Grey Thoughts
Morality - Absolutes
Jeremy Pierce, over at Parableman, seems to have a bit if a pet peeve over just what Absolute Morality is. Which is fair enough. It is important to use a term accurately so as to communicate effectively.

The term absolute morality is used imprecisely and with great variation by people from philosophers to street sweepers. The question is, what does the term really mean?

Jeremy it seems, defines it as saying that an actions morality is unaffected by the context. Killing a person is always wrong, regardless of whether it was for self-defense or any other reason is an example of this idea of Absolute Morality. Now if this is the definition of absolute morality that is accurate, then I have to agree with Jeremy. I don't think many people would agree that all or even most morality would be absolute.

Others seem to equate absolute morality with meaning that morality is simply objective. That is, morality is not simply a personal preference.

Yet others think that absolute morality refers to objective morality that does not change over time and applies equally to everyone. The context of an action can matter, just not someone's preferences. If I remember correctly, this was Plato's view.

All in all, I believe the best definition of absolute morality is the last one. I believe this is the definition that most people think of when they talk about absolute morality.

I think the second definition is flat out incorrect, firstly because it does not reflect any real definition of the word 'absolute' (unlike the other 2 definitions). Also, it says nothing different to objective morality, and does not restrict morality in any way as to applying equally to all persons accross time. For instance, morality could be objective and yet still mean that it was moral for me to kill an innocent, and not moral for someone else to do the same.

The first definition, whilst it is an appropriate definition with regards to the term 'absolute' seems to be arbitrary in its delineation of context. Let me explain. To say that 'killing' is an action that we can ask moral questions about means that we already have a particular context. For instance, if I shoot a gun, is it the same action if the bullet hits an inanimate target or a person? I have performed exactly the same movements in both. Yet one is 'killing' and one is not. There is already a context. So why do we use this context, and not the context of motive etc? Surely by talking about killing, we are already saying that the morality of the action is relative to something (i.e. the target or effect?) To say that morality is truly 'absolute' (In the sense it is being used in this definition) it would have to be not relative to anything other than the action (Pulling a trigger etc).

Ultimately, there is no great definition of absolute morality. I think there is definitely scope to make clear just what you are referring to when you use thw words because of this. In general however, I feel most people, when using the term, mean a lot closer to the 3rd definition I gave than to the first 2.
I think you're right insofar as if my definition is correct the view Absolutism has the problem you raise. That's not a problem with the definition, though. It's a problem with the view. The fact that this has been an enduring criticism of Kant's absolutism throughout the history of philosophy is evidence that there really is this view out there.

There is a name for the view that morality applies to everyone. That's universalist morality. Kant also held that, but more recent philosophers have separated the two, and they call one universalizing and the other absolutizing.

As for across time, my definition includes that. Different times are as much different contexts than different places are. So too are the settings different people find themselves in, so the different people element can also be captured by absolutism as I defined it.
Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger Weblog Commenting and Trackback by