yes, mathematics is based on an axiom, a convention.

Now, if one could point to a corresponding convention in the field of morality, we could say that the same applies. But there isn't one.

Why? Because morality is relative.

Nb. Just to be clear, my opponent accused me of a fallacy (re the A Priori matter). Well, I was told to start the debate. My A Priori argument only stands insofar as the opposition chooses to show absolute morality based on the truth of one moral standard as opposed to another. Of course, if my opponent wants to present a DIFFERENT argument in favour of absolute morality then my A Priori argument doesn't apply. So far he presents nothing at all. Does he intend to simply rely on the Burden of Proof?
Debate Round No. 2


Studious_Christian forfeited this round.


I note that my opponent has forfeited his round. I hope he is ok.
Debate Round No. 3


Studious_Christian forfeited this round.


Forfeiters oh forfeiters.
Debate Round No. 4


Studious_Christian forfeited this round.


Lightkeeper forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by Studious_Christian 7 years ago
"My A Priori argument only stands insofar as the opposition chooses to show absolute morality based on the truth of one moral standard as opposed to another."

What do you mean by this?
Posted by gavin.ogden 7 years ago
So, we agree that you vote bombed there. There is never a reason to that. Even when Lightkeeper voted, it was a legit vote. He didn't just give himself all the votes. He read the debate, and voted accordingly, and this was only after you and some others decided to have a little vote bombing fun. Again, I think it would show great decency and respect for your current opponent to at least reread that debate, and vote for real. Again, if you cannot vote with an open mind, you cannot debate with an open mind. Just food for thought...
Posted by Studious_Christian 7 years ago

I only vote bomb because people vote bomb on the opposing side. If no one vote bombed, I would never vote bomb.
Posted by gavin.ogden 7 years ago
You should retract your vote bomb on Lightkeeper's other debate. If you can't vote with an open mind, how do you intend on debating with one?
Posted by Lightkeeper 7 years ago
Woah, woops, sorry about that, too late anyway.
Posted by Studious_Christian 7 years ago
Scratch that.

You can start your argument in round 1.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Lightkeeper 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:06