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Moral relativism: Fact or Fallacy?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/18/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,014 times Debate No: 25678
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Dear Opponent,

I propose a debate about the validity of moral relativism. If you accept, I shall take the pro stance, arguing that it is a legitimate explanation for a number of moral discrepancies between people of different backgrounds and/or cultures.

The Rounds will be: 1- Establish and Agree, 2- Philosophical and/or Religious Evidence, 3- Past and Present Cultural Divergences, 4- Historic and Modern Legal Evidence, 5- Closing

Though, if you have a different structure in mind for the rounds, I am open to suggestions. Also, if you'd prefer to keep it strictly modern, thats fine too.

Best of luck!


I accept and am going to be arguing in the negative.

That is

--- There are no moral discrepancies between people of different backgrounds and/or cultures.

Forgive me though, I thought we were going to be discussing a philosophical debate, and not a historical one, but I'll do my best anyway.

This argument does entail that

(1) - we need to define what morally right and morally wrong means, I'll leave my opponent to this as I need to argue using her definitions. Although, I reserve the right to counter if her definition leads to something that is a tautology or fallacy.
(2) - it is possible to do what is morally wrong
(3) - morally is not something that can be proscribed by a terrestrial being... that is... whatever definition you do describe, it cannot be a person who is defining it. (I know that doesn't make sense, since I'm asking you to define it, but what I'm saying is, King Adam can't say "what is morally right is to punch yourself ever half hour!" and King Bart can't counter with "what is morally right is to NOT punch yourself ever half hour!" and you win the argument)
Morals (however you define them) must be something abstract and proscribed by something that is not human. I'm not sure how to make sense of that, but I think you get what I'm saying
Debate Round No. 1


To address your points:
1. Defining what is morally right or wrong is a tremendous task. Morality means different things to different people when it comes to specifics (and that's also what my argument is). I defer to Webster's definition:
a : of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical
b : expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior
c : conforming to a standard of right behavior
d : sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment
e : capable of right and wrong action
SO-- Where do morals come from? Well.. conscience, judgment, a "standard", conception, behavior. All of these factors vary from person to person, as well as from culture to culture. Rightness is a sense that we all may tap, but which yields a spectrum of responses.

2. It is certainly possible to do something that is morally wrong.

3. I am not sure what exactly you are addressing here. Is it "God" you speak of? Or am I missing something entirely? If I understand correctly, I both agree and disagree. I do not think that there is some independent being that decides morals. Though, I do think that society (NOT a human, so fits your description) plays a vital role in shaping morals. This does not account for the small differences between morals among a group, but it does explain the differences between groups-- different societies produce a different idea of morals. I'm not talking night and day, but noticeable differences all the same.

Everyone thinks that what they believe to be moral is true. This belief is what motivates people to shape their actions and behaviors accordingly. And these beliefs are all true. You can see these differences between famous, respected philosophers as well as between normal people. There are countless combinations of convictions. These may be shaped by overarching ideas in society-- for example, is the individual more valuable than the group? This question dictates much of how society acts and is a contributing factor in determining morals. There are of course many more like it.

Add to that religion, which tends more to direct people as to what is and is not moral (as opposed to letting them decide). The variable factor is WHAT and to what EXTENT people (and societies) of faith subscribe to the text(s) and traditions of their respective religions, because the fact of the modern world is that even people who identify as "religious" likely only follow a selection of prescribed behaviors. And that's ok, because even the newest religious text is still about 1300 years old, so a little modern interpretation is in order. Add to that a couple thousand years gone by since the advent of said religious ideals plus a couple billion interpretations of a handful of main ideas. Your resulting product is a mosaic of individualized morals.

Just look at what some highly respected minds have said about morals:

Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
Hemingway: "About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."
Einstein: "It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere... Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."
Nietzsche: "A moral system valid for all is basically immoral."

And so on. I am not arguing any one of their ideas. But rather, I am showing that even among those trying to define morals, ideas vary.

It is a logical deduction that different people, who have differing experiences, live in different cultures and may or may not subscribe to any variety of philosophical and religious thought would have different ideas about what exactly morals are. And this is just fine! It has worked this way since the dawn of man and continues to be. It may seem unsettling to think that others do not define "good" and "bad" just as you do. However, unless forced upon others (which I will discuss later), there is no harm in diverse points of view when it comes to morality.

I now turn Round 2 over to you. Good luck.


If there is a God (and only one true God), it can be assumed that abiding by his will is the only way to be morally correct. To act contrary to his will would be morally wrong.
For the course of this argument, we will assume that we live in a society in which "God is Dead" and morals are not brought from him.
However, C.S.Lewis (an apologist) makes an argument for God that is counter to our entire argument that you might find interesting. It is called "Mere Christianity" He starts from the idea that morals are universal and concludes that there is a God. However, he argues for morals in much the say way it appears you are arguing them. However, concludes that they are universal and not relative. As I don't see morals that way, it had little affect on me, but you might enjoy it.

I, on the other hand, am thrilled you chose to bring up Nietzsche, as he is one of my favorites.
I know his philosophy very well, and will use his arguments to explain Universal Morality (in contrast to C.S. Lewis's)

His quote of yours doesn't not fully explain what he means.

Nietzsche: "A moral system valid for all is basically immoral."

