Moral Relativity

David Brooks (of the NYTimes) has taken to the net today to bemoan the loss of morals in “young people”.

He’s read a study in which the young people say horrifying things to the interviewers like:

“It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”


“I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.”

Yeah, I know, I’m shocked.

He goes on to claim that the results say,

…they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.

Gasp! Degrading behaviors! Cats and Dogs living together, mass hysteria!

He concludes:

A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.

I don’t know about you, but I’m proud that kids that age aren’t blindly and forcefully shoving their morals down the throat of anyone within stuffing range. I hope they’ll grow into adults that hold true the insane idea that everyone has their own moral standards, carefully considered through their experience and acquired knowledge.


5 Responses to “Moral Relativity”

  1. I once saw a great blog post addressing this kind of thing (long since cleared from my bookmarks; I have no idea where it was).

    The author posted loads of similar headlines from the late 1930s, along with snippets of op-eds from then—almost identical to Brooks’s, allowing for topical allusions. Then at the end, they just asked one question: “Who do you think fought the war against Hitler?”

  2. hmmm…i guess that’s okay too, but as i have learned from one wise commenter on one of my posts, subjective truth can be dangerous. if people just go for what they feel and if there is no real standard for morality, then society might crumble. but then again on the other hand, if we just follow a single standard, there would be no room for free thinking. it’s a mixed-up reality isn;t it?thanks for posting!

  3. Good point, Daz, I like that.

  4. John,

    I think there’s a vast difference between realizing that other people have their own moral standards, and the breakdown of society.

    None of the young people advocated breaking the law. A lack of laws would theoretically lead to society crumbling, though I expect we are evolutionarily selected to create societies, so there would be another along presently.

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