Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.
Recently, I had a conversation with my professor Bob about the pervasiveness of relativity that seems to surround moral reasoning. Being at a liberal university, it really is no surprise that I side with the position of moral ambiguity on many issues, especially given the ever increasing trend of moral relativity among universities. Of course, I am not a pure relativist; I just have a very liberal criteria for assessing right and wrong. Take a look at Mill’s Harm Principle for instance. But you see, the problem of embracing relativity is that you lose a great deal of grounding for any method of measuring moral action. While morality may actually be rather grey in this world, when one believes this, it offers some interesting psychological effects. One becomes absolved of his own conscious simply on the basis that he has destroyed any underlying meaning for it.
Bob made an interesting point in the discussion, one that I have generally preferred to dismiss. He argued that people are very skilled at coming up with justifications and excuses for their behavior. In other words, people are naturally excellent lawyers so to speak. My younger brother, Hunter, had brought this up before in a prior conversation about a year ago. In my hopes to open his eyes to the relativity of the world and its subsequent complexity, upon making several scenarios of providing great defenses for abhorrent actions, I made the statement that “the world is really far more grey than people care to admit” in which Hunter casually, but I think strategically, replied, “But I think people want and make it that way.”
I honestly think that was one of the most profound statements that he has ever made. I was and still am quite impressed.
Fast forward to the present, after hearing Bob make the same defense, I began to reconsider the notion of what they were saying. They were arguing that people want morality to be relative because it allows people to do what they want. It loosens the constraint that otherwise morality would place on them. While I had considered that this may be true, I had always acted dismissive of the argument because it employs an attack on the opposing arguer “me” usually. Technically known as ad hominem, it’s usually associated as a logical fallacy when it is employed. However, I am beginning to think more and more that they are on to something. I mean how else does one genuinely consider the propensity for people to advocate their own moral standards? In other words, people behave as though certain actions are right and others are wrong, naturally living as though morals are more objective. I’ve always conjectured that people like objective morals because it is easier for people to live that way. It comes back to the idea that people prefer dichotomous modes of thinking because it provides clarity to thinking. For problem X, people consider solutions A or F, but fail to consider B,C,D, or E or however many other options there are.
I have long been familiar with this counterpoint to my way of thinking, although as I said earlier, I have largely been dismissive of it. The argument was most frequently applied to me as a reason why people didn’t want to believe in God or be a Christian. Simply put, the advocates for God would argue that scientists and other individuals would rather not believe in God on the basis that it subjects them to His authority. This argument implies that those scientists are not accepting of the truths so to speak. I always thought that, while that may be the case for a few people, by and large, people want to discover “truth.” But the older that I get, the more I am beginning to believe that that is the very opposite of what people want – the truth.
In considering their points, I had to think of how much of my own opinion on morality has been formed on the basis that it enables some behavior of mine? I am an excellent lawyer when it comes to defending my reckless behavior.