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Is Morality Relative?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/21/2018 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,224 times Debate No: 114119
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (10)
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I have been busy this past couple of days with exams, but I still want to be doing some brief debates, so I'm putting a debate up with a shorter character limit (4000 words). The topic of this debate will be the question of, 'Is Morality Relative?'.

This is the definition I'd like to propose for 'moral relativism':

The philosophized notion that right and wrong are not absolute values, but are personalized according to the individual and his or her circumstances or cultural orientation. It can be used positively to effect change in the law (e.g., promoting tolerance for other customs or lifestyles) or negatively as a means to attempt justification for wrongdoing or lawbreaking. The opposite of moral relativism is moral absolutism, which espouses a fundamental, Natural Law of constant values and rules, and which judges all persons equally, irrespective of individual circumstances or cultural differences. [1]

Before we begin, I'd like to lay out a few rules:

1. This question is often viewed through a religious lens, in attempt to prove God as the center of an absolute morality. Although this idea is something I support, I'd like to evaluate nonreligious arguments for this debate. I want to see if these ideas that I believe can be supported outside of my religion.
2. I ask my opponent not to personally insult me or my beliefs, and I will do the same to you. By all means, attack and poke holes in my argument, but don't attack my character as a person. For those of you who are commenting, please don't attack other debaters or those in the comment section.
3. You can choose whether or not you want to make the first argument, or if you simply want to accept the debate and let me go first. Either way is fine with me.



Hmm, alright. I accept your conditions.
Debate Round No. 1


To say that 'morality is relative' you are essentially saying that, 'moral relativism is true'. If you say that moral relativism is true, then that contradicts the whole notion of moral relativism- that there is no truth. By calling yourself a moral relativist, you are claiming to know the truth- that absolute morality is wrong, and relative morality is correct. Surely you can see the irony of this- to believe in moral relativism is to believe in absolute morality, which contradicts moral relativism. So the whole idea that no one can know the truth is self-refuting. [1]

While the relativist may claim that his view is nonjudgmental, and produces tolerance and inclusiveness, the opposite is actually true. By claiming that relativism is the truth, relativists are saying that if you believe in an absolute moral truth, you are wrong. All absolutists are therefore 'incorrect', meaning that you are exclusive. Whether you are judgmental and intolerant has nothing to do with whether or not you are a moral relativist, and everything to do with how you treat people who believe differently from you. [2]

One of the common arguments for moral relativism is that there can't be objective moral values because moral values differ from person to person, and culture to culture. This argument may seem valid on the surface, but when you look closer, the argument collapses.

Just because two people or cultures disagree does not mean that they are both correct. In most instances, it will be impossible for them both to be correct. If two people were to have an argument over whether the sky was blue, or the sky was green, it would be ridiculous to assume that the sky, therefore, had no color, simply because they disagreed. It is fully possible that a person (or even an entire culture, such as Nazi Germany) could be mistaken. [3]

Personal preferences are statements that differ from person to person and don't address the question of what is right or wrong. An example of a personal preference claim would be, 'I like to eat pizza'. These claims do not say anything about whether or not it is right or wrong to like to eat pizza. So this is not an example of objective morality, because it differs from person to person. Similarly, a statement like, 'I like to murder people without justification' is only a personal preference claim, and it doesn't say anything about whether it is right or wrong to murder a person without justification. Moral absolutism does not encompass personal preferences, but it does encompass right or wrong, and, in many cases, whether or not those personal preferences are justified.

I believe that moral values are absolute, and even if people disagree with them, they exist despite personal preferences. Moral values might be statements like, 'murdering people without justification is wrong', and I would argue that this stands regardless of whether or not someone believes that murdering people without justification is wrong.

Much confusion has happened in debates such as these when people confuse personal preferences with moral values. Moral relativists argue for personal preferences, but they will neglect to mention how those personal preferences correspond with the moral values themselves. [4]



If I were to say gravity is relative, that it does not occur exactly the same everywhere in the universe or even on Earth would not. Depending on the environment gravity will act differently. Big planet more gravity, small planet less.

