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Commentary on Haidt[edit]

Haidt's theories about morality are all nice and sciencey, but they do not seem to be very rational. --Woozle (talk) 18:41, 26 July 2009 (UTC)

Is there any controversy about this?

Why should we accept what people feel as "morality" uncritically as the real thing? Even if it did evolve morality is about what's really right and wrong and that reflects consequences in the real world. This feeling mechanism interacted with the environment of people and the media put together in Germany and the reaction lead to people having 'moralities' that justified mass murder. We shouldn't deify feelings, no matter how natural they are or that they evolved over time as being automatically an indication of what is really "right" and "wrong". Humans also naturally have an ability to think rationally in pursuit of self and group (including humanity) interest.

It is arguable that morality should be rationally based upon the results, the consequences to oneself and others and that if necessary feelings should be suppressed or ignored in order to achieve this outcome. Think about all those red staters who just let their emotions guide their thinking all the way to the voting booth and if they were to try approaching morality from a rational perspective based on objective needs for the flourishing of one's self, the groups of oneself, and of humanity.

Also the article fails to mention that the answers given in those experiments are not universal. It has surfaced in some studies I read before that rarely people will make other decisions. This isn't just studied in psychology. I was in a philosophy class and in debating utilitarianism and deontology some people took different sides over these issues, there wasn't universal agreement, and personally because I actually care about people I would in most situations shove the person, 5 people>1 person, although if it was 5 regular people and one person who might cure cancer or AIDS or save the human race I wouldn't do it. Too many articles pose with words like "people" or "we" or "you" blindly assuming that their results are the same for all rather than just fitting a statistical average or norm or even a culturally-relative average. If I had a dime for all the psychology articles where I was left scratching my head thinking "that isn't me". To truly understand the mind more cross-cultural comparisons need to be made and not just in terms of people's ethnicity or religion or geography but class, occupation, lifestyle, subcultural affiliations, and even the person's hobbies and interests, music a person listened to, consumption habits,...There's just so many factors that running a few studies and then making universalizing statements without contextually limiting it to conclusions about the environments/contexts studied makes no sense. (talk) 01:48, 29 March 2013 (UTC)

Objective morality[edit]

This page is very problematic as it stands (clearly not in line with Rationalwiki's attempts to actually engage with serious research and scholarship) ,and obviously written by someone with no background in moral theory. The fact is that most moral philosophers adhere to the claim that there are objective standards for what is morally right and wrong insofar as moral relativism is an insane idea with utterly unacceptable consequences, such as the impossibility of valid moral criticism of other practices, the impossibility of moral progress, its incompatibility with such cherished notions as tolerance, the impossibility of moral learning (and hence the pointlessness of listening to other points of view since it is impossible in principle that you would learn something from them), and the fact that relativism appears to imply that if you are in the minority in your culture regarding a moral question you are, by definition, wrong. Of course, giving an objective standard for normative claims is tricky, but the alternative is moral nihilism, not relativism (even those who attempt to ground ethics in emotion or non-truth-tracking practices take avoidance of relativism to be a criterion for whether the theory works).

Though claiming that an objective morality must be based on God is popular among non-philosophers, few moral philosophers through the ages have even contemplated this idea (Ockham may be an exception). This is because attempting to ground morality in God fails for several obvious reasons, the primary ones being the Euthyphro Contrast and the obvious naturalistic fallacy involved.

Among secular attempts to ground a universal morality in something objective, the most famous and at least among the most influential attempts is Kant's. Kant attempted to ground morality in rationality itself and argued (roughly) that failure to recognize moral duties was a failure in rationality and ultimate a failure to be a rational agent. Kant's arguments have been criticized, refined, and criticized again, of course, but a page called "objective morality" ought at least to engage with them, as well as other attempts to ground morality (e.g. in empathy or some form of moral realism, or even "a universal moral grammar").

Given that I haven't really built a track record with rationalwiki I didn't want to start trying to delete pages yet, but I would like to alert more experiences editors about the existence of pages like this one.— Unsigned, by: G.D. / talk / contribs

