No moral absolutes, relative values, genocide ok, and biological determination

Hello all,

A person I’m in debate with refuses to believe that there are moral absolutes. Any attempts (a) to point out how consistent morality is across humanity or (b) to point out that sometimes one good trait is more highly valued than another (eg mercy being highly valued now, bravery being more highly valued before) results in her saying, “See, morality is all just relative and made up by culture.”

Additionally, she holds that we’re all just working off our environmental stimuli and that our responses are predetermined based on our biology. So, she doesn’t really believe in right and wrong or that anyone is responsible for what they do. She further believes that people can’t be held responsible if they’re just following their culture which made up their values which isn’t based on absolute values since those “don’t exist.”

When asked if everything is ok and nothing is wrong, including genocide and such, she just said yes, that she could not say they were wrong since right and wrong don’t exist. She believes there is no significance to humanity since they’re just material and material has no value.

What type of dialogue do you think you’d use to engage with someone like that? Quick summary: nothing has any significance, accepts the consequence that it includes humanity, thinks there are no moral absolutes, and thinks that we’re biologically determined to do what we do (no will).

“Why does that person stay alive?” She claims that the things around her have “relative significance.” When pressed, she says their real value is zero, but they have “relative value” to her, and it doesn’t bother her.

Personally, I believe she knows that it’s just a lie to avoid responsibility and the obvious consequences of God, religion, etc. If I’m wrong though, it seems like she’s a sociopath who doesn’t commit crimes just because it’s not her particular whim at the moment.

Somewhat embarrassing, “determinism” is what I should have had in the title. Oops.

I am not sure that morality has been consistent throughout history. Take for example, the morality of slavery. Buying and selling people at auctions was done and even clergy “owned” slaves.

I think that much of humanity agrees with morality more than we disagree. Name for me a society that valued lying and frowned upon truth. Or a society that praised cowardice and discouraged courage.

Just in case someone wants to respond with something like “North Korea (or some such other country) lies all the time, etc.” I’m not saying that some people don’t lie, or that some people aren’t cowards. But find me a civilization that values lying as lying. Or that values cowardice in virtue of it being cowardice. The very fact that such people are attempting to disguise a lie as truth, or claim that an act of cowardice really wasn’t that bad after all, suggests that there really is something good in honesty and courage and bad in lying and cowardice. If there wasn’t, then why the need to attempt to disguise the bad things as being good?

To the OP, when the person you’re discussing things with says that all of our behavior is simply a response to environmental stimuli, point out the problems that this leads to in regard to our human rationality. This link is a good start:

In a nutshell, ask her how if, all our responses (including our thoughts) are only responses to environmental stimuli (as a result of evolution), why should we believe that these thoughts are true? Remember, evolution can only select for survival value (or, more specifically, reproduction value), and what is good for survival is not necessarily what is also true. The problem becomes even more acute when she says that we’re all just ‘material’. If this is true, than all of our thoughts are due to material, non-rational, blind causes. As C.S. Lewis puts it - “[our thoughts are] just one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief’s occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?”

If she believes that we’re all just ‘material’, then she doesn’t believe that because she sees that she has good grounds to do so. She believes in it because the atoms in her brain happened to behave in such a way that the belief would be formed, regardless of if the belief is true or not. And if she would believe that regardless of if the belief is true or false, then why in the world should you believe that it is true?

Universal agreement that something is wrong does not make it absolute.

If you don’t understand that, then this thread will go nowhere.

Everything is relative (excepts this very statement, this is is the true absolute truth).

Relativists are so ridiculous because they use an absolute statement to measure anything.

The argument is simple, really.

Just take (steal) her phone, her wallet and/or her car – just because you can and anyway, it’s not wrong to do these things. She herself told you it isn’t wrong. Explain to her how you were biologically pre-disposed to do these things and/or how your actions are a result of your terrible childhood/ upbringing. You couldn’t help yourself.

Then watch how quickly she switches to “that wasn’t right, that wasn’t fair, that was evil, etc.” And watch how quickly she demands “justice” and “accountability” – as she tells you she really doesn’t care about your brain chemistry, biological disposition or your childhood – and that is no excuse for the “wrong” you have done to her.

Simple, really. Her “no moral absolutes/ everything is relative” will melt away like a snowball in the Amazon rain forest. And no, I am not suggesting theft or robbery. I am writing to prove a point. It is all “relative” and “anything goes” until it is you and your loved ones. Then morality “lost” is instantly and miraculously morality “found”.

Buying and selling people still goes on today. Slavery exists now.


This is an excellent post. If there is no right or wrong and no Justice, then the murder of 6 million Jews is of no more significance than wiping the mud off of your shoe before you go inside. It is all so obvious until it happens to you.

That’s kind of the problem. She admits that her response to anything that would hurt her or those around her are just biological responses that she’s been conditioned to have. Those things (including her life) just have what she calls “relative value.”

Isn’t the statement “there are no moral absolutes” itself a morally absolute statement?


We all need food, clothing, heat, light and transportation. Relative is relativism but our own biology needs to be maintained or we die shortly after.


Definitely is, but she’ll ignore the significance of it by saying “it just is. There’s nothing special about it.” (Like I said in the original post, it’s pretty plain to me this is a lie that she holds on to to avoid consequence while having a meaning to live, even if she admits that her understanding has no significance)

And it headed off in exactly that direction.

Would you say that truth is absolute?

Do clergy do this openly and publicly without reprimand today? Today there is opposition from the Church against slavery.

What does absolute mean? what does truth mean?

Obviously nothing, but the media is feeding us propaganda about what to do, how to live and all kinds of things. Purpose: to convince us to do them.

"Pope Benedict XVI goes on to say:

We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires. The church must defend itself against threats such as “radical individualism” and “vague religious mysticism”. [emphasis added]

Source: The Practical Catholic

Nothing is for certain so if you want (referring to no one in particular), paint yourself yellow and do bird calls.


If “absolute” and “truth” mean nothing, then what is this thread all about?

I would say that something is ‘true’ if it represents a real aspect of reality, for lack of a better word.

Something is absolute if it is not relative, that is, if it applies equally to everyone.

I think what most people would mean when they say that morality is absolute is that a certain action is right/wrong, regardless of your opinion on the matter. For example, murder is wrong, even if the murderer thinks that they are right.