Ethics: Absolutes and Relativists, Rules and Consequences
This article has been developed from the original work of Revd Robert Lloyd Richards who wrote the material for the MSc in Pain Management when he was a Senior Anglican Chaplain at the University Hospital of Wales NHS Trust and has now been updated.
The ancient Stoics has a maxim let Justice be done though the heavens fall. In this way, the Stoics expressed their view that Justice was an absolute value which could never be violated under any circumstances. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said that good will which acts out of respect for the moral law has absolute validity, that is, it is the most important human virtue .
The concept of absolute ethical values has had a bad press during the last 100 years, mainly because human mobility and population growth have eroded the universal consciousness required for absolute values to remain in force. Thus relatively stable or isolated cultures retain many more rules and moral principles than do more pluralistic societies. The decline of orthodox religious belief has weakened the sanction for absolute moral views based on the fact that they reflected the will of God.
At best, we can say that at a personal level, certain moral stands may be treated as absolute and this is reinforced if one shares the same moral view with others who cannot imagine a particular moral stance being compromised or changed. There may be a religious sanction or a cultural consensus for this. You may have some sympathy for the view that in order to get on with everyday life, when making decisions, some moral views must be treated as if they are absolute even though we know that they may be subject to change under some circumstances.
What are objections to absolutism?
The subjectivist argument
This objection to absolute moral...