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Morality discussion – Errors in terminology

Letter to the Editor | Monday, November 19, 2007

Errors in terminology

Kevin Sharron’s article (“Absolute moral code not necessary for moral behavior,” Nov. 18) is well intentioned, but it incorrectly employs terminology. We’ll start from the beginning.

The idea of an “absolute moral truth” is that within human beings there are inherent standards of conduct which we can derive using logic and common experiences. The idea is not the equivalent of a political or religious structure, though structures employ the idea from time to time. For instance, the Catholic Church uses moral law to formulate doctrine and social justice teachings. Absolute moral standards are part of the Church’s tradition, in line with the Church’s belief that God created the human mind oriented towards himself, towards truth and love. Sharron actually confirms this by his example of a hypothetical situation. “If your code and all laws ceased existing at this very moment, what would you do? Would you commit murder or steal from the person sitting next to you?…I would not commit these crimes because I care about humankind and value order in society.” Thus, he asserts that if all government structures were to fall, he would still feel responsibility to act justly towards his neighbor; regardless of the circumstances, he still feels the tug of justice and order. This is precisely the assertion of the person who believes in an absolute moral code; I applaud Sharron for understanding the concept even if he misuses the terminology and he himself is evidence of this inherent standard of justice.

And now, a hypothetical of my own. Fred, the moral relativist, disagrees that there is an inherent standard of conduct. That means he has no rules. He thinks that what’s okay for GK might be wrong for Lewis, or that Lewis can’t formulate an opinion on GK’s behavior unless GK is harming Lewis. Fred has the right to do anything, for he is the only one allowed to decide what Fred can do. GK and Lewis get nervous because if Fred is right and there is no such thing a moral absolutism, GK and Lewis might be toast. To this, Fred replies that “morality is relative, so long as it does not harm other people” or “morality is relative, and people can be harmed only for the common good,” but GK and Lewis snicker to themselves because they know that Fred has just added an absolute requisite to his relativistic philosophy. Thus, Fred joins the chorus with Karl and Pete (a great singer) in a rousing hymn of “There is no such thing as absolute truth, except for this statement!”

Cynthia WeberfreshmanPasquerilla West HallNov. 20