argument top image

Is morality relative?
Back to question

Morality shifts depending on the context

It's wrong to lie-but what if you're doing so to save a life? On an individual level, what we consider "good" or "bad" changes depending on the situation we're in.

The Argument

In a world characterized by gray areas, attempts to make morality black-and-white are fruitless. We can support any number of moral maxims, from “thou shalt not kill” to “live and let live,” but it’s easy to poke holes in them when we think about situations where they would be rendered inapplicable. For example, most people would agree that theft is wrong-but what about stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family? We also consider killing as wrong, but what if it's in self-defense? Torture is wrong-but what if it’s to further the “right side” of a just war? The same questions can be asked to probe actions we consider good. Telling the truth is good-but what if the truth leads to unnecessary pain? Being loyal is good-but what if the object of your fidelity is corrupt? In light of examples like these, it becomes clear that morality is not absolute. It shifts constantly, depending on the specific circumstances each person finds him- or herself in. What’s wrong in one moment may be right the next, and vice versa. In this way, we can see that morality is far from static, and that to subscribe to rigid moral rules is to accept an idealistic oversimplification of a patently complex world. Not only do right and wrong vary across time and culture, but on a smaller scale, they vary from situation to situation.

Counter arguments

Naturally, there are exceptions to moral rules but that doesn’t mean we should deny the rules’ existence entirely. Claims like “lying is always wrong” are true in a broad sense, if not applicable to every situation.



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 17:53 UTC

Explore related arguments