I have been hearing a lot of the word absolute lately, to the point that when I hear the word and it does not refer to Vodka I assume the person is trying to sell me some snake oil. The first is when someone says absolute truth, I know they are setting up something, recently that something is some variation on the transcendental argument. However this is pure nonsense. Absolute is an invalid premise regarding truth in a discussion of logic, because it implies that there are degrees of truth which is in violation of the law of the excluded middle. Another proof that absolute is a fallacious qualifier would be as follows. Define a proposition as P that proposition is true if P=T if P is not equal to T then the proposition is false. If we add the qualifier absolute to the value of true we end up with P=T+A since P is only true if it equals T then for P to be true the value of A must be zero. So a proposition can only be absolutely true if the qualifier absolutely has no value in which case it is unnecessary. If on the other hand the qualifier absolute has meaning then A has a value greater than zero and P=T+A is false because P does not equal T. So an Absolute truth is either simply true or it is false.
The one I am currently debunking is absolute morality. I find this to be the worst offender because it is always a wind up for some apologetics where anyone who doesn't believe in whatever god is being peddled must rape and eat children. The problem again is the concept of absolute but also the description of morality as laws. Morality is no such thing, there is no one transcendental morality, what there are are systems or codes. There is also no absolute right or wrong. These are fine for a casual discussion and we all know what is in general meant, but for the purposes of logical proof the correct terminology would be consistent or inconsistent.
The moralists argument would go something like this, Do you believe in absolute moral laws. If you say yes they go on to make a case that some magical sky fairy or another has to be responsible for them. If you say no and that morals are subjective they will say something to the effect of "so if society decided that it were acceptable to rape and eat children then it would be right to do that?" some get more personal and say "since you don't believe in absolute moral laws then if you wanted to rape and eat children then there would be nothing wrong with that." Most people will try to explain that morality is a survival based system and that society does not in general condone that, and most try to explain that even if society said it was acceptable they would still find it wrong. However the apologist will start hammering away about "what absolute standard do you use to say it is wrong?" and such.
This is clearly skewed and dishonest but also hard to refute. It can be done with patience and a cool head but it is quite tough. The problem is that the apologist has framed the discussion by setting prejudicial terms. In an appropriate discussion one would say that they subscribe to a moral system or code(from here on I will say code) and that they are also bound by the moral system of their society(I will use system for societal morals). I could say that raping and eating children is inconsistent with both my moral code and the moral system of my society. If the question were asked "if society said that it was OK to rape and eat children then why would that be wrong" it would be a simple matter to state that in that case raping and eating children would be consistent with the moral system of society but still inconsistent with my personal moral code and I would not engage in it. It would also be perfectly acceptable to state that since my personal moral code takes precedence over the system of my society I would be compelled to oppose such behavior even at risk to myself. I would then ask if such behavior would become consistent with their moral code if it were sanctioned by society. They may respond, if they are clever, with "if your personal moral code takes precedence over societies system then why would you follow societies system at all." Since we have terms defined accurately it is easy to say, If my actions are inconsistent with societies moral system then there will be social consequences for violating those standards also depending on the actions there may be legal punishments as well, therefore the moral system of society enforces itself and I will only violate it if my personal code requires it to a degree that I am willing to accept the consequences. Also since the moral system of society is enforced through social pressure it reflects a consensus among the the personal codes of the members of that society, making situations where society condones an action that the majority find immoral to be uncommon. The moral system of a society typically reflects the moral codes of its members. Obviously there are exceptions, it is not uncommon for political or religious powers to be strong enough to enforce a system which does not reflect the moral codes of the citizenry. This is why it is important to first look to ones personal moral code, because the personal codes are what foster resistance and change, when enough people stand up for their personal codes then the system of society will change to reflect that either through accommodation, politics or revolution.
Regardless of what many people would wish morality is relative, it does change and adapt, and it is a human creation. There are certainly some constants, since we have evolved as social animals our instincts will lead us to favor behaviors which facilitate group survival. These behavioral preferences are reflected in our codes of morality. However these codes and systems still take a wide variety of forms. Those who argue against "moral relativism" are arguing against human nature. They may be able to make a case that it would be better if there were an absolute standard of morality, but they can not make a case that such a standard exists. Saying that we should believe in a deity because it would be better if one existed is in no way an argument as to whether it actually does exist or not.
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