Explanation of moral absolutism ethics
- Explain what is meant by moral absolutism.
Moral absolutism is an ethical theory which believes that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are either right or wrong. Moral absolutists might, for example, judge slavery, war, dictatorship, the death penalty, or child abuse to be absolutely immoral regardless of the beliefs of a culture that engages in these practices.
Moral absolutism adopts the theory that certain actions are moral or immoral regardless of the circumstances in which they occur. Absolutists consider that the ten commandments, found in the book of Exodus, are rules which should never be broken no matter what. For example one of the commandments found in Exodus 20:13 is “Thou shall not kill” and absolutists believe that this rule should never be broken. They would not even agree with the murder of one person, such as a terrorist, in order to save an entire nation. Another example is lying, absolutists feel that one should never lie no matter what the consequences are, even if it was in order to save an innocent persons life or to promote some sort of good.
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Two actions which are deemed to be held to be absolute prohibitions are torture and executing the innocent. This led to the introduction of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987). This resolution states that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture”. It basically means that no matter what the consequences of torture may be – such as preventing a terrorist attack which could kill thousands – torture is simply unacceptable. This law is strongly supported by absolutists all over the world.
Deontological ethics or deontology is similar to absolutism in that it is an approach to ethics that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves rather than the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of those actions. Deontology is sometimes described as “duty” or “obligation” based ethics, because deontologists believe that ethical rules “bind you to your duty”. For example a teacher is bind to their duty to each their pupils and parents are behind to their duty to look after and raise their children.
Deontological ethics is often contrasted with teleological ethical theories, which believe that the correctness of an action is determined by its consequences. For instance some theologists may consider lying to be acceptable in certain circumstances. A good example is stealing, theologists may feel that it is ok for the poor and needy to steal small items from shops who are making millions of pounds profit each year, this is because the poor and needy are gaining a lot yet the shop isn’t losing much.
However some people also say that there is a big difference between deontological ethics and moral absolutism. Deontologists who are also moral absolutists believe that some actions are wrong no matter what consequences follow them. Immanuel Kant, an 18th century German Philosopher and regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of modern Europe, famously argued that it is always wrong to lie – even if a murderer is asking for the location of a potential victim.
Kant’s theory of ethics is seen to be deontological for several different reasons. First, Kant argues that to act in the morally right way, people must act according to duty. Second, Kant argued that it was not the consequences of actions that make them right or wrong but the motives of the person who carries out the action. Finally he claims, a person has a good will when he or she 'acts out of respect for the moral law'. People 'act out of respect for the moral law' when they act in some way because they have a duty to do so.
There are also deontologists who are not moral absolutists, such as W.D. Ross a Scottish philosopher, who hold that the consequences of an action such as lying may sometimes make it the right thing to do but only really in exceptional circumstances.
Moral objectivism is then another ethical theory which claims that certain acts are objectively right or wrong, independent of human opinion. That is, the view that the 'moral facts' are like 'physical' facts in that what the facts are does not depend on what anyone thinks they are.
In general objectivist theories tend to come in two sorts the first is a duty based theory (Deontological) – these theories claim that what determines whether an act is morally right or wrong is the kind of act it is. There are then consequentialist theories (Teleological) – these claim that what determines an act is morally right or wrong are its consequences. For example people may not lie simply because of the kind of act that is - bad and it is also going against a main moral rule. However if they were to discover that the consequence would be good such as saving a life, they may look on it differently through the consequentialist theory.
In conclusion; I feel that I have discovered the many different types of moral absolutism that there is and it’s real meaning.