"There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena"
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

As it would appear, your argument is set up to be tight, as is Nietzsche's here.
By the given definition of morality, it is a vague word that really has no meaning, besides that which society should proscribe to it.

If morally right/wrong is simply the word which means
: that which society has deemed right/wrong

Then, of course, moral relativism is true and I concede to the point.

However, I do not view morally right/wrong in this way.

This view can lead to the destruction of man-kind as society could thereby subscribe morals however they wish.
I would certainly say that it is contrary to the inherent morals of man-kind that we should obliterate ourselves.

And there in lies MY argument. and it is so great that you brought up Nietzsche, because I believe he was precisely right on the topic.
Morality, I must conclude, is directly brought about by our Will to Power.
All things that increase our Power (as the goal of our Will) are Morally Right.
All things that diminish that Power are Morally Wrong.

All other supposed Wills, (Will to Life, Schopenhauer) are subservient to our Will to Power (as presented by Nietzsche.... if you don't know or agree with his argument, we can proceed with that in the coming rounds)

While the actions that may increase our Power will be different according to each society (therefore, something that can be considered right in one society, may be wrong in another) The decision for that action being Morally Right or Morally Wrong are is the same.

This argument does directly refute moral relativism as your have described it. Regardless of what a society may deem as "morally right" or "morally wrong", it doesn't change the fact that their actions will either increase their Power or decrease it.

Therefore, Morality is universal. The action one should take to be morally right should always increase their Power.

I have another quote from Nietzsche that supports the reasons why people can act morally wrong (although they do so without their knowledge). This quote can be expanded to societies as well, which is the argument I'm making.

Beyond Good and Evil :190. There is something in the morality of Plato which does not really belong to Plato, but which only appears in his philosophy, one might say, in spite of him: namely, Socratism, for which he himself was too noble. "No one desires to injure himself, hence all evil is done unwittingly. The evil man inflicts injury on himself; he would not do so, however, if he knew that evil is evil. The evil man, therefore, is only evil through error; if one free him from error one will necessarily make him"good."

What I am saying is that all action is intended to increase one's Power... hence the whole idea of the "Will to Power"... however, it does come through error that we fail to increase our Power. We intended to increase our Power, but through fault, we decreased it.

In the same way, societies always strive to increase their Power, and only fail to do so through fault. So, while they can act morally evil, they are unaware of it, possibly even after the fact.

This is a direct argument against Moral Relativism. They act to what they believe is morally right or morally wrong, but in fact, it makes little difference to the moral repercussions of their actions. Their moral repercussions come DIRECTLY from the morality of the Will to Power.

The following no longer concerns Nietzsche. It is to separate "morally right and wrong" from simply "right and wrong"

While this entire argument can be seen then.. what's the difference between saying something is morally right and that it is right. I believe that morally right implies a human action. Albeit, I am an determinist, from a First Person, we believe we have a choice, and that is where we can describe moral.

An action is right if it is valid.
"The sun will rise at 6:28 this morning". This statement regards an action that is either right or wrong, with no morality implied.

An action is morally right if it subscribed correctly to his Will to Power
"I will steal 50 bucks from my grandmother". This statement regards an action that is either morally right or wrong depending on its effect on the grandchild's Will to Power.

"I will steal 50 bucks from my grandmother" is a great example of something being right (the grandchild does steal the money) but is morally wrong (he gets caught and loses the trust of his family)

Therefore, adding the term "morally" to the terms "right" and "wrong" do change their definition, even if morals are universal.

Now that I have given a framework for my arguments, I'll directly address your many quotes on morals (leaving out Nietzsche as he was already addressed)

Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
It could be implied that he is saying that the larger the Power has increased with a nation, the better they are able to treat their animals. Nations will little Power can little afford to treat their animals well.

Hemingway: "About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."
You feel good when your Power is increased and feel bad when you have lost Power. This can be extrapolated as well, you feel good when you know that, by your actions, your Power will increase in the future, and you feel bad when actions have occurred that will diminish your Power.

Einstein: "It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere... Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."
I guess I can only address the sympathy, education, social ties and needs that he is addressing. All of which deal with the Will to Power. Sympathy is usually only given by those with Power, therefore, increase in sympathy shows an increase in Power. Education increases Power, as does social ties. Fulfilling one's needs allows them to increase their Power.

So really, they are all saying the same thing, in different ways. Their morality is universal. They wish to increase their Power, thus is the purpose of their existence encapsulated in the Will to Power.

I'd like to thank my opponent for this debate. Good luck!

Three Cheers for a Thousand Years!!!! Vote CON
Debate Round No. 2


For this argument, I agree we ought to precede with the assumption that "God" is, if real at all, not a factor in this debate. If morals are defined by some invisible, all-powerful man in the sky, this whole debate loses its efficacy.

I do not want to spend too much time dissecting what exactly Nietzsche meant. However, I feel both the quotes "A moral system valid for all is basically immoral." and "There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena." support the idea of moral relativism. For wouldn't a universal morality in fact be valid for all? Likewise, if there is only moral interpretation, does it not stand to reason that interpretations vary??

How can the view of morals as set by society lead to the destruction of man-kind? I would like at least one valid example of such (valid being real, no Bible fables please). I agree its in our best interest not to destroy ourselves but I am not seeing the link to societal morality at all.