You're right, it's not a very good article, and needs serious improvement. You seem pretty well-grounded in the relevant theory, so you could help if you'd like. Otherwise, I suppose I will try to tackle it when I find time.--ADtalkModerator 01:41, 17 October 2011 (UTC)
I'll see if I can get around to it (I'm not really an expert here, and I don't have too much wiki experience and may want to start with some minor edits first. — Unsigned, by: G.D. / talk / contribs 00:48, 19 October 2011 (UTC)
It seems that you are describing "normative" relatism, not its "descriptive" and "meta-ethical" counterparts. Blue Talk 01:02, 19 October 2011 (UTC)
This was the article I had in mind when I made {{cynic}}. It made it so people could recognize we're not a bunch of amoral psychopaths, even if the article seemed as though it was written by one.--User:Brxbrx/sig 01:12, 19 October 2011 (UTC)
Peter Singer said that objective morality has been "out of fashion since the 1930s" among moral philosophers, in consequence of which moral philosophers who talk about it have not been able to make much headway. I am inclined to think he knows what he is talking about. But I agree that other secular treatments rate a mention. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 02:51, 27 October 2011 (UTC)

Consequentialism and its progeny Utilitarianism[edit]

I would have thought that consequentialism and its progeny Utilitarianism could provide a non-theistic moral philosophy. But not being an expert I'm disinclined to edit the article.--Weirdstuff (talk) 11:31, 26 January 2014 (UTC)

But how do you draw the line between objectivity and subjectivity in matters like consequentialist or utilitarian morality? Nullahnung (talk) 11:40, 26 January 2014 (UTC)
I'm not entirely sure how you would draw that line in any system of morality. It seems to me that, in point of fact, people subjectively decide on their moral position and then look to their moral philosophy to justify it after the fact. The smarter people are the better they are at getting their moral philosophy to justify their existing positions.
Nevertheless, I could argue - in support of utilitarianism - that the idea of decreasing pain or improving human welfare is a self-evident good.--Weirdstuff (talk) 13:36, 26 January 2014 (UTC)

Full of blanket statements[edit]

Well, this article is full of blanket statements, generalizations and incomplete descriptions... I suppose it's a direct result of trying to sort of include concrete examples while writing a really short article on ethics. It is better to either take action or shut up instead of bitch. Nullahnung (talk) 11:16, 8 September 2013 (UTC)

Ethical question[edit]

'You' have the containers with the last colonies of smallpox and rinderpest (and it is sufficient time for the remains of persons and sheep to no longer carry the disease). Should you destroy the containers (and commit speciescide?)? 18:20, 16 December 2013 (UTC) — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs

There's nothing wrong with ridding the world of smallpox and rinderpest. Nullahnung (talk) 18:59, 16 December 2013 (UTC)

Science Ethics[edit]

This wiki promotes stuff like the scientific method so I am surprised there is nothing on the ethics page that goes over the structure that keeps scientists and doctors morally in line (ethics committees, the hippocratic oath, ect…). I'd write the section myself if I knew more about it, but that is about the extent of my knowledge. So I would appreciate it if someone else did that.Corpse in the bed (talk) 03:29, 20 May 2014 (UTC)

This whole page needs to be rewritten[edit]

By someone who actually knows what they are talking about. Seriously. I deleted the meta-ethics section because it cited SEP but if you actually go look at the SEP article it's pretty clear whoever cited SEP either read SEP and didn't understand SEP or didn't read SEP. Also you need a lot of citations for the empirical claims you made regarding most secular humanists being utilitarians. If this is the case, can you provide prove this is the case?

Or, better yet, get someone to rewrite this piece of shit article which is an embaressment to this otherwise OK website.

If the person who wrote this has any training in philosophy what so ever they should show their professor the article they wrote and demand a refund for the classes. Sig can you say.png Sig gulag time.png 04:01, 19 March 2015 (UTC)

Hear hear. I'm a fan of not complaining unless you're willing to provide/put into action a solution, but I don't even ethics right now. A mere peasant 16:29, 19 March 2015 (UTC)
Oh so I can't critize this piece of shit article and put CN tags for empirical claims unless I provided a solution? OH WAIT I DID. I suggested someone who knows what they are talking about rewrite the article. I would do it, given I know a thing or two about meta-ethics and have the resources to do so, but alas I am swamped in school work at the moment. So, to start, get rid of the meta-ethics section because it's misleading as fuck. There's something that was done that made this article better. (AKA putting a solution into action). A re-write of this awful piece of trash garbage is coming but it won't be soon. Honestly what SHOULD be done is torching this entire thing and linking to the respective wikipedia or SEP articles because whoever wrote this clearly has no idea what they are talking about. Sig can you say.png Sig gulag time.png 22:04, 19 March 2015 (UTC)

I know what I'm talking about on the subject so I could help. But why do we have a separate page for ethics and morality? The two articles are basically covering the same things. Googling the distinction shows me that there basically shouldn't be a distinction (if everyone agreed to the same moral conclusions), the divide only exists because of disagreement over morality, so professional ethics are used to enforce a set of morality. Brianpansky (talk) 23:42, 14 December 2015 (UTC)

