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Con (against)
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The Contender
Pro (for)
5 Points

Moral relativism: Are we all equally right?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/13/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 509 times Debate No: 73408
Debate Rounds (3)
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I've just joined the site and would like to engage in a debate to get used to the format. Newbies or more seasoned members welcome to challenge me, I'm sure I'll do appallingly at first!

The topic:
I pose the question of whether moral relativism is a reasonable position to hold. Is it true that all beliefs about morality are equally valid? I will be taking the Con position since I do not believe this to be the case.

There is debate even over simply how to define "good" and "bad". For this argument I will take a "bad" act to mean anything that causes either physical or psychological damage or pain to an individual or community. I will define a "good" act as one which improves the health or happiness of an individual or group. I use this fairly weak definition here in order to make my points, since there isn't time to debate the meaning.

It is argued that there is no objective "good" or "bad", that it is only our understanding and interpretation of the world which attaches meaning to these concepts. In one sense, this is understandable. For example; it may be considered "good" by one person to be in a relationship, whilst "good" for another to be out of one. These trivial disagreements however, are not of much importance here since neither perspective poses a moral issue. I argue that there are fundamental moral problems which do not, and must not, rely on moral relativism.

Slavery is an example of a moral problem on which there is only one right answer. It is immoral to keep slaves regardless of what ones culture or historical context states. If we assume that any "bad" act is one in which human suffering is inflicted, then it is obvious that slavery is "bad". Moral relativism states that any act in itself is not objectively right or wrong, moral or immoral. Is it reasonable then to state that in other eras slavery was not just the accepted status quo but was in fact "moral"? Of course not. For the normative moral relativists, who go a step further to claim we must in fact tolerate other perspectives and practises on these matters, there is nothing universally immoral about rape, murder or paedophilia - IF that culture does not define it as such.

I will leave it at that short introduction and await my challenge :)


Sounds fun. I accept.
I'll be arguing that because morality does not exist, no moral standpoints are valid, and in that sense they are all "equally" valid. This affirms moral relativism, and thus fulfills my burden of proof.
I look forward to a good debate!
Debate Round No. 1


Aah very clever! :D Very well, let me give this a go...!

Firstly, I would like to hear what exactly it is you mean by morality not existing. There is dispute, for example, in the philosophy of mathematics regarding the existence of numbers. In a conversation between two mathematicians one states that numbers are fictional, "as fictional as Frodo in Lord of the Rings". But what does it mean to exist? Frodo does not "exist" as a person, but he "exists" as a character within LoTR, whilst a character named Darth Vader does not exist there. In what sense are you denying morality an existence? If I say "Frodo" or "Morality", we both understand what these concepts are, they exist. For the sake of this discussion, that will suffice. In this sense, morality does not exist as a tangible entity but it does exist within the human mind. Since we are interpreting the world through our small frame of reference i.e being a human, we have little option but to assess morality through this same frame of reference i.e what causes minimum pain and maximises happiness to humans (I would extend this to all living creatures).

Whilst your stance is reasonable, I do not feel it is entirely relevant to the question at hand. We could debate the omniscience/omnipresence of God for example, with no prerequisite to believe in one. It is simply required to assume, temporarily, that one would have the attributes as defined by both parties. The point I think I'm looking to argue against is one which claims that cultures do, and should, define what is moral.

You do not accept that morality exists (in some yet undefined way), but I assume you would be comfortable accepting that moral questions do exist? Since these questions exist we must ask what the best way is to determine an answer. Is it through clear rational thought and debate, or by stating that all positions on the matter may be equally valid regardless of the human suffering caused? Many philosophers and scientists argue that questions of morality are discoverable, that good and bad are discernible facts. [See 'The Moral Arc' by Michael Shermer or 'The Moral Landscape' by Sam Harris]. These facts are not culture specific. Rape is immoral in the sense that it causes exceptional emotional and physical pain to a person and their loved ones and can even result in their death. The pain is no less reduced if you rape them in Russia, or the USA or Saudi Arabia, in 1289 or 2015, despite what cultural norms may inform you about what is a "moral" or "immoral". By definition rape is immoral since it implies the force of a sexual act on another. The lack of consent demonstrates that in no context is it a "good" or at the least a not "bad" act since if it were consensual it would simply be sex (or rape fantasy but that still involves consent).