Will of Power-- I must disagree on several points. 1. Power and morality are nearly unrelated as I see it. WHY would increasing our Power be right and decreasing it be wrong (in a moral sense that is)?? 2. HOW do you figure all other powers are subservient?? I would like to reference my homeboy Darwin for a second, and counter that power to LIVE is in fact dominant (more on this later) AND has gotten us to where we are evolutionarily (ie: Evidence!).

Further, lets pretend I agree with your Will of Power idea (even though I do not)-- "While the actions that may increase our Power will be different according to each society (therefore, something that can be considered right in one society, may be wrong in another) The decision for that action being Morally Right or Morally Wrong are is the same."

This is 100% contradictory. IF increasing power is morally right AND the things that increase power vary according to society THEN what is morally right (and by extension, morally wrong) WILL differ from society to society, thus proving MY point.

And again, I am proceeding with the idea/argument that power does NOT determine morality. I also disagree with your take on being morally wrong. People CHOOSE to do things that are morally wrong. It is not some accident made in the pursuit of power. I feel you have forgot entirely the ability and tendency of people to injury not only themselves (which yes, is likely unintentional), but also OTHERS. I feel this accounts for a big chunk of immoral behavior. And this comes fully loaded with intent. Thus, it is morally wrong. Freedom from error (which I believe is impossible) does not make someone moral, it simply aligns their intent and their actions, making them..deliberate? Which may be good, bad or mixed.

As for your morally right/wrong vs. simple right/wrong discussion, I am not really sure what your point is. There is a difference of course between correctness (some things are FACTS) and moral correctness (that was the "right" thing to do). Additionally, by your framework, it would be "morally right" to steal $50 from Granny because that would increase your power (power=money, no?). However, that is NOT morally right at all! Stepping on the weak to selfishly advance one's self through means that are otherwise lazy and devious IS morally wrong (by my standards.. of course, as per my argument, yours may well be different).

I understand that your whole power-based argument is philosophically interesting, but I do not think it has any clout in real-world actions, behaviors and consequences. It may work slightly better for societies than it does for people. I think societies DO want to have power, but they also want to survive. Power is useless if you are dead. This applies to people and societies. Further, I think you are missing an important distinction in that societies may strive for greater power outwardly (among other societies), but internally, strive (like humans) for betterment. And perhaps you can event extrapolate this to people.

And in that betterment I believe you find the pulse of what makes morality. Also in that betterment you find what creates differences between morality from person to person and society to society. And here is where Darwin comes back. Lets say the will to live is strongest. Great, so wouldn't that make us all kill each other? No. Why? As human history has proven, we do better in groups, tribes, societies, whatever you'd like to call them. We live longer, have more babies, and grow stronger. So, no, we won't all kill each other. Actually, we are better off if our tribe is better off. Self betterment is directly tied to societal betterment. And that is directly indicative of what is/is not moral.

Also, FYI-- I was not supporting or debunking any of those quotes, I was using them to show that there are many many ideas about morality. I really don't want to argue over what others have postulated, but rather what you and I think. I do not however think any of those men (Gandhi, Hemingway, Einstein) shared your view that Will to Power defines morality. If so, a) they'd have said so and b) you wouldn't have to find such round-about ways of supporting your central idea. Again, morality is only further proven to be RELATIVE based on what they actually said (as opposed to your skewed "translation" of their meanings). Not ONE used the word "power." If they meant power, they would have said it! Simple. Case closed on that.

Ok, on to the examples to support my argument:
Cultural divergences can be subtle yet telling.

Take for example the Japanese and some (extreme) Muslims who believe it is moral (even honorable) to die for their causes (Kamikaze, suicide bombings, etc.). In Western culture, this is not well understood because we do not condone such things. One good reason might be Biblical in origin (suicide is a sin). Regardless, the very same act is viewed very differently depending on the cultural point of reference.

Now let's look at China, where the prevailing philosophy has been (for ages actually) that society (the whole) is more valuable than the individual. Perhaps this sheds some light on Kamikaze bombers for one. Also, it may explain any number of actions that Westerners find perplexing. Now, take the Western value for the individual (something that really became strong during/after the Renaissance and even more so after industrialization). Our beloved First Amendment is ALL about the individual. I doubt Chinese and Japanese really understand why we value that law so much, but it stems from deep-seated and long-standing cultural differences.

What's this got to do with morals? Everything. The decisions we make are shaped by what we think is important, what we value, what we want to preserve and/or protect. If these fundamental conceptions are quite different, it is wholly reasonable that our actions will too be different. Further, you can expect society's interpretation and reaction to individual actions to vary just as drastically.

The variation in moral standings truly does run quite deep. And it rings quite true on a day-to-day and person-to-person basis.

In my view, these differences are a) true, b) important, and c) powerful.

Moral relativism is the ONLY product you can expect from an experiment with such different substrates. It makes sense, there is evidence to support it and honestly, no other system is logical under current conditions.

Your turn :)
Better luck in round 3.


I'm sorry.. you thought you won round 2? My dear Dorie... you made some good points to help us each understand.. but won a round, let alone the argument... you have not.

