Moral absolutism

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Moral absolutism is an ethical view that all actions are intrinsically right or wrong. Stealing, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done for the well-being of others (e.g., stealing food to feed a starving family), and even if it does in the end promote such a good. Moral absolutism stands in contrast to other categories of normative ethical theories such as consequentialism, which holds that the morality (in the wide sense) of an act depends on the consequences or the context of the act.

Ethics branch of philosophy that systematizes, defends, and recommends concepts of right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.

Action (philosophy) something an agent can do or perform

In philosophy, an action is that which is done by an agent. In common speech, the term is often used interchangeably with the term "behaviour". However, in the philosophy of action, behavioural sciences, and the social sciences, a distinction is made: behavior is automatic and reflexive activity, while action is an intentional, purposive, conscious and subjectively meaningful activity. Thus, things like running or throwing a ball is an instance of action; it involves intention, a goal, and a bodily movement guided by the agent. On the other hand, catching a cold is not considered an action because it is something which happens to a person, not something done by one.

Immorality is the violation of moral laws, norms or standards. Immorality is normally applied to people or actions, or in a broader sense, it can be applied to groups or corporate bodies, and works of art.


Moral absolutism is not the same as moral universalism. Universalism holds merely that what is right or wrong is independent of custom or opinion (as opposed to moral relativism), but not necessarily that what is right or wrong is independent of context or consequences (as in absolutism). Moral universalism is compatible with moral absolutism, but also positions such as consequentialism. Louis Pojman gives the following definitions to distinguish the two positions of moral absolutism and universalism: [1]

Moral universalism 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, sexual orientation, or any other distinguishing feature. Moral universalism is opposed to moral nihilism and moral relativism. However, not all forms of moral universalism are absolutist, nor are they necessarily value monist; many forms of universalism, such as utilitarianism, are non-absolutist, and some forms, such as that of Isaiah Berlin, may be value pluralist.

Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.

Louis Paul Pojman was an American philosopher and professor, whose name is most recognized as the author of dozens of philosophy texts and anthologies, which continue to be used widely for educational purposes, and more than one-hundred papers, which he read at some sixty universities around the world. Pojman was known for his work in applied ethics and philosophy of religion,

Ethical theories which place strong emphasis on rights and duty, such as the deontological ethics of Immanuel Kant, are often forms of moral absolutism, as are many religious moral codes.

Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are of essential importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.

Duty commitment or obligation to someone or something or to perform an action on the behalf of

A duty is a commitment or expectation to perform some action in general or if certain circumstances arise. A duty may arise from a system of ethics or morality, especially in an honor culture. Many duties are created by law, sometimes including a codified punishment or liability for non-performance. Performing one's duty may require some sacrifice of self-interest.

In moral philosophy, deontological ethics or deontology is the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action.


Moral absolutism may be understood in a strictly secular context, as in many forms of deontological moral rationalism. However, many religions have morally absolutist positions as well, regarding their system of morality as deriving from divine commands. Therefore, they regard such a moral system as absolute, (usually) perfect, and unchangeable. Many secular philosophies also take a morally absolutist stance, arguing that absolute laws of morality are inherent in the nature of human beings, the nature of life in general, or the universe itself. For example, someone who believes absolutely in nonviolence considers it wrong to use violence even in self-defense.

Moral rationalism, also called ethical rationalism, is a view in meta-ethics according to which moral principles are knowable a priori, by reason alone. Some prominent figures in the history of philosophy who have defended moral rationalism are Plato and Immanuel Kant. Perhaps the most prominent figure in the history of philosophy who has rejected moral rationalism is David Hume. Recent philosophers who have defended moral rationalism include Richard Hare, Christine Korsgaard, Alan Gewirth, and Michael Smith.

Divine command theory is a meta-ethical theory which proposes that an action's status as morally good is equivalent to whether it is commanded by God. The theory asserts that what is moral is determined by what God commands, and that for a person to be moral is to follow his commands. Followers of both monotheistic and polytheistic religions in ancient and modern times have often accepted the importance of God's commands in establishing morality.

Nonviolence philosophy, personal or collective attitude, refusing to legitimate violence and promoting the respect of others in conflicts

Nonviolence is the personal practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. It comes from the belief that hurting people, animals or the environment is unnecessary to achieve an outcome and refers to a general philosophy of abstention from violence. This may be based on moral, religious or spiritual principles, or it may be for purely strategic or pragmatic reasons.

Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas never explicitly addresses the Euthyphro dilemma, but draws a distinction between what is good or evil in itself and what is good or evil because of God's commands, [2] with unchangeable moral standards forming the bulk of natural law. [3] Thus he contends that not even God can change the Ten Commandments, adding, however, that God can change what individuals deserve in particular cases, in what might look like special dispensations to murder or steal. [4]

Thomas Aquinas Dominican scholastic philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church

Saint Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar, Philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church. He is an immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism, within which he is also known as the Doctor Angelicus and the Doctor Communis. The name Aquinas identifies his ancestral origins in the county of Aquino in present-day Lazio, Italy.

The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" (10a) It implies that if moral authority must come from the gods it does not have to be good, and if moral authority must be good it does not have to come from the gods – a highly controversial idea at the time Socrates first presented it.

Natural law system of law that is purportedly determined by nature, and is thus universal; philosophy that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature endowed by "God" or another "Divine" source, and can be understood universally through human reason

Natural law is a philosophy asserting that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature, endowed by nature—traditionally by God or a transcendent source—and that these can be understood universally through human reason. As determined by nature, the law of nature is implied to be objective and universal; it exists independently of human understanding, and of the positive law of a given state, political order, legislature or society at large.

