Friday, August 26, 2011


Moral universalism (also called moral objectivism or universal morality) is the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally, that is, for "all similarly situated individuals", regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality, or any other distinguishing feature. Moral universalism is opposed to moral nihilism and moral relativism.  --Wikipedia


In my search for a simple list of universal morals, I began the complicated process of sorting out definitions of universal morality and the many lists geared toward various groups:  International Human Rights, Religious Moral Values, Corporate Universal Values, etc.  There are so many different conceptions of universal morality, as there are in morality, period.  So much for simplicity.

And why should I be surprised?  I have seen lists in the past that seemed good, but did not do my homework.  Now I find that every group has their own version of moral universality.  That's how people are—but maybe that’s also good because morals can change depending on with whom and what you are dealing.

            Friedrich Nietzsche

After that confusion and frustration, it’s tempting to conclude that there is no such thing as universal moral principles.  There are many convincing arguments again it.  However, the case for universal morality can be made if we start with the premise that any set of rules of morality cannot, by definition, be simple because people are not simple.  (At least most are not.)  Perhaps general guidelines are the best we can hope for.

Once again, the temptation to throw our hands up and declare that morality is relative comes when we declare that all humans are unique.  Who would argue that we are NOT unique?  However, can’t we be unique in some things and the same in others?  That train of thought brings me back to universality.  Maybe some things are truly universal after all?

I believe most people, because the concept is so complicated and the proof so unavailable, are willing to nail themselves against the cross of what they "know"—the set of beliefs with which they were conditioned.  "Stick with those who think like you. There is comfort in that."  "We must have some kind of 'rock' or set of rules to live by!  There must be a code, a standard or we are lost!"  "Listen to your leaders, they know best."  Even though those statements sound reasonable, their wisdom is flawed.

"...maybe the most elementary of moral principles is that of universality, that is, if something's right for me, it's right for you; if it's wrong for you, it's wrong for me.  Any moral code that is even worth looking at has that at its core somehow." ~ Noam Chomsky

The most common rule, when studying religions and rules for living together is “The Golden Rule.”  Mmmmm, starts out with a solid-sounding basis, but is blasted to bits when you realize that how you want to be treated may be different from how others want to be treated.  And there ARE differences!  So much for finding even one all-encompassing, immutable rock-solid standard.

The lists I’ve perused all had good aspects to them; however, they can't be proven valid under all circumstances.  It’s like making judicial laws.  Why are there so MANY?  Why is it so complicated that we need lawyers, people trained and educated for years, in order to help ordinary citizens make sense of it.  (No, it’s not "just" money… ;0)

The fact is that given so many different aspects of humankind and possible scenarios, our thinking and our judgment must go off into branches...and more branches (and twigs and leaves)...

The same phenomenon happens when we try to pin down moral universality.  Maybe that is why many religionists decide that God’s wisdom is not ours—because we can’t make sense of our own!  Someone should know, so at least God would, no?  (Not a good proof of God’s existence, by the way.)

Ultimately, it seems that the only ways we can decide our own moral code is to keep educating ourselves, exercising our minds, learning critical thinking, and realize that perhaps there is a special rule for each person in each case, if we are aware of ALL the facts and implications (which, of course, we never are).  But we can try to get at close as possible to all pertinent factors in each case, and, yet, keep our minds open to the many areas of the many shades of gray in truth, reality, and morality. 

"Oh, that’s too much work.  Being fundamental, absolute, and simple—following words on “holy” pages and applying them as seems fit is good enough for many.  It is so much easier, and comforting."  "Life is too difficult to think about all those details; besides, I’ve got too much to do."  "So many have done the thinking for us, anyway.  Why be repetitious?"

Excuse my sarcasm, but the above attitudes are frightfully frequent.  People like that scare me, as they should YOU.  (Remember the Inquisition?)

Until we are more evolved and have more information, the only thing we can do is to keep our minds open…and learn to live with the "gray".  The important thing is not to give up.


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