HOME   People do good because they are human, not because they are religious! 

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Moral Absolutism Refuted
 
Morality is not a simple belief in good or bad but a belief in being good or else suffering punishment. 
 
Absolutism is the doctrine that some acts are morally wrong
- no matter how good the results are
- no matter how much harm is done if you refrain from them.
 
Absolutism says the acts are bad in themselves and that they are not to be condemned because of their bad consequences but simply because they are bad. You condemn the acts and leave the consequences out of it - they are not the reason for the condemnation.
 
Absolutism however says the reason evil acts have bad results is because they are evil acts and it denies that we should say that doing whatever has the best consequences matters.
 
Let us explore the doctrines of people in ivory towers who claim that morality is about actions that are always wrong regardless of the evil this “morality” results in. Or who hold that only some actions are always bad and forbidden.   
 
#Some say that what is unnatural must be absolutely forbidden.
#Some say that it is duty that matters not consequences so not doing your duty is to be absolutely forbidden.
#Some say that if God forbids something that settles it and it is to be absolutely forbidden.
#Some say our intuition tells us what is absolutely forbidden so we must follow it. Believing that vice like hate is good is not an excuse however sincere. Religion agrees. (That view is repulsive to today's society which urges people not to judge as it wants permissiveness to prevail.)
 
These are essentially the four excuses for advocating absolutism. 
  
NATURAL LAW
 
If something being unnatural means that it is evil or forbidden then absolutism is true. Then what is unnatural is always or absolutely wrong.

We should not condemn things just because we think they are unnatural. Only harmful things must be denounced. Nature makes many supposed unnatural acts possible and enjoyable and harmless so they could be considered natural.
 
It is not always obvious what is natural or not.

Nature puts sex organs on paedophiles and gives them a rampant sex-drive so what is natural is not necessarily good.

KANTIAN ETHICS
 
Duty means doing good that you are bound to do. Duty is a debt of care or whatever towards others and yourself. If you fail in your duty you are forced to pay your debt another way. For example, if you don’t carry out your duty to respect the property of others you will have the duty to pay back the damage by money or by prison enforced on you. So duty is inseparable from compulsion. A duty is your duty whether you understand it or not.
 
Immanuel Kant said that an action is wrong if everybody cannot do it. For example, if we all broke promises life would be impossible so it is always wrong. You cannot break a promise even to save lives. His system is called Deontologism. Deontologism is an ethic about duty and you know something is a duty if there would be disaster if everybody did it. But what is said about actions must be clarified. According to him an action is good if it is done with a moral motive so it is only the motive that counts and everything else including the consequences is not as important. It says that what is moral is not moral because it is good but because it was done because you believe you ought to do it.
 
The ethic assumes that when you do something you have to approve of all others doing the same to you and to others. That is nonsense.

Kantian philosophy says that we must treat people as ends and not as means. But if we just care about acting without feeling and only out of a sense of duty then it is the duty we really only care about. Acting with feelings would be preferable to that – it would be nearer to what the person wants. Despite itself, the ethic forbids compassionate actions for you do good only because it is your duty and not to end suffering. It is a rigid impersonal rule.  Its a good recipe for hypocrisy.
 
GOD THE ABSOLUTE RULER
 
God would be the only one with the right to make absolute rules because he has full knowledge and wisdom.
 
Believers say he told us the rules but every God religion disagrees with the others about the rules. Some religions allow abortion and others forbid it absolutely.
 
To say there is a God is to say that absolutism in some form is correct. That does not mean we know what form is correct.
 
If absolutism is bad, then belief in God is bad.
 
Religious absolutism is inconsistent with the popular notion of a God who wants us to freely turn to him. Absolutism implies obey or else.
 
Some say that if you make moral laws absolute, you contradict the fact that only God is absolute. This is a trick with words to get people to think that no moral norm or rule is absolute. Yet they think that to make an absolute out of a moral norm makes it equal with God.
 
The believers sometimes deny that any moral norm should be made absolute. They make it an absolute law that nobody should say that abortion is never right! It follows then that their God has a rival - namely their absolute rule! You could substitute the word abortion with the word blasphemy, stealing, adultery, rape or anything. There are loads of absolute rules that must be equal to God or that can be honoured instead of him!
 
If God is absolute he will have law. It follows that the law is that you must regard obedience to him and adoration of him as absolute. It is contradictory to say there are no absolute rules and then to say that this rule about God is absolute. The notion of God being absolute implies that you must have a total belief in him - thus you end up with another absolute rule. And you must obsess with promoting belief in him - there is another! And it goes on and on and on.
 
