In rereading what I’ve written, it seems that I need to give a disclaimer at the beginning. I think it’s wrong to kill people or steal or commit any other heinous criminal acts. I am simply asking questions that no one seems to consider, probably because they are difficult questions and most people don’t see much value in them. The problem is, I think they are very valuable questions to ask because they will ultimately help us understand what we believe, but more importantly why we believe those things.
“Is there a such thing as absolute right and absolute wrong?”
This seems to be the most important question we should be considering.
This simple question seems to not be considered near as often as it should. It seems we are all simply not thinking on the level as to consider such a question or we are simply afraid of the implications of the answers so we avoid asking it. Alternatively, we could all be so self absorbed with our own pursuits that the question never even occurs to us (I think this is really the bucket most people fall into, which is OK with me). It is also likely that we don’t find many people willing or prepared to discuss such a question so we just sit on it and smolder internally. That’s what I’ve been doing, until now.
From my own internal debate I’ve concluded there can be only 2 answers to this question. Yes or No. What results from those answers?
No – If there is no such thing as an absolute right or wrong that leads to “Might makes right.” If you are able to do something who’s to stop you? On what authority? This would lead you to assume that both ISIS and Kim Jong Un are acting completely within their own framework of morality and that is fine. Of course, since under this assumption each person is entitled to their own morality, you could certainly choose to oppose them and if you can convince enough other people they are wrong then that makes you de facto right but it’s still an arbitrary right as it’s only right since you are the mightier group.
Yes – If there is a such thing as absolute right and wrong that would lead me to believe that there is some ultimate authority in the universe. This most people would call God. To avoid any assumptions that come with the word “God” I’ll use “ultimate authority” for this post. Determining if there is right and wrong doesn’t necessarily tell you (or me) what is right and wrong, just that there is some right and wrong. Of course determining what is right and wrong is the next logical step after determining that it exists.
How does one go about determining that there is or is not absolute right and wrong? I have no idea. Most people will default to the Bible telling them what is right or wrong. That is fine, but we can see that that has yielded thousands of groups with dissenting opinions. Same with other religions, Islam, Mormons, Hindus etc.
This is generally where atheists feel they shine. They point out that each person seems to make up their own personal morality anyway but then attributes it to their chosen religion. I agree that it seems that is what most religious people do. At the atheists, pointing out a flaw to someone else’s conclusions is generally much easier than drawing your own conclusions.
Most philosophers, atheists and religious eventually come to some conclusion that we should “Do unto others what we want done to us.” While that sounds fine in theory my question is why? You can find this claim in the bible. You will also find similar claims from Immanuel Kant as well as atheist Stephen Molyneux (Universally Preferable Behavior, which I don’t recommend you waste your time reading, even though I have).
Back to my question, why do they think that for something to be right, even without an ultimate authority, you should apply it to everyone? The question I always come back to is murder, as that’s usually something everyone is averse to. My scenario goes like this “If you could kill someone (who is not threatening you) for personal gain and you were able to hide any evidence of your involvement, why shouldn’t you do that?” Now all the above people appeal to “You wouldn’t want someone to kill you would you?” I don’t really see the point of asking that question. If there is no absolute morality that question has no basis on your decision to kill someone. You could insert any number of other actions considered crimes in here, theft being an obvious case. If you could steal something with no repercussions, why not? Again, “You wouldn’t want someone to steal from you would you?” Makes no sense to ask.
I personally cannot think of a good argument against those flawed actions if there was no absolute morality. It’s a bit terrifying to think about but that is one idea that inclines me towards there being an ultimate authority (in/outside the universe).
What do you think?
Do you believe in right and wrong independent of religion? (Note that while most people will jump to the assumption that I’m trying to make a case for a Christian God I have purposely not made that claim. I am just thinking out loud (on the internet.)
On what basis do you base authority if not on some ultimate authority?
Do you agree with “might makes right”?
I want it to be clear that I am completely ok with people admitting they agree with “might makes right”. If you don’t believe in an ultimate authority outside of the world, I think that’s your only option. Is there another?
Nice post and interesting question. My view is that we are social beings and generally behave in ways that facilitate living socially. I think there are some biological predispositions for this and some cultural conditions for it. Even in oppressive regimes, I think groups of people behave socially, while it’s also true that some behave destructively. If there is an ultimate authority then the enforcement of absolute right and wrong should be perfectly just since the dawn of humankind and in all places. What would be the point of absolute right and wrong without the ultimate authority enforcing it promptly? Without the ultimate authority it rests with people to make things better. We have a long way to go but I think we’ve made a lot of progress.
i struggle with this as well because while some books claim to be the moral compass, they tell stories of just genocides, because it was needed in the eyes of the ultimate authority. hmm. i’ve come to the conclusion that morality is doing what’s best to bring society as a whole forward. actions that take society backward are not moral. define backward and forward now…. ugh. it’s quite circular no matter what side you’re on, in my opinion. be nice to people. be nice to the earth.