Share this post on:

Dear J,

Fair enough, I need to start proving my point that the universe is personal in nature. Here goes.

Before we’re very old, we start noticing that life isn’t very fair. Someone else gets a bigger slice of chocolate cake. The teacher’s pet gets picked for the team. We get blamed when it was someone else’s fault. When things aren’t fair, we get angry. We want some kind of balancing of the scales. I must be treated as I deserve. Some treatment is right, and some treatment is wrong

This doesn’t change as we get older. Just push in line in front of people who’ve been standing for hours, and see the universal sense of outrage and injustice come out. Everyone expects you to obey a certain rule of fairness, and won’t tolerate your breaking of it. But why is this? Why do we not only want fair treatment, but expect it of others? We act as if there is a standard outside of ourselves, which everyone ought to know, and everyone ought to obey. This is a flat contradiction of the idea that morals are person-relative and that some things are “right for some people, and not for others” or that every person must “try to do his best in his or her heart, and not hurt other people”. This is simply not how people act in the real world.

In reality, everyone believes in right and wrong. Even those who say they don’t. Just confront a live-and-let-live moral relativist with a flaming Fundamentalist Preacher telling him what to do, and you will quickly see that our theoretical relativist believes the Fundamentalists are wrong, intolerant, bigots. He disputes their belief system. He thinks they’re wrong. He is angry that they seem to be forcing it on others. 

But his anger shows he doesn’t really believe in his own system of moral relativism. Because if justice and morality is person-relative, then there should be no anger. Those Fundamentalists think it’s OK to force their beliefs on others. That is their way of being true to themselves and doing what they believe is right. Narrow-mindedness is virtuous to them. According to the idea of moral relativism, this should all be OK, because these attitudes make up the personal morality of the Fundamentalist. A relativist should be completely okay with the Fundamentalist’s intolerance, because he is just being true to himself. 

The fact that our moral relativist gets defensive and angry at the flaming Fundamentalist shows that the two of them are actually very similar. The Fundamentalist believes in right and wrong and preaches to the relativist that he is wrong for being a moral relativist. The moral relativist believes the Fundamentalist is wrong, that his preachy behaviour is bad. And he doesn’t meekly tolerate it, either. He wants the Fundamentalist to stop, to change. In other words, he expects the Fundamentalist to conform to some rules that he inwardly believes govern them both. He thinks there are rules for everyone, not just personal morality, but public, universal morality. 

In other words, everyone believes in right and wrong. Some people preach it and call others to convert to their ways. Other people keep it to themselves until they feel others have interrupted their private world, then they make demands on others to live up to it, even if it means the demand “leave me alone”. Even when the moral relativist says “people should live and let live”, his use of the word should shows he believes there is a standard that everyone should respect. He is just as much a preacher as the Fundamentalist; it’s just he carries the conceit that he is non-judgemental.

In fact, if justice is relative, then the world becomes absurd. If we all just decide our own moral paths, maybe in my personal world I decide that stealing is OK. When my personal world bumps into your personal world, I steal your stuff. You get angry. But let’s say say you get your stuff back. You’re still angry with me that I stole from you, even though the problem has been solved. Why should you be angry with me, if justice and morality are person-relative? I’m just obeying the rules of my personal moral world. In your personal moral world, it’s bad to steal. In my personal moral world, it’s good to steal.

The anger really comes because we believe the other person has broken another rule, a “Bigger Rule”, which must govern us both – that we must not hurt each other. If my personal moral rules, which say that stealing is okay, and your personal moral rules, which say that stealing is wrong, must both submit to some Bigger Rule that says we must not harm each other, where does that Bigger Rule come from? And why does it govern more than one personal moral world? Because if I don’t have (or want) the Bigger Rule in my personal moral world, I don’t have to respect it. I can rob you and feel no remorse. You must be robbed and be fine with it, because you know the Bigger Rule is not part of my personal world.

So since some kind of universal morality prevails everywhere, how do we explain this, if the cosmos is impersonal and merely material?

Looking forward to your response,


Share this post on:

Leave a Reply