Canadian National has brought up some points about good and evil.

I haven’t written about good and evil for a while, so I’m thinking we need a bit of a recap.

Popular positions on good and evil include the following:

  1. Moral Absolutism: there is an objective standard of right and wrong, which we merely discover, and by which all behavior can be judged.
  2. Moral Relativism: different standards of right and wrong apply to different people, and therefore we cannot judge other’s behavior.
  3. Utilitarianism: no action is intrinsically right or wrong, but can be judged only by its effects.

Chanthaboune also reminded me inadvertently of Hedonism, which is a snazzy word for “If it feels good, do it,” an expression of moral position which was popular in my youth. I don’t know whether it is still popular or not.

Canadian National said, “My questions… are: can there be one code of morality? Can there be one definition of “respect”? Can we define things that were true for us as true for others? If the answers to these questions are “no” then how do we get along? There’s the challenge.”

So then I said,  “I would answer that there really is one system of morality, though it has variations based on culture, time, etc. that cause the answer to question #2 to be “no.” And I would say the same for truth: there is an objective reality, but we interpret it and respond to it differently. And therefore, “how do we get along?” has to be answered with “Mostly we don’t.” I was being sassy there, but we have to admit that having different generations, cultures, etc. living together in mutually tolerant harmony hasn’t happened yet.

And then she said, “If there is one system of morality, but it has variations, can we still call it “one system” of morality? DXTR and I were having a conversation earlier this week about being “right” and being “wrong” and how, in American society, heck, probably Western society, to be “wrong” is to be “bad” and to be “right” is to be “good.” I liken that conversation to ours in the way that one person’s/society’s/nation’s definition of “morality” can be interpreted as “right” or “wrong” based on another person’s/society’s/nation’s definition of “morality.” Is it “wrong” or just different? Is there a place where we can say “I don’t agree and here are the reasons why” and still get along? I know there are places where we can say “you are wrong” but try to work out an amicable solution and I know there are places where we can’t work out an amicable solution, but to say “let’s leave each other alone.” My thoughts. Thanks for getting this conversation started. I hope others will join in.”
I also hope others will join in. Now that you’re all caught up, you can see that Canadian National is in some ways arguing for Moral Relativism, but going further to consider how, in the absence of a shared moral system, we can work together as human beings.
I used to be a moral relativist, or at least a moral pluralist, prepared to believe that all moral systems were equally valid. Taking that position, though, means that we logically have to accept that Naziism was fine for its time and place, something I am not prepared to do. I am now a moral absolutist. I think that right and wrong exist, and that we can be understanding and nonjudgemental and respectful and still recognize the existence of right and wrong.
For example, I have met Palestinians who were very open and forthright about their desire to kill all Jews. I can respect them as humans, and have some insight into where this idea may have arisen, and be polite in discussions with them, but I am still entirely convinced that they are morally wrong.
So I have two questions for you, dear visitor:
  1. First, can you find yourself in one of the popular positions described above, or do you have another view?
  2. Second, given that Canadian National and I have differing views of human morality, do we nonetheless have the same set of problems in dealing with those whose moral systems differ from ours? That is, if I think someone is wrong and she merely thinks he is different, does that affect the means we would have to take to get along with him?