So why[edit]

So why is it that moral relativism is not moral absolutism? -- (talk) 18:56, 5 November 2011 (UTC)

Are you playing a semantic game of asking if "I agree with moral relativism" is an absolute statement about morality? Scarlet A.pngnarchist 18:57, 5 November 2011 (UTC)
I just don't think the article defines moral relativity and absolutism as mutually exclusive. Whether or not context is considered is a poor separator because it's arbitrary where the line between the action and the context is drawn. So you could consider moral relativism and absolutism special cases of each other. And moral absolutism doesn't exclude people from obeying different moral systems, just that there exists an objectively correct one that should be imposed on all (right?). -- (talk) 20:46, 5 November 2011 (UTC)

How serious is this site?[edit]

I was wondering how serious this site is. Is it just people having fun making slanted statements? Should I just read it for fun, like conservapedia or should I point out slanted views and straw men?

Belief in an absolute yardstick for morality seems to be a belief of Christianity, but one of the central tenets of Christianity is salvation through grace. i.e. In spite of all your evil actions, you will _not_ be punished because that punishment has fallen on the the shoulders of Jesus. This seems to contradict the statement "the perpetrators of "evil" acts should be punished or destroyed". --Bertrc (talk) 23:56, 14 December 2011 (UTC)

Many atheists are most familiar with the more legalistic forms of Christianity (since they are the ones who tend to make the most noise in the press), which means that they, like the legalists, give comparatively little attention to the part where you are not punished if you spend sufficient time kissing Jesus's boots.
However, one point evangelists make a good deal is that Christianity effects a union of the law (the belief that evildoers should be punished) with the gospel (forgiveness and salvation for those who repent). Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 00:03, 15 December 2011 (UTC)
Yeah. Many Christians miss that as well. To be honest, even with those who profess salvation through grace, I am often arguing about the importance of confessing to God over kissing Christ's boots. Personally, I've even questioned the need to believe in Christ (BTW, I think he actually wore sandals) Your second point is very true, too, although, If I may be talmudic, I think there is an important distinction between "deserve to be punished" and "should be punished." --Bertrc (talk) 01:37, 15 December 2011 (UTC)
Bertrc, you should feel free to copy and paste the same question over and over again on various talk pages, completely oblivious to the fact that ultimately the question is irrelevant because it makes a grand assumption at the beginning. Godspeed! -- Seth Peck (talk) 00:10, 15 December 2011 (UTC)
TVVM!! --Bertrc (talk) 01:37, 15 December 2011 (UTC)

We seem[edit]

We seem to be defining cultural relativism here, which is only one form of moral relativism. MR itself is simply the concept that morality is relative to many factors (cultural norms, peer group, personal tendencies, circumstances, etc.) WěǎšěǐǒǐďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 23:08, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

Still seems to be the case. Unless anybody else wants to, I'll break out a philosophy book later and try to rework it. ~ Kupochama[1][2] 21:31, 2 August 2009 (UTC)

Criticism edits[edit]

Um . . . I know this isn't wikipedia, but shouldn't we discuss a bit before blindly reverting edits? Or, at least, include a summary comment about what you are thinking when you revert? Heck, even the redundant "that"'s were re-added. I know there was a bit of disagreement about the previous phrasing, so I tried rephrasing it. Before I re-add the text, though, does anybody want to post some thoughts? --Bertrc (talk) 04:14, 7 January 2012 (UTC)

On an aside, does the heavy metal bit make no sense, or is it just me? --Bertrc (talk) 04:14, 7 January 2012 (UTC)

