• caedynwheeler

A Relativist, Objectivist, and Absolutist Walk into a Bar

Day 18

At the end of the day, who really cares what you are?


  • There are no objective or universally valid principles

  • All moral judgments are a matter of human opinion

  • Subjective relativism = morals up to the individual

  • Conventional relativism = morals are up to society

  • The different systems of morality simultaneously in place give credence to these claims


  • Certain moral principles are universal and apply to everyone

  • There are truths and falsehoods in ethics

  • Certain individuals can be mistaken in their moral opinions and practices


Not only are moral principles objectively right or wrong, they are right or wrong regardless of the context

Example: a relativist, objectivist, and absolutist walk into a bar. They witness a murder. The relativist says, "man, that sucks, but it doesn't really matter."

The objectivist says, " Yeah, that was a terrible thing! It definitely matters, murder is wrong. Maybe the murderer had his reasons though..."

The absolutist says, "Even if he did, it's murder, and murder is always wrong."

The example chalks it up to be way more simple than it is, but I'm working to put it in perspective. Out of the three, I would consider myself to be a relativist more than the other two. None of these are moral frameworks on their own.

Why relativism, objectivism, and absolutism can't be left on their own

As much as I don't think there is an absolute or objective morality, I still have a moral framework. A nihilistic relativist might be the one saying "the murder doesn't matter because nothing matters", but that is not always the case. I want life on Earth for living things to be the best it can be. It is human nature to want to find meaning. Even if we all disagree on that meaning, things should be as good for ourselves and each other as they can be. Two very different approaches, both relative.

Absolutism and objectivism can't be left on their own for obvious reasons. Two people could be objectivist/absolutist believing morals are absolute/objective, but they directly oppose each other. "Murder is objectively bad", "murder is objectively good". One objectivist may have far more evidence backing their claims, but again, you can't just leave it at that one word. It needs more context.

Good for morality and good for existence aren't the same

For many aspects of life for humans, I think there is objectivity to it. Murder is bad for human health, ie bad for humans. However, I don't believe ethics are eternal. There is no such proof that the taking of a life is objectively or absolutely bad/good in respect to the rest of the universe. Existence exists to exist.

Humans find solace in assigning a meaning to things because we are so small, but we can think so much. There has to be more meaning. I think many objectivists and absolutists reside there. It's hard to create your own meaning. A lot of questions pop up, (reference my Value of Existential Doubts post for that). You either don't think of it or value it less than a meaning that could have been assigned.

I think just based on the fact that there is so much debate over ethics gives more credit to the theory of relativism. At the end of the day, whether you find yourself to be a relativist, objectivist, absolutist, or don't care one bit, it doesn't matter, as long as you're good to others and yourself.

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