Yet More Problems with Moral Relativism

Moral relativism offers no moral compass.

(photo: Arek Socha/Pixabay/CC0)

This is Part 3 of a series on moral relativism. The previous articles can be found here and here.


Moral relativism is just dressed-up narcissism.

While Prof. Durand-Durand was torturing astronaut/special agent Barbarella of the eponymously named Italian sci-fi cult film Barbarella, he famously said, “I would hate it if others treated me as badly as I treated them.” I've never heard of any madman standing on a street corner yelling, “Officer! Stop that man! He’s stolen from me. Admittedly, I’m a professional thief and I often steal from many people but the difference here is that he stole from me!” Someone like that would need police protection to keep him from being beaten by local passersby.


Moral relativism is logically inconsistent.

A humorous and baseless counterargument from moral relativists is, “Who are you to judge? You have no right to impose your values on anyone!” The obvious flaw in this argument is large enough for a semi to drive through it. If no one has the right to impose his values on anyone else, then moral relativists should never impose moral relativity on anyone at all. This is one of the many blaring self-contradictions of moral relativists


Freedom to do good.

The moral relativist contradicts himself when he insists that relativism creates freedom. This is impossible, as freedom cannot create values―rather, freedom presupposes values. As Pope St. John Paul II reminds us, “Freedom is the freedom to do good.” If freedom meant anything else, then we could literally do anything and everything to anyone we wished including taking away their freedom. It’s not a matter of it being good to be free but rather we must be good to be free


Relativism begets intolerance.

If moral relativism had any validity at all, moral relativists would be the first to insist on tolerating conflicting opinions. However, the opposite is the case. The tolerance of self-proclaimed “tolerant” people is reserved only for people they like and not for those they believe are “entitled.” They are the only people in the world not to see that their insistence on “tolerance” is extremely intolerant.

Further, there is absolutely no reason for the moral relativist to acquiesce or compromise with anyone. He doesn’t accept the Golden Rule or any virtue. He sees his own “feelings” as the ultimate law. For him, there is no difference between a murderer and a saint. He can be pro or against anything… for example, homosexuality. Nothing matters to the moral relativist except his Nietzschean will to power.


De gustibus non disputandum est. (Latin: One shouldn’t argue over tastes.)

It’s certainly true that some people like vanilla over Double-Death-by-Chocolate Mocha-Fudge ice cream but tastes aren’t the same as moral virtues. It doesn’t follow that just because some people like pâté and others like some other food (or smell, or color or style of dress) that therefore going around punching strangers is a great idea. Tastes are personal preferences; morality is what we use to deal with others. They are totally different.


Relativism, simply doesn’t exist.

Good isn’t good simply because it efficaciously produces the desired result. Otherwise, anyone could say that every bad action is also good at some time. If such were the case, why do moral relativists complain so much? They should be the first people to shrug at both the mention of genocide and an example of humanitarianism. However, no one can identify such a self-serving sociopath. Where are these people who think that drowning a baby is the same thing as rescuing him from drowning?


Moral consequences.

As St. Jerome reminds us, “The scars of others should teach us caution.” Even if a moral relativist insists that there is no such a thing as morality, there absolutely is such a thing as moral consequences. Relativists must, by force of their own arguments, shrug whenever something unfortunate happens as a result of their moral choices. But if they complain, that’s proof they were wrong all along. The consequences of our moral actions are clues to what we should do.


Moral relativism offers no moral compass.

One can never get moral direction from relativism. Everyone is always right regardless of reality or the absence of logic. There are no great moral relativists one would like their children to emulate. The only thing that a moral relativist can consistently advice you is, “Do whatever you please, and don’t whine to me afterward.” One would be hard-pressed to explain why the worst people in the world are the ones who most eagerly agree with you.

Moral relativism has never produced a saint but it’s certainly had more than its fair share of monsters. Ayn Rand viciously decried altruism. She also advocated for the slaughter of Native Americans and preferred poor people die rather than risk anyone helping them.

Relativism has also never produced a good society ― only bad ones. Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and Mao are monsters and their fruits aren’t laudable.

All immoral deeds and attitudes feel good to those engaging them. That’s why sin is so popular. If sin weren’t fun, we’d all be saints.


The moral experience of childhood.

Moral absolutism can be established using moral experience. As children, we all come to understand the meaning of the words, “should,” “ought,” “right,” “wrong,” “fair” and “unfair” and the requirements of “moral duty.” We remember how our little moral indignations would flare up when someone took advantage of us.

When we are children, we naturally understood that morality is absolute. If not, why would we tell our parents and teachers about an offender’s bad behavior? The attacks upon our rights as children galvanized this in us. It could be argued that this is a matter of culture ― that would be completely incorrect as all children across cultures and time experience this. It could also be argued that this moral worldview was inculcated into us by our parents. This is also untrue as any parent who’s been on the losing side of an argument with a child who has a memory like a steel trap can tell you.

Anyone who has ever had a child knows that they are equipped with an adult-crippling sense of justice. Our slightest moral inconsistency is aimed at our moral consciousnesses with deadly accuracy. “That’s not fair! You said you would…” We’ve all been there. Their observations are painfully accurate and we are defenseless in their furious onslaughts. I’d take on a pack of rabid pit bulls before I willingly get into an argument with a 7-year-old about what is just/fair/right and morally consistent ― the pit bulls are, on the whole, by far more merciful and might back down.