The believers sometimes say that no moral law is absolute except the one to love God. Why say that instead of saying hurting a baby for fun is an absolute prohibition? It would be callous to put a God who does not even need anything from us before a baby that does! And loving God would require further absolute rules as we have seen.
 
Some say that God is love so whoever loves has God and that love is the only absolute law. That is confusing the word love with God. Love need not be God. God is not just another word for love.
 
The notion that only love is absolute is nonsense. We feel and are indifferent towards most people on earth. We do not love everybody the same. We love only a few relatively properly. If love is absolute then we must be prepared to suffer a hundred years of crucifixion if some stranger needs us to.
 
INTUITION
 
Many believers hold that the only justification for absolutist morality is intuition. That is, we feel that stealing is wrong even when it is for a greater good and it has nothing to do with it being bad example or a threat to order. Stealing is bad because it is bad and not because of what it does. They usually insist that bad consequences come from the act itself being bad. The consequences don’t however make the act bad.
 
But it is not true that people have the same moral intuitions. The gay man may feel he is not doing wrong by engaging in gay sex.
 
IGNORING CONSEQUENCES
 
Consequentalism is the denial of absolutism. Consequentalism teaches that it is not just the badness of the act you must think about but the consequences. Consequentalism would say that if the consequences are the main thing. It would say you have to commit the bad act of abortion to save the mother’s life so that she can look after her nine children.
 
If Consequentalism in all its manifestations is wrong then reason commands us to never take consequences into consideration. Absolutism must rule the day.

Let us look at philosophies that ignore consequences.
 
Some believe that morality is only about your rights and those of others and results must not even be thought of. It is after the least unjust act.

Here is why.

An evil that is being done is worse that one that will be done because it has happened and the latter does not have to happen and indeed might not happen. Therefore to do evil to prevent a possible evil is wrong for it is certainly doing damage for the prevention of what might never happen.

The theory would be one explanation for why it is right to refuse to give your son a higher grade even though the one he deserves will destroy his nerves for life. Giving the grade earned is the lesser evil when the present and the past and not the future are taken into consideration.

In the theory, lies would be always wrong for when they do not correspond with reality they are evil and are invariably told to avoid undesired consequences.

In the theory, you would be bound to avoid silent lies, saying nothing when it makes others think you agree with their misconceptions. You would have to tell the truth.

The only time you would not have to do this would be when the truth would be the greater sin of detraction. You would not be permitted to tell a wife that her husband is planning to kill her for that is ruining his good name. If people give you the chance of dying or denying the truth you would tell the truth and die.
 
The ethic would explain why it is right to leave the doctor who will save the world to burn to death in a house to save your dying father when you can only save one- if you want to believe in the rightness of such an action.

This would explain why it is right for a woman to stay with an abusive husband who beats her and the children up every day if you want to believe in the rightness of such an action.

You would be forbidden to torture an evil man to make him tell where he put the bomb planted to kill hundreds. You can ask him to confess but you cannot force it out of him.

If a man fights you and you defend yourself you cannot try to knock him out in case he grabs the knife. You cannot even do it when he tries to put the knife in you for you might survive and he might relent. The only kind of self-defence you can use is just firmly holding him away from you which does not hurt him. You can be sure that all this self-defence will do for you is put you in your coffin.

Some might say that restraining him is hurting him for he wants to hurt you and you are not letting him. But to let him hurt you would be hurting him for he should not be trying to hurt you.

You cannot attack the likes of Saddam Hussein to rob him of his atomic weapons to stop the world becoming an inferno.

Drinking would be always wrong. The only justification for artificially changing your feelings and making your intellect duller would be the pleasure it will bring. But we are not to care about the future. And since morality is about the now not the future you need a clear head so drinking is intrinsically wrong. Jesus would have been horrified to learn that for he drank wine and provided it to drunk people at a wedding!

With the ethic, you cannot refuse to give all your money away to those who need it more now just because you think it will make you suffer in the future.

With the ethic, you cannot refuse to give all your time to helping others. If an ethic says things we do not like that is no reason to reject it and disbelieve it.

If disaster results that is not the fault of the ethic if the ethic is right. We accept that those scientists and mathematicians who made discoveries that led to the discovery of the nuclear bomb didn’t do wrong. To many this suggests that good that leads to disaster and trouble for many shows that trouble alone cannot refute an ethic unless that ethic claims to be the antidote for unhappiness like Utilitarianism does.

Even an absolutist ethic sometimes changes depending on the situation. Many absolutists cannot be commended for consistency.
 
They sometimes say that no absolute rule can be given for every situation simply because we cannot think of them all or learn them all. This does not undermine absolutism but simply says you have to make your own decision be it right or wrong. The only absolute then would be forgetting about the consequences of your actions.
 