See also

Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms. Under an authoritarian regime, individual freedoms are subordinate to the state, and there is no constitutional accountability and no rule of law. Authoritarian regimes can be autocratic, with power concentrated in one person, or can be a committee, with power shared among officials and government institutions. The political scientist Juan Linz synthesized authoritarian political systems as possessing four qualities:

  1. Limited political pluralism, realized with legalistic constraints on the legislature, political parties, and interest groups;
  2. Political legitimacy based upon appeals to emotion, and identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat enemies of the people, socio-economic underdevelopment, and guerrilla insurgency;
  3. Minimal social mobilization consequent to legalistic constraints, such as political suppression of all anti-regime activities;
  4. Informally defined executive powers, which extend and allow government authority into every sphere of life.

The term formalism describes an emphasis on form over content or meaning in the arts, literature, or philosophy. A practitioner of formalism is called a formalist. A formalist, with respect to some discipline, holds that there is no transcendent meaning to that discipline other than the literal content created by a practitioner. For example, formalists within mathematics claim that mathematics is no more than the symbols written down by the mathematician, which is based on logic and a few elementary rules alone. This is as opposed to non-formalists, within that field, who hold that there are some things inherently true, and are not, necessarily, dependent on the symbols within mathematics so much as a greater truth. Formalists within a discipline are completely concerned with "the rules of the game," as there is no other external truth that can be achieved beyond those given rules. In this sense, formalism lends itself well to disciplines based upon axiomatic systems.

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups–mainly, although not exclusively, in religion–that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group often results from this tendency.


  1. Pojman, L. P. A Defense of Ethical Objectivism (p. 50).
  2. Aquinas & c. 1265–1274, 2a2ae 57.2.
  3. Aquinas & c. 1265–1274, 2a1ae 94.5.
  4. Aquinas & c. 1265–1274, 1a2ae 100.8.

Related Research Articles

Consequentialism class of ethical theories

Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.

Morality Differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are proper and those that are improper

Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper. Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with "goodness" or "rightness".

This Index of ethics articles puts articles relevant to well-known ethical debates and decisions in one place - including practical problems long known in philosophy, and the more abstract subjects in law, politics, and some professions and sciences. It lists also those core concepts essential to understanding ethics as applied in various religions, some movements derived from religions, and religions discussed as if they were a theory of ethics making no special claim to divine status.

Virtue ethics normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character

Virtue ethics are normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character. Virtue ethicists discuss the nature and definition of virtues and other related problems. These include how virtues are acquired, how they are applied in various real life contexts, and whether they are rooted in a universal human nature or in a plurality of cultures.

Descriptive ethics, also known as comparative ethics, is the study of people's beliefs about morality. It contrasts with prescriptive or normative ethics, which is the study of ethical theories that prescribe how people ought to act, and with meta-ethics, which is the study of what ethical terms and theories actually refer to. The following examples of questions that might be considered in each field illustrate the differences between the fields:

Ethics involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. A central aspect of ethics is "the good life", the life worth living or life that is simply satisfying, which is held by many philosophers to be more important than traditional moral conduct.

An ethical dilemma or ethical paradox is a decision-making problem between two possible moral imperatives, neither of which is unambiguously acceptable or preferable. The complexity arises out of the situational conflict in which obeying one would result in transgressing another. Sometimes called ethical paradoxes in moral philosophy, ethical dilemmas may be invoked to refute an ethical system or moral code, or to improve it so as to resolve the paradox.

Moral objectivism may refer to:

The Moderate objectivism account of moral principles is based on the ethics of Sir William David Ross (1877–1940). Moderate objectivism adheres to basic notions of the Natural Law Theory. W. D. Ross refers to these moderate objectivists' accounts of moral principles as “prima facie principles” which are valid rules of action that one should generally adhere to but, in cases of moral conflict, may be overridable by another moral principle, hence the moderation.

Secular ethics is a branch of moral philosophy in which ethics is based solely on human faculties such as logic, empathy, reason or moral intuition, and not derived from supernatural revelation or guidance—the source of ethics in many religions. Secular ethics refers to any ethical system that does not draw on the supernatural, and includes humanism, secularism and freethinking. A classical example of literature on secular ethics is the Kural text, authored by the ancient Tamil Indian philosopher Valluvar who lived during the 1st century BCE.

Ethical formalism is a type of ethical theory which defines moral judgments in terms of their logical form rather than their content. The term also often carries critical connotations. Kant, for example, has been criticized for defining morality in terms of the formal feature of being a "universal law", and then attempting to derive from this formal feature various concrete moral duties.

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concern matters of value, and thus comprise the branch of philosophy called axiology.

Objectivity is a philosophical concept of being true independently from individual subjectivity caused by perception, emotions, or imagination. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject. Scientific objectivity refers to the ability to judge without partiality or external influence, sometimes used synonymously with neutrality.

Dual process theory (moral psychology)

Dual process theory within moral psychology is an influential theory of human moral judgment that posits that human beings possess two distinct cognitive subsystems that compete in moral reasoning processes: one fast, intuitive and emotionally-driven, the other slow, requiring conscious deliberation and a higher cognitive load. Initially proposed by Joshua Greene along with Brian Sommerville, Leigh Nystrom, John Darley, Jonathan David Cohen and others, the theory can be seen as a domain-specific example of more general dual process accounts in psychology, such as Daniel Kahneman's "system1"/"system 2" distinction popularised in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Greene has often emphasized the normative implications of the theory, which has started an extensive debate in ethics.