Everyone makes moral judgments, even those who say, You shouldn’t make moral judgments. That statement itself is a moral judgment. As soon as someone says, You should, or even I, we, they should … or, shouldn’t … they’ve made a moral judgment.
If the idea is that something should be better, there’s a judgment that it isn’t as good as it could be. Implied also is the existence of a standard against which the current thing is being measured.
“You shouldn’t make moral judgments,” then, is a judgment. It is not saying that the listener isn’t capable of making moral judgments, but that life would be better for all if people didn’t make moral judgments. In extreme cases, a person might mean that it is actually wrong to make such judgments.
But how can someone who doesn’t believe moral judgments are right, or that life is better without them, make such a moral judgment? The statement itself demonstrates that everyone, even those who don’t realize it about themselves, makes moral judgments.
In today’s relativistic society, the going belief is that what is true for you may not be true for me. But that truth statement is a moral judgment—an absolute declaration saying that absolute truth does not exist.
Relative thinkers want to make absolute statements to propound their beliefs, but in doing so, they disprove the relativism they say they believe.
Relativism is similar to saying, All ideas are good. Your idea. My idea. The idea someone in China has or in India or Iraq. It’s fine to respect other people’s opinions and culture. But what if our ideas conflict? Are all ideas still good?
What about the idea that not all ideas are good? Is that idea good? How can it be when it says the opposite of “all ideas are good”? The relativist says, All ideas are good for me and all ideas are not good for you. But he has made a moral judgment about my idea, limiting it in scope to accommodate his idea. In essence, he is saying his belief that all ideas are good is a notch truer than my belief that not all ideas are good. He has given a higher value to his statement.
Discussion about relativism and moral judgment can quickly take on the feel of a circular argument, but in actuality, if relativists weren’t making moral judgments, there would be no debate, no discussion, and certainly no argument.
But the fact is, everyone is making moral judgments. People who like a blog post or rate it as one star or five or anything in between are making value judgments. People commenting are making value judgments. People who stop reading part way through are making value judgments.
The question, then, isn’t should we make moral judgments. We do—that’s a simple fact. The question ought to be, on what should we base our judgments? And that will take a bit more thought.
This post, the first in a three part series, was originally published here in April 2012.