Immature and bigoted people who prefer the security of being told what to do instead of thinking for themselves will love absolutism. People often like rigid rules.

Absolutism tends to argue that we must think of others not ourselves. If it is right, then as absolutism is an ethic forbidding you to think of the future, it seems that it prohibits your happiness on the basis that happiness makes you reluctant to sacrifice yourself for it and others. But that would be taking consequences into consideration. One then should be detached from happiness which is a different thing entirely, if the ethic is correct.
 
The ethic can result only in total misery upon the earth. Who could sleep at night if a man could be about to press the nuclear button to destroy the world and nobody is allowed to stop him for that would be upsetting him?

My own existence is the thing I am most sure of because I experience it. So I must put myself first. It follows that if the future does not matter then it would be evil of me to help anybody if I don’t feel like it. I would have to refuse not out of badness or indifference but out of the duty of self-respect. Going to work if I would rather watch television would be a sin. Absolutism likes to present itself as saying that self-sacrifice is a moral law and must not be broken but in fact it logically leads to total reckless selfishness.
 
The bizarre and outrageous consequences of denying that the future matters in ethical deliberation, demonstrate that we should think of the consequences more than anything.

"ETHICS" THAT COMMAND THE GREATER EVIL
 
Most people allege that many actions, no matter how terrible the consequences of doing them will be are still right. The Christian Church for example says that sin is the greatest of all evil and that it is better for the whole world to be blown to pieces by a mistake with the nuclear button than for one person to have sex outside marriage or to come to disbelieve in God. So involuntary evil is fine but deliberate evil is intolerable. Christianity is pure fanaticism and one of the most evil religions in the world that does what looks like good to entrap people into its inhuman doctrines.
 
Such people are called legalists. Their ethics are deontological or absolutist - they see things in terms of black and white. When consequences are considered it is only certain ones and the others are ignored. For example, they might tell you not to report your father to the police for raping you because he is your father or because jail is a bad place to send your father to. How you feel and the rehabilitation of your father and your safety and that of society do not matter. It is an incoherent mixture of absolutism and consequentialism, which in reality cannot be mixed.

Religion will tell you to make the most people better off at times and yet it will tell you to stay loyal to your faith no matter how much misery it causes everybody just in case somebody needs your heroic example.

The threat to logic and human welfare in so-called ethics which say that lying is always bad and giving up your own life for the sake of faith in Jesus Christ is good is apparent. Anyone could invent rules like this and if some should all should make up their own meaning that slavery is right and dignity is an accursed thing. Ultimately, it says there is no right and wrong.

CONCLUSION
 
Absolutism is nonsense and is arbitrary. It is religious bigotry and superstition. It belongs with religion because religion likes to enforce rules that make no sense and it refuses to change them. For example, the Church says that the rule to love God above all things and to do all things solely for the love of him comes first and must not be changed. So even if terrorists and the state and psychologists are against it, it must stay the same. The appeal of absolutism is in the power it gives men and religion. Atheists sometimes are absolutists too but nobody can really think their absolutism is credible. If they do harm, it is because people won't admit the emperor has no clothes on. Religion is a darker impetus for absolutism and its strengthener.
 
BOOKS CONSULTED
 
 
A HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY, VOL 6, PART II, KANT, Frederick Copleston SJ, Doubleday/Image, New York, 1964
CHRISTIANITY FOR THE TOUGH-MINDED, Ed John Warwick Montgomery, Bethany Fellowship Inc, Minneapolis, 1973
ETHICS, A C Ewing, Teach Yourself Books, English Universities Press Ltd, London, 1964
ETHICS IN A PERMISSIVE SOCIETY, William Barclay, Collins and Fontana, Glasgow, 1971
FREE TO DO RIGHT, David Field, IVP, London, 1973
MORAL PHILOSOPHY, Joseph Rickaby SJ, Stonyhurst Philosophy Series, Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1912
MORALITY, Bernard Williams, Pelican/Penguin, Middlesex, 1972
MORTAL QUESTIONS Thomas Nagel, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, London, 1979
NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, The Catholic University of America and the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., Washington, District of Columbia, 1967
PRACTICAL ETHICS, Peter Singer, Cambridge University Press, England, 1994
RUNAWAY WORLD, Michael Green, IVP, London, 1974
SITUATION ETHICS, Joseph Fletcher, SCM Press, London, 1966
SUMMA THEOLOGICA OF ST THOMAS AQUINAS, Part II, Second Number, Thomas Baker, London, 1918
THE PROBLEM OF RIGHT CONDUCT, Peter Green MA, Longmans Green and Co, London, 1957

The WEB

Roman Catholic Ethics: Three Approaches by Brian Berry
www.mcgill.pvt.k12.al.us/jerryd/ligouri/berry.htm