Recently I listened to a dramatic, scripted dialogue between Peter Kreeft and a student on the topic of objective morality. Using the Socratic method of inquiry, and posing as Socrates himself, Kreeft critically evaluates the arguments for moral relativism—and in so doing, argues for an objective moral standard of values. In addition to the arguments often advanced against relativism and for objectivism, Kreeft had a few points worthy of sharing:
1. When you argue that some moral value X ought to be followed and a relativist responds by saying, “You should not impose your morality on me,” they are assuming moral relativism is true (not to mention imposing their own moral point of view on you as if their moral point of view has a universal application independent of one’s personal preference, and thus they are guilty of committing the very “error” for which they accuse you). Point out to them that if moral realism is true (as you claim), then X is not “my value” but “our value,” and you can no more impose them on the relativist than you can impose gravity on them. Both are objective features of reality that impose themselves on us. You are not imposing these moral values on others, but merely drawing their attention to what already exists. Objective moral values impose themselves on us in the form of moral commands and obligations.
2. If moral values have no objective existence, then we can’t even have opinions about morality since opinions are always about something. If there are no moral values, then there is nothing about which to opine. In the absence of real moral values, the only thing left about which to opine is our own personal feelings and preferences. But if moral values are just a running commentary on someone’s personal feelings and preferences, why should I submit my preferences to your own? Why should I care about your own personal preferences or feelings if it is not in my best interest to do so?
3. Ask the relativist whether it is better to be tolerant or its opposite (intolerant). If they say it is better to be tolerant, point out that such assumes an objective standard of morality by which they can adjudicate between the two. If they say it is not better to be tolerant than its opposite, then ask them why they are promoting tolerance over intolerance. Is it because they simply prefer tolerance to intolerance? Why should I conform my preferences to their preferences if preferences are king?
4. If there is no objective morality, then we are consigned to constructing (at least some of) our own moral values. It makes sense to ask, however, what kind of moral values we will construct. If we say “good moral values” then we are invoking an objective moral standard by which we can judge whether our moral values are good or not. But if such an objective moral standard exists prior to our construction of moral values, then there is no meaningful sense in which we can say we are constructing moral values since moral values already exist prior to and independent of our construction. If we bite the bullet and admit that the values we construct are neither good nor evil until after we invest them with moral meaning, then good and evil are wholly arbitrary. Personal and or social preferences are not binding, but norms that can be jettisoned if one prefers to do so (and is willing to pay the social consequences for doing so). Arbitrary moral values can be created and discarded at will on a whim.