Seven Things You Can’t Do as a Moral Relativist

by Greg Koukl at Salvo

So you’ve decided to become a moral relativist. Good for you! What could be better than doing whatever feels right? What could be worse than letting someone tell you what you should and shouldn’t do? Plus, it’s one of the easiest worldviews to adopt: Just leave everyone else alone and demand that they do the same for you, and you’ll never have to worry again about whether your actions are right or wrong. In fact, there are really only seven things that you can’t do as a moral relativist. Simply follow the rules below, and you’ll be free from absolutes forever!

Rule #1: Relativists Can’t Accuse Others of Wrong-Doing

Relativism makes it impossible to criticize the behavior of others, because relativism ultimately denies that there is such a thing as wrong- doing. In other words, if you believe that morality is a matter of personal definition, then you can’t ever again judge the actions of others. Relativists can’t even object on moral grounds to racism. After all, what sense can be made of the judgment “apartheid is wrong” when spoken by someone who doesn’t believe in right and wrong? What justification is there to intervene? Certainly not human rights, for there are no such things as rights. Relativism is the ultimate pro-choice position because it accepts every personal choice—even the choice to be racist.

Rule #2: Relativists Can’t Complain About the Problem of Evil

The reality of evil in the world is one of the primary objections raised against the existence of God. The argument goes that if God were absolutely powerful and ultimately good, then he would take care of evil. But since evil exists, one of three possible scenarios has to be true: God is too weak to oppose evil, God is too sinister to care about evil, or God simply doesn’t exist. Of course, to advance any one of these arguments means that you also have to believe in evil, which relativists can’t do. In fact, nothing can be called evil—not even the Holocaust—because to do so would be to affirm some sort of moral standard.

Rule #3: Relativists Can’t Place Blame or Accept Praise

The concepts of praise and blame are completely meaningless within relativism because there is no moral standard by which to judge whether something should be applauded or condemned. Without absolutes, nothing is ultimately bad, deplorable, tragic, or worthy of blame. Neither is anything ultimately good, honorable, noble, or worthy of praise. It’s all lost in a twilight zone of moral nothingness. Those claiming to be relativists are almost always inconsistent here (they want to avoid blame but readily accept praise), so be careful!

Rule #4: Relativists Can’t Claim Anything Is Unfair or Unjust

Under relativism, justice and fairness are two concepts that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. First off, the words themselves have no meaning; both suggest that people deserve equal treatment based on an external standard of what is right, and as I have already said several times, relativists can’t believe in right and wrong. Second, there is no such thing as guilt. Justice entails punishing those who are guilty, and guilt depends on blame, which, as I have also already proven, cannot exist.

Rule #5: Relativists Can’t Improve Their Morality

With relativism, moral improvement is impossible. Sure, relativists can change their personal ethics, but they can never become moral people. Moral reform implies some kind of objective rule of conduct as a standard to shoot for. But this rule is exactly what relativists deny. If there is no better way, there can be no improvement. Not only that, but there is no motivation to improve. Relativism destroys the moral impulse that makes people rise above themselves because there is no “above” to rise to. Why change your moral point of view if your current one serves your self-interest and feels good for the time being?

Rule#6: Relativists Can’t Hold Meaningful Moral Discussions

Relativism makes it impossible to discuss morality. What’s there to talk about? An ethical discussion involves comparing the merits of one view with those of another to find out which is best. But if morals are entirely relative and all views are equally valid, then no way of thinking is better than any other. No moral position can be judged adequate or deficient, unreasonable, unacceptable, or even barbaric. In fact, if ethical disputes only make sense when morals are objective, then relativism can only be consistently lived out in silence. You can’t even say, “It’s wrong to push your morality on others.”

Rule #7: Relativists Can’t Promote the Obligation of Tolerance

Finally, there is no tolerance in relativism, because the moral obligation to be tolerant violates the rules. The principle of tolerance is often considered one of the key virtues of relativism. Morals are individual, and so we should tolerate the viewpoints of others by not judging their behavior and attitudes. But it should be obvious that this principle fails through contradiction. If there are no moral rules, there can be no rule that requires tolerance as a moral principle. In fact, if there are no moral absolutes, why be tolerant at all? Why not force your morality on others if it’s in your self-interest and your personal ethics allow it? Just be sure not to speak when doing so.

One Response

  1. This is an excellent summary, I think.
    The last point is particularly devastating for the moral relativist. I hope that this approach, as much as it seems superficially pithy, will be more thoroughly discredited in the near future.

    Thanks for posting this. I very much enjoyed it.

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