Morality. Absolute or Relative
Surprisingly, both relative and absolute moralities are at work within us.
Morality shows itself by its effect on our decisions, on our behavioral choices.
Each person develops a personal morality that is based on their biological inheritance (3S Imperatives–Satiety, Safety, Sex) united with their personal experience. Personal morality is idiosyncratic (relative) and descriptive. Your personal morality is a description of how you rate the morality of actions rather than a demand that you act on your nature.
The Lawrence Kohlberg’s idea that personal morality changes as we age explains the progression we experience.
- First, as an infant, an act’s morality can only be pleasurable or unpleasant (good or bad). That is, satisfying our bodily requirements is the only functioning part of our decision-making in infancy.
- Between ages 3-7, we start to form long-term memories. With recall of past events and past consequences, we begin to develop a sense of our continuity and a desire to maintain it. In the nuclear family, our personal choices confront the family morality, where decisions are rewarded or punished. That is, a new standard of morality is enforced by power.
- With puberty, sexual consequences arise to prominence in our decision-making. As we experience life outside the house, we see that our understanding of right or wrong (good or bad) is not the only view. Others can see things differently.
- In school, we start to evaluate good and bad according to logic. Are the rules consistent? Are the rules applied to all? What are the exceptions?
- It isn’t until late 20s that our executive control of our more raw desires is accomplished. In adulthood, the comparison of the society’s morality versus results on people can raise questions.
Society’s morality is the summation of personal moralities of important people in the society’s past. It is absolute. Prominent individuals, mainly long ago, infused a part of their personal morality on a wider group. The success of their morality legacy resulted in those moral decisions lasting in the society. Great religious and spiritual leaders like Solomon, Jesus, Martin Luther, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King are one thread. In the political world, Hammurabi, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon are a few examples whose view of morality have shaped our world’s morality.
Once made their contributions become hardened into 10 Commandments or jurisprudence or social norms. It becomes an absolute standard that is either met or failed to be met.
Everyone in a society is bound to the same moral decisions. These moral boundaries are conventions that continue or wither depending on their success in handling the moral dilemmas the society faces.
Various, conventional, absolute moralities exist, each having their own method of enforcing their moralities.
- Government uses laws and police to compel people to act according to a written moral code.
- Cultures often use myths and stories to capture the preferred moral decisions, with shunning and ostracism to keep members in line.
- Religions use homilies and instructions combined with blame, guilt, and amends to convince adherents to the prescribed moral code.
How does one’s personal morality mesh with society’s morals? Most people abide by society’s morality or avoid detection; however, some can’t or won’t. And when there is a clash, it can be explosive, when neither the person nor the society will give. Following are a few bullet points of friction.
- Life-and-Death. Dr. Kevorkian. Is it murder to assist someone who wants to commit suicide? Different states have different answers. They have different moralities.
- Marriage. Mormons and polygamy, gays and historical definitions of marriage as between a man and a woman lead to various decisions about what is a legitimate and illegitimate marriage.
- Spiritual Honor. Burial rights. Antigone, who wants to honor her brother and the government who uses its power to enforce the official morality.
- Contentious arguments on abortion issues dominated in my first philosophy class in 1970. That firestorm still rages. It is moral question, but some want to use their relative personal morals while others believe that an absolute moral decision exists for everyone. However, declaring that personhood at starts at conception would have far-reaching implications that could make stillbirths murders.
- How important is truth to you? Fake news? Do you enjoy a well-fought political battle sufficiently that you’re satisfied with the truth or falsity of the basic premises determined by others?
- Inequality in economics and social relationships. Do you act on the recognition of economic inequality, or do you shrug and go on about your efforts to make sure you are not in that position?
It’s essential to understand that there are relative and absolute moralities contending in our decision-making. Which shall rule—relative personal conscience or absolute societal dictates?