"I do not want to spend too much time dissecting what exactly Nietzsche meant." That's too bad, because it's vital to the argument. I won't fully explain until R4 though, because its not important yet. There's a reason for the Will to Power in all this, but it won't be apparent until later.
Additionally, you assumed the Will to Power isn't true, and the Will to Life supersedes it- although- wait- no- Nietzsche DIRECTLY refuted Will to Life while promoting the Will to Power.

In short, if our Will to Life is our main motivator for all actions... why then would someone sacrifice their life for anything... kamikaze's you brought up is a great example... that has quite a DIRECT opposition to their supposed Will to Life.
Also, why ever put your life in risk for anything that we don't conclude to make us live longer... it wouldn't make sense... but we do... we knowingly risk our life all the time for things that don't help us live longer... don't we?

"How can the view of morals as set by society lead to the destruction of man-kind?" Well, man-kind hasn't been destroyed yet... outside of that.. I can't argue for a real life situation where Relative Morals led us to destruction because we don't have relative morals... good try though

If we did, a society could develop the sense of morals that are contrary to the Will to Power, such as Will to Instantly Kill Everyone or Die Trying - this would end man-kind quick

"1. Power and morality are nearly unrelated as I see it." That's the entire point of my argument.. they are related... they are equal... but that's what we'll get to in the next round
"2. HOW do you figure all other powers are subservient??" That's what my homeboy Nietzsche explains.. if you don't understand it.. I'll explain in the next round.
3. Darwin NEVER said we had a Will to Live- If one would describe Darwin's philosophy as a Will, it would be the Will to Procreate- there's a difference... additionally, the Will to Power supersedes that... as I've already stated and will explain further next round

"While the actions that may increase our Power will be different according to each society (therefore, something that can be considered right in one society, may be wrong in another) The decision for that action being Morally Right or Morally Wrong are is the same."

I don't see this as contradictory at all... let me explain: In Society A, because there are too many children being born and they can't feed them all, they limit parents to only 2 children... Contrarily, in Society B, because there aren't enough babies being born, they require parents to have at least 4 children. These are different actions- HOWEVER, the Morality.. to increase the power of the nation and allow for individuals to prosper remains the same... Universal Morality exists although the exact actions taken by each nation are not the same. That's why I separated morality from right and wrong at the end of my argument

"People CHOOSE to do things that are morally wrong. It is not some accident made in the pursuit of power."
People do choose the actions that are morally wrong (as was set in the premise), but they don't define them as morally wrong at the time...everyone justifies their actions... always... "I know it's wrong, BUT some reason that it isn't wrong" And that's some of the problem... when they justify it, often they are wrong in that justification... OK, if I kill One Hundred Terrorists, it will save One Thousand Innocent Lives... killing the terrorists is morally wrong, but saving a thousand lives makes it morally right.... however, if it doesn't save the thousand lives, its just morally wrong.. and that's the difference

"it would be "morally right" to steal $50 from Granny" - This follows directly from the last argument I just made... we could find morally right reasons to steal that money from granny... it all depends on the outcome

"Power is useless if you are dead." - And yet, we all die... The powers of the founding fathers (through way of the Constitution) still has a direct effect on all of our lives today... huh

"internally, strive... for betterment." - Governments, as history has shown, have ALWAYS increased their power over their people (or at least, have tried to)... they only give up power when it is beneficial for THEM to do so (in other words, the Magna Carta was necessary, else the King lose ALL his power)

"And here is where Darwin comes back. Lets say the will to live is strongest." Again, he never said that... Will to Live is Schopenhauer

"Great, so wouldn't that make us all kill each other?" That's nonsense... why would killing other people increase our chance at living? I mean, certainly kill people who are risks to our own survival (and that would be morally right) but why kill people who could potentially help us survive? That would be morally wrong


"What's this got to do with morals? Everything. The decisions we make are shaped by what we think is important, what we value, what we want to preserve and/or protect."

AHA! You are here conceding that the decisions we make have a central driver. Regardless of what that is... there is one underlying motivation for ALL of our actions.

This is PRECISELY that argument I'm making. I went on to define that underlying motivation as Will to Power, but it really has no bearing. As long as you concede that there IS a central motivator, my argument rings as true as your beautiful eyes on a summer's day.

The DIFFERENCE between it, it seems, is you are saying that different cultures have different central drivers... that's where we find our difference.

I will go on to make an argument for why, regardless of our society, we all have the same central motivator, but for now, I would like you to concede the following:

As it appears you agree on a central motivator, I want to state it in a way that relates it to morality

If we do have a central motivator, actions are considered Morally Right if they serve that central motivation. Any action can be considered Morally Wrong if they are detrimental to that central motivation.

Do you agree with this statement? That was basically the goal of R2 when I wanted to define Morals... I accept that definition of what is Morally Right and Wrong.... do you?
If so, this debate changes from a broader, Moral Relativism: Fact or Fallacy, to the more direct question...

Do all societies and people share the same central motivation?

The results of that debate will directly determine the results of the Moral Relativism debate as far as I'm concerned.

Assuming you do agree with that definition of Morals, I would like your R4 debate to center around just that.... we will each have the burden of proof. You must argue that different societies have different central motivations, and I will argue that they have the same central motivation.

I will define Central Motivation as :
A single reason, explanation, purpose for all actions taken by all life forms (particularly humans)

It must be noted, before you begin, that doesn't mean that all actions resulted in that central motivation being accomplished, merely that central motivation was attempted to be fulfilled.

