When asked about where moral standards come from, a common tactic of a moral relativist is to attempt to ground moral knowledge in what society deems right or wrong at any given point in time. The problem this poses, however, is that in this understanding of morality, societies can never be said to be wrong. However I believe that most people intuitively understand that entire societies such as the Nazis in World War II, Stalin’s Soviet empire, Pol Pot’s regime, Islamic Sharia law and it’s subjugation of women, and even the segregated and deeply prejudiced American south1 to be objectively wrong.
So let’s take a moment to examine this notion of “societal wrong” and how such a notion, if accepted, constitutes a sufficient defeater for the concept of relativistic morality and, at the same time, constitutes a powerful evidence for a divine moral law giver.
In order to hold the notion of “societal wrong” you need a standard of morality that transcends time (because societies change) and society (meaning relativistic morality based on societal norms is out of the picture since you need something outside of the culture by which to judge the society).
Some will say, “I can think of a more arrogant and condescending statement than to say you are the only one that knows what morality is” However that is not what is being claimed here. You see, your statement would hold true if we were setting ourselves up as the arbiters of the objective and penultimate standard of morality. We aren’t. We are merely pointing to one that has existed long before us and will exist long after we are gone. We are not it’s authors and have no vote as to whether we agree or disagree with it.
In other words, it exists outside of and independent to us. This is a pivotal difference because when we further say that those who act in a moral fashion do so “out of coincidence” it really is like saying that before Newton people obeyed gravity “out of coincidence”.
You see, both gravity and morality are based on natural laws that are independent to those they effect. I know it is fashionable to claim that morality is a social construct and therefore is not real, objective, and knowable in the same sense as mathematics and physics, but simply claiming that does not make it so. Actually, the fact that we posses intuitive moral knowledge and instinctively recognize some actions to be right and others to be wrong should serve as a clear indication that an objective moral law does exist and that it is up to us to discover and then abide by it.
For more on this subject I highly recommended:
- And north. It is the height of ignorance to make the claim that racism only existed or still exists in the south [↩]