For myself to say that all morality is relative only notes that depending on the environment, the factors, people will have different moralities does not seem contradictory to me.

I am simply arguing that there is not one exact type of morality. Just as there is no exact amount of gravity.

I am still able to recognize that morality operates in certain ways depending on it's environment, the same as gravity is more or less depending on it's environment.

Two people can be correct or true rather, to their own moralities. Each person would also be wrong to the other though.
If a colorblind man and a man with normal eyesight were to both look at a vividly colored painting. Each would be correct in what he saw.
You might argue that the person seeing in color is viewing the painting correctly. But I don't think that would work.
The man seeing in color is still only viewing part of the world. He is unable to see what the colorblind man can see, yet what the colorblind man sees exists just as much as the color man.

No one murders someone without justification/reason. (I think)

The justification could be amusement or boredom. But still you need a reason a cause to move and commit an action.
A person could be born/raised to view it as perfectly acceptable to their values to kill another human for amusement. Be they psychopath or sociopath.

Morality can exist in clusters. But it disappears with the people and cause for it. There is no lasting morality that exists now and forever for all persons... Unless you would be willing to accept that all morality was relative perhaps. This would allow you to set a few and very limited guidelines for morality.
But it would not necessarily be the morality that you believe in. Murder for example would still be acceptable (In some peoples moralities)

You would be stuck making equations and likelihoods for behaviors and morality to pop up in certain circumstances.

Same way gravity be more on a big planet.
You would be able to chart that in a society where cooperation is seen as good by most of it's people, that they would generally refer to murder as bad.
But still other people would have their own morality. An individual might think murder is fun! And he would be justified in his morality to himself.
Debate Round No. 2


Thank you for your quick response- I'm excited to dive deeper into this and work out the answers for ourselves. I respect what you said about comparing morality to gravity, and saying that it shifts depending on the culture and the circumstance. However, I disagree. I'll use this argument to discuss how morality stays the same in every situation, even when some people don't follow it.

I admire how you twisted my point about the sky by discussing colorblindness, and how two different people might see the sky's color differently. It was a really unique way to view my claim. However, I don't think that personal differences (such as colorblindness) affect the actual question of what is right and what is wrong. The way that color is seen can differ from person to person, similar to what I talked about with personal preferences. So the example that I gave before was faulty. My point in giving it was to point out that there are some absolute truths (the sky is blue) that stand regardless of what people believe about it.

For example, if one person were to claim, "there is milk in the fridge" and the next were to claim, "there is no milk in the fridge", there cannot be both milk in the fridge and no milk in the fridge. It is false to say that they are both right simply because they disagree. This is a silly example, but the point still stands.

I'm not sure you understood my point about unjustified murder, and your counterpoint was kind of irrelevant. The definition of 'justification', according to Oxford, is 'the act of showing something to be right or reasonable'. [1] My argument was that just because someone believes that murder is 'right or reasonable' does not actually mean that it is. Justification is not synonymous with motivation, which I think you misunderstood. Certainly, everything we do has to have some motivation, whether it's a good one or not, but that's completely beside the main point.



The sky is not necessarily any more blue than it is whatever other color other people or certain animals might see.

This is because our eyes are built to only be able to view certain reflections or however our eyes work. We may see a blue sky, but the sky is not necessarily blue.

If an animals/humans/aliens eyes were designed to view light differently than an average human, and saw the sky as green... Do you think they would be wrong?

I am not denying that light exists, only that there is more to it than the average human vision of it. After all humans are also able to use infrared or night vision goggles. The colors that they see is as true as the color blue.

As for milk, fair enough. But again, I do not deny the existence of morality, only the quality. And by quality I deny any one viewpoint as having overreaching objective meaning.
There are only isolated bubbles of meaning.