If the central motivation is to live as long as possible, people can make mistakes along the way, believing it will actually make them live longer, but it turns out, it kills them... for example... they take a drug that is supposed to make you live forever, but it actually kills them the next day... their action was still inspired by their central motivation to live longer

I want to thank my opponent for her grace and hope we can come to an agreement somewhere along the line. Though, I might not budge as far on this one as the last.
Debate Round No. 3


I am going to try to wrangle up all of our tangential discrepancies quickly and move onto the main point of moral relativism in all of its greatness.

When did I say I won R2? Pretty sure I didn't because a) I didn't actually think that haha and b) winning shall be determined at the end of course.

I know you love Nietzsche, and certainly have good reason to, but you must realize that there are semester-long courses devoted to analyzing what he meant! It is important, but still tangential. At the bottom of it all, I want to hear what you think.

Also, I do not assume the Will to Power is not true. I actually do believe in its existence, and I think it can explain a lot regarding human behavior. I have however argued that it is not a valid explanation of what defines morals. These ideas are quite different. And again, just because Nietzsche said something, that does not mean a) that I agree or b) that it's true.

Further, I have proposed that Will to Life is stronger, but not necessarily the ONLY factor that determines our actions (which is important for you to realize, as I recognize that you see Will of Power as the ONLY factor). BUT if you look at my argument for society's will to survive (or whatever you want to call it), one could argue that Kamikazes actually trade in their lives to help society's chances of surviving and prospering. The two often conflict in fact.

And to clear up-- society's morals actually have NOT led to the destruction of mankind. Despite those morals being obviously different through time and space. Ok, check.

1. I am very interested to see your connection between power and morality... because its still a huge mystery on my end.
2. Again, Nietzsche is cool and all, but not all knowing.. and I reserve the right to disagree.
3. I never said Darwin coined or used the term Will to Live. He didn't. I know that. I was simply borrowing your lingo to show you my opposing view. Darwin did talk a lot about survival though (ie: of the fittest). I was using Will to Live as a synonym for survival instinct. If you don't like it though thats just fine, I don't either!

Next:Though I acknowledge societies do different things to accomplish the same goal, I do not think you can arbitrarily say that the goal for all societies (or all people for that matter) is power. It's MUCH more complex than that. Further, accomplishing a goal does not make the accompanying action moral. The desire to accomplish a goal or set of goals is not morality. It may be called drive, ambition, direction, etc.

Not everyone who does something morally wrong chooses to justify it. I agree some people trick themselves into being ok with otherwise bad choices. Because some people do have a conscience, but also weak will power. BUT some people choose to do something morally wrong and are just.. ok with it. As is. Eg: Many people who steal simply say its ok because they'll never get caught. While delusional, this is not a MORAL justification, but rather an attempt at a practical justification. Unfortunately, not all people are well-intentioned.

Also, I disagree- morality is not about outcome, its about intent! If you try to bake your roomie cookies and accidentally start a fire, you're dumb, you caused damage and cost money, but still did not make an immoral decision. However, if you set fire to your kitchen in an attempt to punish or otherwise inconvenience your roomie, then you did make an immoral decision (and equally stupid, I'd say).

Power IS useless if you're dead. Though some forms may be passed on (ie: money, certain statuses, etc.), many others cannot (elected and appointed offices, interpersonal power, etc.). And yes we all die. THUS why would our lives revolve around power? Also, I wouldn't call the Constitution an extension of the founding fathers' personal power. It was a product of their combined efforts and a LOT of compromise. And though it holds a lot of power over the people of this country, it is certainly not human in any way.

Back to Darwin, please note, again, that I did not credit him with the idea that will to live is strongest. Nor am I even arguing that. I was making a broader point. And in the past resources have been scarce.. hell, even NOW resources are often scarce. People must either share or fight for them, as resources help increase odds of survival. Sharing, on a larger scale is essentially the framework for a society. Fighting, though perhaps risky is a calculated risk-- with definite rewards. Also, worth noting- the products/results of will to live can be measured in a definite and discrete way. Power is not so easily measured.

Ok, to the meat of it:
I support my previous statement: "What's this got to do with morals? Everything. The decisions we make are shaped by what we think is important, what we value, what we want to preserve and/or protect."
The decisions we make are shaped by a myriad of factors, conditions, projections, circumstances, etc. that together yield the decision you make and the subsequent actions you take. It is certainly not ONE thing at all. I do not concede a central motivator, other than the fortitude of the decision a person makes. Extended to societies, many societies strive for the same things but must make many different decisions along the path to prosperity. They also operate with different factors, variables, circumstances, etc. And, there is no single motivator among or within cultures.

I do agree that Morally Right actions result from decisions that correspond with what is conventionally considered "good", well-intentioned, etc. The "do good" inclination of people ultimately drives them to do good. Those who are corrupted by selfishness, laziness, apathy, malevolence, etc. may follow alternative inclinations, resulting in moral wrong or "doing bad."

Many societies want many of the same things. It is, again, a mosaic of goals, desires, ideals, etc. No two are exactly the same. Yet there are of course many patterns, commonalities, etc. Further, I really do not care to extend this to other life forms, given that morality may or may not be present in other species.

I understand not all motivations are carried out properly or to fruition. But, intent is where the moral debate hinges (as I see it). Finally, your argument against will to live also applies equally to power!! People can just as easily do something in an attempt to gain more power, but end up losing rather than gaining.