This page is largely wrong anyway. Moral relativism consists of "descriptive relativism" and "normative relativism." The former simply holds that moral standards differ depending on time, place, history, culture, etc. which is rather undeniable, I'd think. The latter says that they should be that way. "Cultural relativism" has really just become an epithet for the latter extreme prescriptive relativist position. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 04:19, 7 January 2012 (UTC)
I had not known of those terms, but I agree with your point. However, I do not know how to phrase that in the article. Your "descriptive relativism" seems to be the idea that people's moral practices change with time and culture; I doubt you will find anybody who disagrees with such a view. I think this article is focusing on your "normative relativism" which seems to take a stand on the validity of all those moral practices (In its extreme form, the stand is that all those practices are valid for that particular person to have) If I have the definitions right, then my text is pointing out a contradiction in "normative relativism". ie. By saying all moral frameworks are valid, one invalidates any moral framework which contends that it, itself, is the only valid framework. Did my text in the article convey that adequately? --Bertrc (talk) 04:37, 7 January 2012 (UTC)
That's the standard refutation of normative relativism. I realized I made a mistake in the above paragraph and wrote the article accordingly, though. Descriptive relativism, usually in accordance with a position of philosophical naturalism, that it logically follows from this observation that there is no objective morality (cf. the soul; show me a soul and show me these objective morals). Thus, morality is "created" but not "discovered" as if it were some object out in the universe. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 05:48, 7 January 2012 (UTC)
. . . So . . . Can I re-add my text and remove the heavy metal bit? To re-iterate, somebody who says all moral frameworks are relative is proposing an absolute moral framework (one which invalidates moral frameworks that propose an external absolute framework) . . . and also, the heavy metal bit makes no sense. Nebuchadnezzar, we could prepend it with "If moral relativism is defined as ..." --Bertrc (talk) 05:09, 11 January 2012 (UTC)
. . . Well, okay, then. --Bertrc (talk) 17:14, 19 January 2012 (UTC)
"The former simply holds that moral standards differ depending on time, place, history, culture, etc. which is rather undeniable, I'd think." Yes and no. Yes some moral (and legal) rules change depending on human culture. However, I'm going to agree with Sam Harris that as a matter of facts nearly all people and all known human cultures have some underlying shared moral values. The Trolley Problem is IMHO a great example of even Amazonian tribes-peoples, about as far isolated as you can get from any other existing culture on the planet, answer similarly to this moral question. So, if we interpret descriptive moral relativism to mean there are no moral claims which are overwhelmingly prevalent in nearly all known human cultures, then it is demonstrably factually wrong. Related: Almost everyone agrees with Mill's Harm Principle. Sure, various cultures have restricted the class of people who are worthy of the protection offered, and sure various cultures disagree as to factual claims relating to harms (if that person sins then I'll be "contaminated" and go to hell too!), but most everyone agrees to the general proposition that you ought not harm someone without good cause. LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 02:54, 7 August 2012 (UTC)

Normative relativism[edit]

The text says that normative relativist deny the possibility of absolute morality. Without the possibility, then they are saying morality is relative. If they only deny the desirability of an absolute morality, then they are saying it should be relative. I think there is a subtle play and difference between moral practices and morality, itself. I think everybody would agree that moral practices are relative. The Absolute vs relative debate targets the validity of those practices; ie. is there are is there not an absolute morality that applies to all, regardless of whether people are practicing it. --Bertrc (talk) 04:50, 7 January 2012 (UTC)

Yeah, your edit phrases it better. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 05:36, 7 January 2012 (UTC)
Can I add in: "Alternatively, one could say that 'descriptive relativism' addresses the existance of actual moral practices, while 'normative relativism' addresses the validity of those practices" --Bertrc (talk) 05:20, 11 January 2012 (UTC)
I've never understood what it meant for relativity to be absolute, absent some variant of divine command theory. I think in such contexts "absolute" and "objective" are usually used interchangeably, and while I understand what it means for something to be "objective" in the context of science and shared physical reality (and for score keeping such as football vs gymnastics), I don't know what "objective" might mean for morality (again apart from some variant of divine command theory). If they do invoke some divine command theory, my usual retort is "I do <X> because I want to. You do what <X> says because you want to. I see absolutely no worthwhile distinction here." LiberalOfAnUnknownVariant (talk) 02:58, 7 August 2012 (UTC)

Needs to break out metaethical relativism[edit]

This article incorrectly conflates metaethical relativism with normative relativism, when they are two separate things (also separate from the third thing of descriptive relativism):

  1. Descriptive relativism says that people disagree about what is right or wrong.
  2. Metaethical relativism says that people disagree about what is right or wrong, and that nobody is more correct than anybody else about that.
  3. Normative relativism says that people disagree about what is right or wrong, and that nobody is more correct than anybody else about that, so we should tolerate others' behavior even when we think it is wrong.

Metaethical relativism does not entail normative relativism, and so is not a form of it. A non-normative metaethical relativist can push his moral views on others without hypocrisy because by what standard could someone else hold that he ought not do such a thing? There may be some examination to be had of the irrationality of normative relativism on those grounds (propounding a universal moral code of tolerance while disclaiming all universal moral codes, and attempting to justify the former with the latter).