If the murderer thinks that fun is good. And sees murder as an acceptable way to reach his fun and thus good, there is your morality.

How does one show something to be right or "reasonable"?

I would say by fitting into their worldview. And worldviews are created by our genetics and our experiences of environment.

Humans genes change over time. Humans environment changes over time.

In the Oxford dictionary
Motivation: A reason or "reasons" for acting or behaving in a particular way.

The definitions seem similar enough to me, though I suppose one could argue minute differences that I doubt change the spirit of how individuals would usually use them.

An argument against some perfect moral system could be that while humans have moral systems, they are not all the same. Again morality exists, but I deny that there is one pure interpretation.

I'm going to walk to the store and buy a doughnut, be back in about an hour.
Debate Round No. 3


Once again, I really like the way you portrayed my point about the sky- you are right that the sky's color changes from person to person, and I love how you used science to prove that. However, I've already acknowledged that the color of the sky was a bad example and given a better one to replace it.

You are right that color changes depending on the viewer, but this still does not prove your point about morality- only that my example was faulty, which I've already acknowledged. While there are many things (like color) that change depending on the people seeing it, I do not believe that morality is the same way. I believe that there are absolute truths in the world (like the milk, which you have already acknowledged) that do not change, regardless of people's opinions of them. I would like to suggest that we put aside our points about the sky- they aren't proving anything, because the main topic is the idea of morality itself. How people see the sky is dependant on their personalities and not the concept of what is right or what is wrong.

I do not believe that because someone believes that it is good, it, therefore, makes it good. You said that 'if a murderer sees murder as an acceptable way to have fun, there is your morality'. However, the whole idea of this is flawed. Let's go back to the example of the milk- if someone were to say, 'I think that there should be milk in the fridge', would that automatically mean that there was milk in the fridge? Certainly not. Just because someone believes something does not mean that it is the truth. So if someone believes that murder is good, that does not automatically mean that murder is good.

Motivation can be any reason for acting in a particular way. [1] Justification is referring to a good or moral reason to act in that particular way. [2] These are not minute differences- these are wildly different. Motivation can be either good or bad, but justification can only be good. But we're getting sidetracked with the definitions. When bringing up the definitions, you've neglected to address my point itself- that unjustified murder is wrong, and this stands regardless of the people who disagree with me.



The sky thus far has appeared to be a bad example... For you. For my side of the debate it is still a good example.

As for milk, it really is not all that different than the sky example. After all I did not use a blind man to argue with another man about the sky, I chose a color blind man. No one in my previous example denied the existence of of the sky, only what it was.

I have not denied the existence of morality, only the quality. Denied that there is one objective quality to it. Sure there may be milk in the fridge, but is it good or bad?
That to me would seem to depend on the people. Are they lactose intolerant? Enjoy milk a day past it's expiration date. Prefer chocolate milk?
You might say that milk is good only if it is whole milk and white. But that's just a preference.

And the hedonistic murderer is justified since he views his act as making him happy and views his own happiness as "Good".
To other average people it would of course be unjustified and evil.
But that is what this debate is about. Morality... And peoples perspectives of it.
People have acted differently all across the globe for long long periods of time. All of them justified by their culture and their perspectives of what was right and wrong.

If you say a man was wrong for murder, you have to show where you get that idea from. But is it not his culture? If not his culture, then his genetic makeup? Either of those can be changed. Both of those have changed. Across time and distance I mean.

Where is this one perfect morality system? Where does it come from?
Debate Round No. 4


I'd like to apologize for how my point on the sky came out- I wasn't calling it irrelevant simply because I knew you were right and was being a sore loser. Let me explain the point that I was trying to make.

I discussed in the second round how there are some things that are personal preferences, but these personal preferences don't have any effect on what is morality itself. Those personal preferences may be ethically correct, or they may not be, but those preferences are not ALL ethically correct simply because they are a preference. Your point about the sky is similar to this. Different people might see the sky differently, but that doesn't change absolute truths that do exist (the sun is a star that gives us light, for instance). The reason that the sky was a bad example was because I listed something that merely came down to personal differences, and was not an example of an absolute truth. However, even if the color of the sky is not absolute, there are plenty of things that are, like the milk in the fridge, for example.