Let me be clear, I am not claiming that morality exists independently of humans, that it is some magical entity that would exist if we were not evolved as we are. I am making the claim that one's culture is not the lens we should peer through to assess what is moral. I mean that as progressive humans it is clear that there are acts which inflict suffering on other humans and there are acts which do not and we should endeavour to minimise the former.

It is difficult to argue the point without veering into other areas of philosophy.
I will state my claims simply:

* For all animals, pain is bad. (The loss of a limb, for example, as well as causing pain, puts any animal at a distinct disadvantage - not to mention, without medicine, it can become infected and cause death.)
*An ethical system need not be a moral one.
*Your ethical system may state that mutilating children's genitals is good, this does not stop it being immoral.
*Moral relativists would claim that if your ethical system claims something is good, it is in fact good, to you at least.
*I argue that rape is immoral in any context.
*Morality does not change with culture. What is immoral in one country, is so in all.
*We should determine what morality is not through societal norms, tradition, religion or ethics but through intelligent discussion and with intention to minimise suffering.
*In this way we create morality.
*Morality need not exist independently of us, or as a rigid concept. Rather it should be ever progressing as our understanding of the universe improves.

I look forward to your response and to seeing if I can refute any of your points!

[Not sure how these rounds generally go so will change my style as I learn. Also no idea how in-depth to go, how much detail to include or if citations are required !!] [Thanks for reading :D]


Thank you for your argument!
I apologize for taking so long to post my own.

It seems that Con and I are more or less in agreement that moral nihilism-- the philosophy that morality does not truly exist as an independent, objective entity -- is true. I wouldn't want to ruin a perfectly good debate by quibbling over the parameters of the resolution, and I buy Con's criticism that moral realism's truth value was implicitly being assumed in the resolution for the sake of argument. Therefore, I will drop my originally-stated strategy of arguing for the non-existence of morality, so that Con can get the debate he wants. Here goes a different approach...

I'll start by showing why moral relativism is the most sensible view of morality. Firstly, note that Con is readily admitting that morality is a human construct. Now let's take a look at how exactly this construct came to be. According to the esteemed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in his book "The God Delusion", morality first arose through evolutionary changes in human psychology favoring altruistic behaviors (i.e. kin-selection, symbiosis, etc.). As time went on and human societies became more complicated, these empathetic tendencies were reinforced into a true sense of morality by religious doctrines/authority (i.e. incentives of reward and punishment) and cultural traditions (i.e. pressure for social conformity). In other words, morality literally has no basis for existence outside of our innate intuitions and cultural norms, as those are what shaped and created it as a human. For this reason alone, we are justified in believing that morality is inherently subject to cultural and personal biases, thus affirming the resolution.

Now onto Con's supposedly objective view of morality. Based on his argument, he seems to be supporting a utilitarian view of morality. However, that view suffers from a major flaw: what reason do we have to believe that suffering is inherently bad? Con seems to be resorting to an is/ought fallacy to justify this, jumping from "X is Y" to "X ought to be Y" without sufficient warrant. Just because suffering IS viewed as undesirable by all living creatures does not mean that we OUGHT to minimize it. This is a very circular argument, as it is basically claiming that suffering is bad because it causes us suffering... We can do nothing more than merely observe that suffering is viewed as undesirable, which is futile because it has no bearing on the moral value of suffering. One cannot logically turn a descriptive claim into a prescriptive one, as they are of two fundamentally different natures. Therefore, the basic premise of utilitarianism is ultimately without warrant.

In conclusion, it is clear that the relativistic view of morality I have put forth, which is contingent on personal intuitions and cultural context, is better substantiated than Con's. My opponent's utilitarian ethical system is circular and baseless, whereas my subjectivist ethical viewpoint is justified by its consistency with the origin and development of morality as a human construct. Thus, moral relativism is the better view of morality.

Over to you, Con!
Debate Round No. 2


homunculus forfeited this round.


Forfeit :(

Vote Pro, I guess...
Debate Round No. 3
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Vote Placed by Le-vox-von-zhizn 1 year ago
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Reasons for voting decision: FF. Too bad though this was a very promising debate.
Vote Placed by Varrack 1 year ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Ff