The Wikipedia article on moral relativism has some good discussion on this that you could perhaps draw from. -- (talk) 04:01, 28 May 2013 (UTC)


Hey, check this out. ( It seems like a good image to add to the page, don't you?— Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs 23:53, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

How about no? WéáśéĺóíďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 23:54, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
There are xkcd cartoons that make valid points applicable to the Mission. This one is just wordplay, and not very funny at all. So: No!--ZooGuard (talk) 10:35, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

Science Based Morality[edit]

If there is such a thing as objective morality it has to be science based. If it's not science based then where would objective morality come from? Science does have answers if you accept the basis that the positive evolution of humanity is better than the extinction of humanity. And since morality is a human construct then if humans go extinct morality goes away.

how is "if you accept the basis that the positive evolution of humanity is better than the extinction of humanity" scientific. Let's say we start with the idea that willingly doing something that could cause suffering is morally wrong then we ought to stop humanity from existing because only humans can willingly do something those they are the only things that can be morally evil. Given a choice of any set of axiomatic starting point you can justify any moral outcome. The problem is while science can act as a guide in implementing any moral system it can not tell use what system to chose without subjective input. Jkevo (talk) 01:02, 28 September 2019 (UTC)

There are fundamental errors here[edit]

I have read through this page, and have found fundamental flaws in the logic and misunderstanding of the relativist view:

The biggest issue is that you claim that the moral relativist claim that morality “should” be relative. But upon closer inspection, this cannot work as an argument, as they argue there is no “overall” morality in the world but that made by humans. So how do they come to the conclusion that morality “should” be relative? In short, it is saying “morality is relative, so you cannot tell somebody to do something” - this is illogical, because if morality is truly relative, then why should there be anything “wrong” with enforcing a relative system on another – after all – it is only “wrong” by one persons standards.

As a side note, if morality is completely relative, then it makes it impossible to condemn any religious practice, as by the relativist argument, they aren't actually doing anything “wrong” - indeed, it is impossible to do “wrong” as morality does not exist. So whilst you're right in saying that moral relativism gives no justification for oppressing things like gay marriage, it also gives no justification for opposition to the oppression of homosexuality.

This article falls into the trap of thinking that moral relativism is a reason for tolerance. But what is tolerance but a way of saying “it is morally right to allow others to be free”? If there is literally no morality, tolerance and oppression have the same moral value, which is that they have no moral value. — Unsigned, by: Ehicsguy / talk / contribs

The article sort of addresses this:
In its purest form, moral relativism is an example of a self-refuting idea; the principle that "all moral frameworks are relative" being, itself, an absolute moral framework. In practice, though, it tends to be "All moral frameworks except mine are relative" which is instead an example of special pleading. The above critique, however common, is rather weak as moral relativism should not be classified as a "moral framework" as it does not prescribe any moral values or principles. Moral relativism in it's purest form is the observation that all moral frameworks share a common trait - that they are not absolute. Moral relativism
In the end, ideas about morality and morality itself are distinct. Moral relativity merely asserts that morality is a human construct and should be treated as such. And I think you'd be hard-pressed to demonstrate that's untrue without being some rather substantial propositions. Ikanreed (talk) 20:34, 14 January 2015 (UTC)
That is not a valid response. First, you say ideas "about" morality and morality itself are distinct; but how? If the ideas are about morality, then surely they are saying what it is. If they aren't, then they aren't talking about morality. The issue is that you are confusing normative moral relativism with descriptive moral relativism. It is true that there are many different moral systems and people disagree about morals (that's descriptive relativism), but that does not allow for the jump to normative relativism. Just because people disagree, that does not make it relative, it can mean that somebody is wrong.
Furthermore, you say that "Moral relativity merely asserts that morality is a human construct and should be treated as such" - but this is wrong. By which standards "should" morality be treated in any way. You cannot have a "should". If somebody wants to order everybody else about and tell others to do what they want, then by which standards do you say they are wrong to do so if morality is just a human construct? You cannot say that they shouldn't, because tolerance is a relative, according to moral relativism, so you have no way to say that they are wrong. This is not saying relativism is a self-defeating property, it is pointing out that if moral relativism is true, there is really no reason to do or not do anything; anything goes under relativism, including intolerance.
If you disagree with the content of the article, I suggest that you change it. Fuzzy "Cat" Potato, Jr. (talk/stalk) 19:23, 15 January 2015 (UTC)
That whole point is misguided, Ehicsguy. In no way does moral relativity mean that there can be no standards, it just means that any standards are relative. You should brush your teeth, not because it is intrinsically wrong, but because you don't want them to rot. If you did want them to rot or you simply didn't care, that relative standard would no longer apply. You still have a way to say if people are wrong, but our judgement is relative. Sometimes a goal or some other basis for some relative morality is shared and we can tell another person that he is misguided and wrong relative to this common ground. Anyway, if you want to be accurate, you should treat morality as relative. Apeximius (talk) 12:17, 2 January 2017 (UTC)