One of the most common debates I find myself in with people is whether or not morality is absolute. It is remarkable to me how much the view that morality is relative has permiated our culture, it seems, from my experience to be the most popular view. What is interesting is that it seems in the philosophical world moral relativism is the laughing stock of ethical philosophy. Perhaps I am wrong about this, I only took two undergraduate level ethics classes, and when I hear about it in my current masters level classes I’ll acknowledge its bias. Either way I thought it would be good to lay out several of what I find to be the most clear reasons Moral Relativism falls short of a practical or philosophical Ethical viewpoint.
You cannot use terms of moral improvement
The fact is, if morality is relative then we cannot say morality has ever improved. It has changed, it is different, but once you say it has improved you are saying that it is not merely different, but better. And the only way that it can be better, is if it is closer to an objective standard, or a perfect morality. You may say you like the current morality more than one of the past which included slavery, but this reduces you to a preference. You may as well say you like vanilla ice cream over chocolate, but you cannot say it is better. It would only be different. Different in a way you prefer, but not in a way that one should prefer. If one should prefer it than once again you have implied an objective outside of yourself standard.
One cannot be morally right in every culture they are a part of
If morality is relative to a persons culture which changes in time, and place than how do we dictate which cultural morality one should follow when they contradict? No one is part of simply one culture. They have the culture of their family, their friends, their school, place of worship, the country they live in, the country they are from etc. If one is a part of two cultures, say an immigrant should they follow the culture they live in or the culture they are from? By choosing one over the other are they then morally wrong in one culture they are part of and morally right for the other? Doesn’t that mean it becomes impossible to really do right altogether? You will always be morally wrong for one culture you are a part of.
As per the point above you may also see that in chosing one culture over the other you have said that one culture’s morality is better than another.
One cannot make moral judgements. . . AT ALL
If morality is relative you cannot say that something is wrong, only that it is wrong for you, or for your culture. For instance, to pick something that most moral relativists will squirm at: if morality is relative then in certain cultures it would be morally right to kill a homosexual, because that is that cultures moral view of what should be done to someone who practices homosexuality. If the moral relativist steps in to say its wrong to kill homosexuals they are asserting that there is an objective moral standard that, whether a culture accepts it or not, exists, and should be followed.
To clarify, I am not saying we should kill homosexuals, nor do I believe so. This is only to make a point.
Now I anticipate that some Moral Relativists at this may say that it is their opinion that homosexuals should not be killed, and that they simply disagree with this man, but this is different than talking about my ice cream preference. I may believe that chocolate ice cream is the best, I may also believe that everyone should think that chocolate ice cream is the best, but morality goes one step further. Not only would I believe that chocolate ice cream is the best and that everyone should believe it is the best, but I would believe that someone is morally wrong to not believe that chocolate ice cream is the best. When the Moral Relitavist says that killing homosexuals is wrong they are saying “I believe you are wrong to kill homosexuals, you should believe killing homosexuals is wrong, and if you believe killing homosexuals is wrong you are morally wrong”. This is not merely an opinion anymore it is an appeal to what they believe is the absolute standard and therefore an acknowledgement that morality is not relative but objective.
This is a bit longer than many of my posts but I feel it is a quick summary of what I believe is one of the most debated issues of today. I think if you can remember these three points you will see that morality must be objective.