The Endless Quest For The Universalization Of

Morality Essay, Research Paper

The Endless Quest for the Universalization of Morality

Throughout history, philosophers have been preoccupied with the notion of a universal “right” and “wrong”. Philosophers want to have a sort of morality measuring stick that would enable them to judge a person’s decision as being morally right or wrong, independent of the situation and circumstances that led to that decision. Since an Universal Law of Morality hasn’t been discovered yet, philosophers have to use various moral theories to evaluate the morality of decisions. Some of the moral theories philosophers have developed over the years have come very close to being accepted as as universal, but none have had the characteristics that it takes to be classified as universal. Since philosophy lacks an Universal Law of Morality, philosophers must take into account the reasons and circumstances behind moral decisions, therefore they must use moral theories that are relative to decision-maker and his/her situation.

Conventional moral relativism is the idea that morality is defined by individual cultures and that each culture has its own morality that is relative to that culture. William Graham Sumner believed that every culture has its own set of values and customs, so “The ‘right way’ is the way which the ancestors used and which has been handed down”(Sommers 213). Even though some cultures share many of the same values, they don’t have the same morality. Values are what effect people’s decision making, but they do not work independently. Values work as a system, where some values are worth more than others, so two cultures with identical values could have completely opposite morals because of the order of importance of the values in their value system. This allows for the possibility of different cultures making different decisions when faced with the same moral dilemma and to still be “right”, relative to their morality.

Ruth Benedict believed that “Most individuals are plastic to the moulding force of the society into which they are born”(Sommers 205), and since each individual is influenced by many different societies, individuals develop differently as well. Individuals are exposed to a wide array of beliefs and values, and because humans have freewill they have the ability to choose what aspects of society’s morality they want to accept and/or adapt to their own morality. Subjective moral relativism is the belief that morality is relative to the individual and that every individual can have his or her own morality. This theory is commonly opposed mainly for the fact that those who accept it are denying philosophers the right to judge morality. Philosophers use their theories of morality to judge other people’s morality. In order for a philosopher to unbiasedly judge someone’s morality they must have an Universal Law of Morality by which to judge, without one philosophers are just, in an essence, comparing two relative views of morality and saying “my views are better than yours”. The Judeo-Christian tradition says “Do not judge…….Do not condemn”(Sommers 93) so philosophers, in theory, have no right to judge the decision of another.

Louis Pojman believed that “If Morality is relative to its culture, then there is no independent basis for criticizing the morality of any other culture but one’s own”(Sommers 248). When philosophers who judge someone else’s morality, unless that someone has the same morality of the philosopher, the philosopher is trying to compare the person to a set of standards that aren’t relative to the person. In a sense, philosophers, who believe their moral theories to be universal, are ethnocentric. Ethnocentrism is a form of prejudice in which a person rejects the views of all cultures except his or her own, and when philosophers criticize someone else’s moral beliefs the philosopher isn’t being tolerant of other cultures/individuals. Conventional moral relativism would allow philosophers to judge others within his/her own culture, since conventional moral relativism says morality is relative to each culture/society. According to subjective moral relativism an individual’s morality is relative to the individual, therefore the only morality philosophers can judge is their own. Philosophers always consider subjectivism invalid because if they considered it valid they would be out of a job, and unable criticize moral decision-making.

The only time when a Universal Law of Morality was attainable was back at the beginning of time, at the time of creation, because every minute since then humans have been having experiences that change them and make them evolve. Alasdair MacIntyre felt that “The meaning and ethical worth of any person’s acts can be understood only as a part of the life story of that person”(Sommers 316). Universalization in morality can only be true when there is a clean slate for which it to judge, when everybody has the same amount of experiences. Each culture since the beginning of time has evolved and/or changed at their own pace, and no two cultures have evolved identically. Since no two cultures are identical, and no individual is effected by just one culture, each individual is a unique melting pot of different ideas and values. Diversity is essential for the positive future of our world. Universalization would stifle any ideas or values that go against or differ slightly from the norm. Our civilization would no longer continue to develop and evolve, it takes new ideas and values to bring about change. For example, if we had a Law of Universalization of Morality people like Martin Luther King would have been considered morally wrong because the majority’s morality was pro-segregation while his morality called for all people to live together.

Trying to make a universalization about people that aren’t identical is inherently false, and who is to say that one idea, just because it is held by the majority, is right and another is wrong. Statistics should hold no value is judging the morality of an action. If 100 people tell lies and one person tells the truth, the philosopher who is trying to universalize, would consider the truth teller an outlier and conclude that lying is morally right. If we lived in a vacuum, where all people had identical experiences throughout their whole lives and no outside forces acted the people, an Universal Law of Morality would be very attainable. Today’s dominant moral values became dominant by accident, society just evolved in a way that catered to these dominant moralities. The normal should no longer be considered the normative .

You cannot expect a man to be bound to a Universal Law of Morality unless all men are identical. Until the day when we reach our maximum level of evolution, that we seem to be slowly approaching, and all men are at that level, the idea of universalization in regards to morality is a pipe dream. Philosophers then and only then will have the ability to fairly and efficiently judge another man’s morality.


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