Thoughts on the Necessity of Moral Absolutes

Jul 11, 2011
8 min read

I read a quote from someone on YouTube where they were expressing their beliefs on absolute morals, they said:

“I am certain of the inexistence of an absolute essence regarding morale, thus in the inexistence of good and evil as well as right and wrong. In this field relativism wins over the absolute counterpart as the only reason we believe in different things, is proof that morales are relative.”

Now, in all fairness, this person probably did not think too much about what they were saying when they typed this and given the opportunity, they probably would have been able to formulate a better argument for their point of view. I did find it ridiculous and contradictory that they would state that they are ‘certain’ that there are no ‘absolutes’. I don’t know whether that was funny or sad.

From what I can ascertain, this individual believed that

  1. There are no absolutes in regard to morality
  2. There is no such thing as good and evil or right and wrong
  3. Relativism is superior to absolutism

This line of thinking from this individual caused me to reflect on the subject and the purpose of this article is to outline some of my general thoughts on the subject. I’m not going to argue about the origin of moral absolutes, I’m going to try to explore the idea that they are necessary and that certain moral absolutes are, in fact, superior to relativism.

Why moral absolutes are necessary

No matter if you believe that we evolved into sentient beings from dead matter, or that we were created and placed here by a parental deity, there is an overarching truth that we can all agree in. As human beings, we are different from all other life on this planet in one significant area; we have the ability to discern cause and effect, or in other words, we have the ability to reason over being driven just by our instincts.

There are certain cases where animals like an octopus or a crow can figure out how to obtain food from a container by examining it and executing a strategy of some kind, but I think there is a huge divide between these anecdotal incidents and the kind of reason that the human brain is equipped with.

Since we are in a situation where we can think outside of self-governing instinct, it becomes necessary that there is some kind of moral code to govern our reason.

Many of the founders based their morality on observed natural laws as they are explained by some of the greatest minds in our history.

Whatever your belief, it becomes apparent that moral absolutes of some kind are necessary. Who in their right mind would really want to declare that anything anyone decides to do is fine? If you declare that there are no moral absolutes, then there is no right or wrong, that murder, rape and theft are all simply actions done by chaotic matter and we should not concern ourselves with enforcing any kind of moral code.

Would a species such as ours, capable of so many great things by virtue of our reason ever want to go back to being governed by the law of instinct? It is unthinkable. So by virtue of our ability to reason over instinctual self-government, our well-being depends on our establishment of a moral code of some kind.

Religions and governments have both tackled the issue. There have been several governments and religions throughout history that have created their own moral codes and executed them with varying results.

Most moral codes have preserved happiness and freedom for a small minority, while others have opened up the doors of liberty to millions. It is because of this that I have come to the conclusion that some morals are superior to others.

Our forefathers agreed when they read Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence which declared a code of specific moral absolutes:

  1. That certain truths are self-evident
  2. That all men are created equal
  3. That they are endowed by a Creator with certain unalienable Rights
  4. A few of these key rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

I would contend that history has proven that these declared moral absolutes have proven effective in securing rights and happiness among humanity when put into practice.

The religious question

Up until this point I have not brought up God in relation to morality because I feel that the argument for the establishment for moral absolutes thus far does just fine by itself based on the reasons expressed above.

The main reason that I feel that it is important for our government to acknowledge that rights are not a creation of man but given to all men as an endowment from a Creator as Jefferson put it, is that it ties the hands of man in redefining the origin of rights and preserves liberty as has been instituted and practiced.

I think the moral absolutes as enforced by governments should go no further than those so eloquently expressed in the founding documents of the United States.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – 1st Amendement to the Constitution

This means that I am free to believe that there are moral absolutes given to man by a divine being while others believe that we appeared here out of nowhere and that there are no moral absolutes. Ironically, it is the very execution of moral absolutes in our law that allows that person to express their belief that there aren’t any moral absolutes.

The basic framework of moral absolutes in American society provides just the right mix and quantity of these absolutes to allow individuals to then govern their own lives according to their own specific pursuits of happiness.

When moral absolutes can become dangerous

I think most people who are against the idea of moral absolutes is because of the possibility of a moral absolute being enforced that is tyrannical in nature. In past governments, one moral absolute was that a monarch had a divine right to govern and exercise authority over a people.

Since nobody (at least that I know of) likes living under a tyranny, we don’t like the idea that a newly-formulated moral absolute could arise that could limit or deny any existing freedoms that we currently enjoy.

The American system of government is based on moral laws that history has proven to be effective in preserving liberty. We must acknowledge and defend the fact that certain rights that existed before the institution of government cannot be denied by that government; this is an absolute that we can all stand behind!

We got it right with the U.S. Constitution so let’s not be so quick to throw it under the bus, but instead, uphold the core structure that avoids anarchy while defending against tyranny. The laws of our land cannot go out of date because they are meant to control a natural constant that has always been a threat to the rights of man: human nature in a position of power. For the first time in human history the chains of the Constitution makes government a slave and servant of man instead of man becoming a slave and a servant to the government. When that government seeks to escape from bondage and exercise tyranny over man, it must be put back into it’s place.

Final thoughts

Religions can either be a burden or a blessing to the protection of our rights depending on how well the moral absolutes declared by the religion mesh with the moral absolutes declared by the law of the land.

I am grateful for the fact that my faith has declared in it’s holy scripture:

“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. – D&C 101:79-80

Mine is the only religion that I know of that has a part of its scripture and doctrine that the Constitution is a sacred and divinely inspired document that must be preserved.

“According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;” – D&C 101:77

Although other faiths do not have scripture that expresses these things, there are many other faiths that also believe that the moral absolutes expressed in our founding documents bear the fingerprints of a divine hand. The Constitution was written by religious men and fortified with principles that have a religious origin.

So I would argue that of all the different schools of thought on the issues of freedom and liberty and the happiness of man, the religious groups would be the most likely to uphold and defend the liberties vouchsafed in our Constitution.

Whether or not one believes in a God or a divine law or that we are just an ever-progressing, spontaneous chemical reaction, we can reason that mankind is best governed by certain declared moral absolutes that preserve life, liberty and happiness. A person’s life may be further enhanced as they are allowed to freely explore the meaning of their own lives in context of where their reason leads them.

Joseph Smith once said:

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.” (Documentary History of the Church Vol.5, p. 498.)

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