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During the Spring semester of my freshman year at Clemson University, I took an honors speech class with two objectives: to learn what it means to be a good person and to learn what it means to speak well. Focusing on the former, one lecture was on Plato – specifically the concept of Platonic Ideals. In simple terms, Platonic Idealism is the belief that to best understand something, one should contemplate it in its ideal form. For example, Platonic Idealism would teach that although chairs come in many shapes and sizes, the best way to understand them is to understand the ideal chair. Hence in this example, the ideal chair needs to be defined. After introducing the class to this concept, my professor asked us if we believed these “ideals” existed in the first place. To clarify her question, I asked the professor: “Are you asking whether we believe in objective truth because if there is an ideal form of something, then there must be something which makes it objectively true?” The professor agreed with my suggestion and rephrased the question to “raise your hand if you believe that objective truth exists”. To my surprise, I was the only one who raised my hand out of 20 students.
I was shocked, and the professor asked me if I wanted to elaborate on my position. Now I was not prepared to defend the existence of objective truth on the spot, but I said that whether you believed in a higher power or just recognized the laws of nature, there appears to be a force independent of human interpretation that makes things the way they are. One of my classmates then asked me if this objective truth exists, how can we distinguish between individual or societal truth and said objective truth? She elaborated and said if two people or cultures believed their truth was the correct one, it would be discriminatory to believe that one of the truths was objectively true. I disagreed and argued that it is not wrong to think that certain beliefs are true or closer to the truth compared to others.
Notice that I did not disagree with my classmate’s assertion that recognizing objective truth is inherently discriminatory to personal or societal truths. The beauty of objective truth is that it allows for a disconnect between something being discriminatory and wrong. After all, if something is not objectively true, it is not wrong to discriminate against it. In fact, it is morally correct to discriminate against bad things. This “good” discrimination is a product of acting on convictions rooted in truth.
In addition to denying objective truth, moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are only right or wrong with respect to a particular viewpoint. To exemplify, in our culture today, it is generally accepted that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being. Ancient Aztecs, on the other hand, are famous in history for practicing human sacrifices where a priest would cut out the still beating heart of a sacrificial victim and offer it up to the sun god. Moral relativism would suggest these human sacrifices were not morally wrong because the practice was acceptable under the society’s religious belief system, and the only reason we would think they are wrong is a product of the society we live in. I refuse to believe this; I posit instead that something beyond social convention makes killing an innocent person wrong.
The point of this example is not to refute the obscure and antiquated ritual of Aztec heart sacrifices, but to indicate that moral relativism is a slippery slope. Moral relativism may start out as an innocent “I don’t want to offend you,” “it’s your truth,” “I may disagree, but who am I to try to convince you otherwise,” and more, but when examined closer, this belief destroys our understanding of right and wrong. We see this in two popular responses to the overturning of Roe v. Wade: “keep your religion out of my uterus” and “if you don’t like abortion, don’t get one”. Regardless of your position in the abortion debate, the popularity and effectiveness of these arguments prove the current trend of moral relativism. The absurdity of these arguments becomes clear when they are applied to any other moral issue. Imagine a world where an argument against stealing was “keep your religion out of my bank robbery” or an argument against the criminalization of rape was “if you don’t like rape, don’t rape anyone”. At its core, these arguments try to remove any responsibility of the law to enforce morality and instead place it on the individual to make any decision they want regardless of the consequences.
America was founded on the existence of objective truths. The most important of these is that all people have inalienable rights – the very rights so many young individuals on all sides of the political spectrum believe in and are fighting for regarding Roe v. Wade. Additionally, I argue that most people subconsciously know these rights come from an objective truth because of how passionately they fight for them.
Recognizing objective truth gives the government its fundamental purpose: protecting the rights of its people. Refusing to believe in objective truth leads to the greatest threat to society: a government without purpose. Purpose is essential because it constrains the government as opposed to freeing it to run rampant. An unchecked government corrupts its rulers with power and turns a democracy for the people into tyranny for the elite. My generation’s fear of being offensive and favor of moral relativism may seem harmless now, but the consequences point society in the direction of destroying the foundational principles of our government. In order to prevent this catastrophe, young Americans must take a firm stance on right versus wrong by defending objective truth and reinforcing the purpose of our government.
I like this article. But, I think the weakness of Will’s position is underscored by the examples he presents. He suggests it is difficult to make morally relative the sense that “in our culture today, it is generally accepted that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being.” This is where I think Will is distracted. It is not the killing that raises the notion of moral relativity. It is the definition of “innocent.”