As for more specifics about what makes morals different in different cultures, I give you some examples:
1) The US has a tendency to be the police of the world. As a result, our military is often in situations that are combat-like, but do not actually coincide with a military effort on behalf of the US directly. Americans tend to still see this as morally right on a social and personal level-- "giving democracy" seems to be a well-favored gift. However, many other cultures see this as power-hungry, meddlesome and morally wrong. To others, it's pushy, bothersome and paternalistic.
2) In India, the cow is sacred. In the US, we love hamburgers. Indians (no all, but some) judge eating beef as morally wrong. We do not.
3) In societies that are more conservative and traditional, old conventions still stand. While a girl of 16 in the US may, in good conscience, work, make money and spend it as she like, a Ghanaian girl of 16 may indeed work, but is likely expected to contribute her income to her family. Spending her money would be seen as morally wrong.
4) In some cultures, if a woman does not clean properly, cook well enough, or even talks back to her husband, he may hit her and feel he is morally right. In modern, civilized cultures, we see that as morally wrong.

I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. Norms differ around the world. And thus, morals do as well. Though we all may want the same things, our standards of right and wrong come from within and are checked by the society we live in.


"When did I say I won R2?" --"Better luck next round" Usually said by someone who won (or a bystander) to someone who lost.

Nietzsche never said that the Will to Power determines morals... I'm saying that
So it's not like I was going to just take what he said and throw it at you, I haven't connected the two yet.

"society's morals actually have NOT led to the destruction of mankind. Despite those morals being obviously different through time and space." - Ever heard of begging the question?

3. Your analysis of "Will to Live" vs. "survival of the fittest" shows your clear lack of understand of what is meant by "Will"... I will explain in this round what Will means in this sense (as well as Will to Power)

"Eg: Many people who steal simply say its ok because they'll never get caught." Is this not EXACTLY what I said... the negative here is getting caught... (compare: 1000 people dying)... if they don't get caught, it's not morally wrong.... if they do get caught, it was.

"not all people are well-intentioned." - they are towards their own power

"Power IS useless if you're dead "- I'm sorry... what? did you not understand in the slightest what I wrote?... wait no you must have -- "it holds a lot of power over the people of this country" -- that is Power extended from the Founding Fathers... our world today is still being shaped by people who have been dead 200 years ago... it certainly was their intent, and that's the point.

"Fighting, though perhaps risky is a calculated risk" - is this your argument against me saying we risk our lives without trying to live longer? Cuz I was talking about things like drinking too much, crossing the street in traffic, talking on a cell phone while driving, wearing a seat-belt... we acknowledge that they could lead to an early death and don't care

"It is certainly not ONE thing at all." - Then we may have issues

"Finally, your argument against will to live also applies equally to power!! People can..." That wasn't an argument AGAINST will to live, I was explaining what I was considering moral... that people can do things that are morally wrong, even in the construct of "will to live". I was just explaining that people don't accomplish the goals of their morality perfectly.

Onto the fun stuff:

I'm having a very hard time connecting all the dots in your game... I have at least ATTEMPTED to make a concise definition of morals "To adhere to a central motivator" Which you bomblasted by denying a central motivator.. to be replaced by what? It would seem to me that chaos has replaced it... our morals come from what we subjectively believe is right, whatever our teachings were.... i think you are believing that morals are fluid through life and solely dependent on the irrational emotion involved. I can find no other way to define what you have described. You care about the "well-intention" and you adhere to some abstract "good" that cannot be properly defined. These things have no place in a clear and concise debate. So, without agreeing upon a proper definition of morals, this debate will not be resolved.

To skip around a bit... Will - defined... Will, according to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, is the very fabric that makes us... we are Will Incarnate. We cannot help but be driven by it.... it doesn't mean like "determination"... we cannot help but manifest our Will.... it is uncontrollable.

Also, something that might help.. the Will to Power, when done in German (Nietzsche's language) is actually the Wille zur Macht... which is used as the same root word as make (machen) -- "Arbeit Macht Frie" - "Machst du ein SAMMICH!" Maybe this can help you understand how Germans connect Make with Power. So much so, that to say that we have a "will to make" wouldn't be too far of a difference from the "will to power"
According to my opponent, we do not have a central motivator.
Our decisions are based on what then? We must have reason... mustn't we?
I believe our reason acts as a tree... personally I believe the Will to Power is at the top.
Regardless of what is at the top, we thereby make decisions on other things based off it.
For example - we may decide that making money is a way to increase power
Thereby, when we make decision about money, we no longer consider the power, only the money.. because we have made that decision
This happens for many things.. such as live
We decided that to increase our Power, we must continue to live (most people come to this conclusion.. many artist on the other hand have taken another direction)
So, when presented with live vs death, we choose life without considering at the moment our thoughts on Power.
Although in our day to day lives, we do not consciously think "this will increase my power", we only think of the smaller decision because we have already decided that it will increase Power.
I realize too that I have not connected to morality fully yet, and I hope my opponent is OK with me doing that in the R5 because I can't do it properly unless she concedes to reason.
Otherwise, if she does not define "morals" in a way that is concise.. or agree upon my definition of morals.... we are at an impasse and I consider the debate Null.
Debate Round No. 4


Just as a refresher as to the central question of this debate: are morals relative? That is our big question.

