Friday, May 11, 2012

What is Moral Relativism?

Moral relativism is the belief that there are no universal, immutable standards by which to judge human behavior. Up until the time of the early Renaissance, moral absolutes were almost universally accepted. And most of the people in the Western world were Christians, who sought their moral values from Scripture and Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Reformation opened the door to questioning the truths of Christianity and substituting individual judgment for previously accepted standards. First the Enlightenment, with its new emphasis on science and human learning, and then later philosophers began to ignore a foundation of natural rights based on the dignity of  man and the norms of the Creator.

“The legal positivists, stemming from Spinoza, Hobbes, and Rousseau, hold that human rights is a social contract, often expressed by a written constitution, but admit no higher law.”[1]

The Christian, on the other hand, accepts the ideals of truth and goodness, handed down by God to his creatures. He guides his life by standards that do not change, even if the application of those ideals is sometimes hard work. Abandoning this view has caused much of the confusion in the modern world.

“Since relativists have to admit that in our historical experience all the great cultures of the past have destroyed themselves and the survival of the human species has itself no guarantee, they are forced simply to accept the lack of a firm foundation for morality as a tragedy of the human condition.”[2]

Relativism is based on several arguments: the psychological, the cultural, social conditioning, freedom, tolerance and situationalism. Peter Kreeft, in “A Refutation of Moral Relativism,” deals with all these arguments by showing that “the most radical threat to living morally today is the loss of moral principles.”[3]
He goes on to argue for absolutism on the grounds of consequences, tradition, moral experience and the moral language common to all men. Further, Kreeft says, “Neither philosophy nor science nor logic nor common sense have ever refuted traditional moral absolutism. Relativism is not rational; it is a rationalization.”[4]

For those who seek to live a life truly free and good, then, the need is to turn to revealed truth through Scripture and the Church for guidelines. “God, who does not fail, in creating us has built into our nature, for all its fragility, certain basic needs and goals that ground a natural moral law and the human rights which flow from it.”[5]

by Stephanie Swee

[1] Ashley, Benedict, O.P., Living the Truth in Love. (New York: St. Paul’s Press, 1996), 277.
 [2] Ashely, 278.
[3] Kreeft, Peter, “A Refutation of Moral Relativism.., 1
[4] Kreeft, 12.
[5] Ashley, 278.

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