And as for different taste buds and allergies, that doesn't relate much to my point. I've already discussed the difference between personal preferences, and absolute morality, and what kind of milk you like is just a personal preference. The absolute truth is that there is milk in the fridge. Or perhaps that there is not milk in the fridge.

Would you really argue that murder is good just because it makes someone happy? If I am made happy by murdering other people, should you just smile and nod along? The reason that we have a law is to uphold a standard of morality. A criminal can't expect the police to let them go simply because, "The murder was fun, and so it was good". "Fun" and "morally justifiable" are two very different things. Something can be fun that is not morally justifiable.

As a Christian, I believe that all good comes from God, and he has set out the perfect rules for us to live by. However, I've already explained that I don't want to get into religion in this debate, so if you would like to talk more about where I believe morality comes from, please comment or message me.

Good luck on your final argument!


It's not the existence of the sky, sun, milk, or morality that I question.
It is how we view them, use them, prefer them. A person can argue a certain method of preparing their cereal and milk all they like, pointing to tradition or utility. Still preference of pleasure or a certain need.

"Would you really argue that murder is good just because it makes someone happy?"
I would argue that they could perceive it as good because of who they are.
I would argue I perceive it as bad because of who I am.

If a criminal was among others with the same principles, he could expect to get away with it.
But our bubble in the USA currently views it as bad, and he would not expect the police to share his same views.

Slavery I'll assume has always been immoral to you and I.
To slave owners in older America, I would imagine they saw it as moral.

Do we not conclude right and wrong from our circumstance and whatever values we hold dear?
People have different values and circumstance.
Debate Round No. 5
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Leaning 3 years ago
Posted by 32doni32nido32 3 years ago
I have been extremely impressed by the debaters and the commenters (even though the only other person besides me is Phenenas Lol). Great job to everyone!!!
Posted by Leaning 3 years ago
Alright, now that I'm done with the debate, what do I really believe? I don't quite know. I tend to be rather sloppy in my thinking at times. I don't quite recall how I did get to my current belief system step by logical step. And I mean all beliefs, not this one in particular.

I have no doubt that there are fantastically intelligent men out there with excellent reasons and argument against moral relativity. Or at the very least would be able to argue a number of steps past myself.

Might Makes Right is an absurd statement in my eyes in a way. After all an oppressor and an oppressed have different beliefs on what is right or wrong. Having power, just means you can move reality a bit easier. Though it does allow one to write history and influence others to believe as he does.

Rambling. Anyway, my advice is just keep in mind you are what you eat. Whether something is true or not, it can be hard to tell immersed in it.
Don't immerse yourself in negative thinking. Not that you have to eat lollypops and rainbows and ignore reality. But my opinion on this subject is hardly reality. Enjoy the good in life. Focus on it. There's plenty of it in reality. Rambling.
Posted by Leaning 3 years ago
Posted by TouchtheSky 3 years ago
Which idea? Moral relativism?
Posted by Leaning 3 years ago
Do you find the idea disturbing at all?
Posted by Phenenas 3 years ago
Good luck to both of you! I happen to agree with Pro here, but won't let that sway my vote.
Posted by Leaning 3 years ago
Ah well, no worries.
Posted by TouchtheSky 3 years ago
Hey there, Leaning! I just wanted to say thank you for accepting. I'm looking forward to debating with you and hearing your arguments. I wanted to say this in the debate itself, but I ran out of space, so I had to delete it.
Posted by TouchtheSky 3 years ago
Hey there, Leaning! I just wanted to say thank you for accepting. I'm looking forward to debating with you and hearing your arguments. I wanted to say this in the debate itself, but I ran out of space, so I had to delete it.
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