I really don't want to split hairs, but even with what I think you saw as a definition, I believe we may have differing ideas about what "Will" means. I have been going with the dictionary definition that most closely suits the context in which you continue to use the word. It was however not of my choosing.
You say will is "the very fabric that makes us"-- What??? So... will is carbon? Hydrogen and oxygen? I really don't follow. And why exactly can't we control it?? I subscribe to this definition:
(n.):The faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action: "she has an iron will".

Also, not receiving punishment for a morally wrong act does not make it morally right!!!! I think you have confused morally right/wrong with... justifiable? Not really sure. Morals are not just about getting caught or having a reason though! There are endless acts that a person could do without getting caught that are STILL morally wrong. Agree?
If not, I do not think our definitions of morals have much in common at all. And in all fairness, at least mine are based on the REAL definition(s) of the word.

I also do not think you grasp "well-intentioned." This has nothing to do with power. Its all about intent. What you mean to accomplish by doing something.

Further, I was not talking about "things like drinking too much, crossing the street in traffic, talking on a cell phone while driving, wearing a seat-belt" at any point. So I think we misunderstood each other. Because I do not see those things as having anything to do with moral relativism. More just common sense..

Onto more fun stuff:
Just because you have given me a single term that, though ill-defined, you claim determines all morals, that does not mean that it is a) correct or even b) relevant. I also think that waiting until closing arguments to make your main point is rather tardy.. how am I supposed to question, consider and discuss something if you hang onto it til the last minute?

The fact that different people are motivated to different decisions by differing factors is KEY to my argument for moral relativism. Likewise, so is the fact that different cultures through time and space have held different standards for what is and is not morally acceptable/unacceptable (ie: right/wrong).
This is NOT "chaos" as you call it. Just because an idea cannot be boiled down to a single mold that supposedly fits everyone, that does not make it incomprehensible or incorrect.
YES, morals are subjective!! Of course they are!! We would not be debating this if they weren't! And YES morals vary with personal and societal beliefs, teachings, etc.
Let me ask you: Where exactly do you think YOUR morals came from??? I'll give you a hint-- nothing in your DNA codes for them, no nutrient in the food you eat supports them, and no single person or entity (whether you recognize this or not) has endowed you with them.
Back to my point-- beliefs and teachings and experience however are not "irrational emotion." Though that does seem to be a favorite phrase you throw at things you invalidate or care not to understand.

Good is abstract dear opponent. That why literature, art, film, philosophy, etc. has for centuries tried to explore it, yet always seems to come back to the same idea: no matter how bright the white or how dark the black, there is always gray between them.

I have been as clear and concise as possible, and certainly no less so than you.

In closing, I see that "Will to Power" remains your central idea. However, you have still failed to prove in any way how this relates to morals and more importantly, have given no evidence to support that "Will to Power" is responsible for moral uniformity. I understand that you think "Will to Power" is a central motivator. That you actually have put forth. Despite that, I wholeheartedly disagree with your assessment and am disappointed at the sparse evidence offered to support it. Power, if anything, undermines the fundamentals of good and evil.

Also, I appreciate your tribute to Nietzsche, but think you have focused far too much on a single philosopher to really prove any overarching point. While you may see Nietzsche and/or German philosophy as supportive to your point, I actually see it as supportive to mine! Germany is a perfect example of a culture where some things are acceptable to Germans, but rarely to non-Germans. Eg: the Holocaust (I am quite sure there are still Germans that think this was morally "right" but go ANYWHERE else in the world and try to get support for that idea.. good luck). Hence: moral relativism (yay!).

Just to firm up your points of confusion before closing my argument:
Morals are relative across cultures and through time.
-There is no central motivator, thats right. We may have several (motivated to fulfill our basic needs [food, water, shelter, belonging, love, oxygen, etc.], motivated to climb socially, motivated to survive, motivated to enjoy ourselves, etc.), but certainly not one.
-Our decisions are based on many things-- our needs, our resources, the repercussions of our choices, how we feel about the consequences, etc. You may be looking for one reason, but I'm afraid you'll have to accept the many.

And just because I do not agree with your "definition" of morals, that does not invalidate mine. Again, I pulled mine from a dictionary, a commonly accepted source for definitions I might add. If you need a refresher, please refer back to R2. Yours is rather unsupported and could just as easily define many things-- "To adhere to a central motivator" could be about society, government, military, or anything else where you can identify something "central" that motivates many. Further, the definition itself leads me to question-- if adherence is necessary, that means that there are other options. And it means that some do not adhere. Thus, it is not truly universal.

In a nutshell: morals are in fact relative. Why? Because the factors that determine moral rightness or wrongness are likewise relative. What are these factors? Society, its goals; tradition, its place in society; social hierarchy; beliefs including but not limited to religious ideas, philosophy, etc.; conceptions such as the value of a life, the role of punishment, value of material possessions, etc. Frankly this list could go on and on and on. The permutations of one's moral base are pretty much endless though. Thats not to say that many people do not come to the same conclusions-- they do! But many disagree, many must compromise, and some must even violate their own moral compass to satisfy the needs or demands of another person or entity. At the bottom of it, morals are about what is right and wrong, and no one can make that determination for you. It must come from within.

Thanks for the lively debate and good luck!


I have tried again and again in this debate to come to terms with my opponent so that we can have a more meaningful debate... however, she has refused to define Morality in a meaningful way. So, I will take this debate to conclusion that will refute moral relativism in a way that a person can not refute while maintaining the structure of logic.

She wonders why I have to wait to the end to make proper arguments? Because I've been trying to take it step by step with her so that we can get a better understanding together.... but it has failed because she has refused even my simplest of requests... so I am forced to abandon convincing her and choose then to convince my audience.... and that shouldn't take more than one round.

In my first argument, I will flat our recognize your Webster's definition as accurate and complete

a : of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical
b : expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior
c : conforming to a standard of right behavior
d : sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment
e : capable of right and wrong action

Each one of these definitions either states the word (1) right or (2) ethical.

Ethical as defined by Webster

(a) of or relating to ethics
(b) involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval
(c) conforming to accepted standards of conduct
(d) of a drug : restricted to sale only on a doctor's prescription


Right as defined by Webster (I removed ones that weren't at all connected)

(a) righteous, upright
(b) being in accordance with what is just, good, or proper
(c) conforming to facts or truth : correct
(d) suitable, appropriate
(e) genuine, real
(f) acting or judging in accordance with truth or fact
(g) most favorable or desired : preferable; also : socially acceptable

In order for your argument to work.... in all of this.. we have to take a close minded view on these definitions... that is Moral = Ethical = Accepted Standards of Conduct
More than that... I strictly forbade this definition in R2 in (3). "what is morally right is to punch yourself ever half hour!"

If your point of believing in Moral Relativism is that in practice people have considered different things were morally right and wrong throughout time... you didn't need to convince me of that... there really isn't any argument... I'm not arguing what people believe... I'm arguing what IS.... and Morals aren't something proscribed by humans (as I said as clearly as I could in R2).

There are two phrases I can use here

"It"s wrong to say, "I think"; One should say, "I am thought". I is someone else." - Arthur Rimbaud
"...a thought comes when "it" wishes, and not when "I" wish" - Friedrich Nietzsche

In just the same way, we get our morals from somewhere else... this is unavoidable. (This isn't saying there is a God... merely that we are subjects to the world)
If we get them from somewhere else... there must have been a prime-mover. If there is a prime-mover... to that, we are obliged morality.

My opponent has failed on every level to determine where we get our morals from. To blanket say "society" doesn't fulfill anything. If she is saying that society determines our morals that is a near tautology with Moral Relativism (given that it is assumed that society would necessarily deem different things moral over time as conditions change). I have said our morals are connected to our "Central Motivator" a number of times now, without fully making the connection. (I have only failed to do this because my opponent has failed to accept the reality of a "Central Motivator".... which, if one believes in Evolution, unavoidable, and if one believes in Religion, unnecessary).

So why is adhering to our Central Motivator (whatever that may be) Moral? Because the central motivator is why we exist. It has existed since the first organism that performed photosynthesis (or did we come from amoebas?... i think we came from plants? doesn't matter). We exist to serve it. It has driven us (knowingly or not, as a bumblebee or plankton surely aren't aware of their prime motivation) to become who we are today. And it will continue to drive us regardless of our belief. We owe it that. If we are to act in contrast to our Central Motivator, we are doing contrary to what brought us into existence.

This is what leads me to

The Will to Power.... if the Will to Power is our Central Motivator... we will continue.... we will become greater... we will produce more...and we will have better control over a Universe that has brought us here. The only actions that can be considered immoral are those that prevent us from continuing on the path that has brought us here... to act contrary to evolution----- by increasing our power we will live longer more enjoyable lives... we will understand more... we will, eventually, live in peace without fear of chance (accidents leading to our death)....... By acting contrary to the Will to Power, we will increase Global suffering... individuals will have less control... even if you don't agree with my definitions.. agree with my conclusions

And now... the conclusion.... this is like the apex of the vortex of a Universal Morality argument.

Societies can deem something as morally right that is in EVERY WAY wrong outside of the definition that you gave above... I gave a short of it in R3... "Will to Instantly Kill Everyone or Die Trying"... if a society deemed that "Morally Right"... it's not hard to see that the only way to possibly consider that Morally Right is using the definition you gave... and I don't know about you (mostly because you never responded to that argument) but I think that means that is a flawed definition of what is Morally Right since that society would end pretty quick... so I'm not sure how you can defend that something can be "morally right" when it results in the destruction of a society.

That's it... that's really all the argument you need to know that Morality is not Relative... Morality is Universal ---- actions can be deemed morally different in this culture or the next, but it doesn't change the actually morality of them... does the action increase or decrease Power... if it increases it, it is Morally Right and if it decreases it, it is Morally Wrong... this proscription rings true for all cultures... and thus Universal Morality exists for all beings sprung from the same beginning (the Cradle of Life)

Like I said, I do not expect to convince my opponent any longer... she is clearly stuck in the definition that I threw out in the opening round... so I must ask the voters to consider... did she abide by my guidelines? if I was unfair in asking that , I hope I have shown why I had to... it is quizzical to define morality in that way

I would like to thank Dorie for an exasperating debate, but can we please either do something better defined or lighter next time.... i'll PM you a list
Debate Round No. 5
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