Ghandi once said ‘morality is the basis of all things and truth is the substance of all morality’ (‘Mahatma Gandhi Quotes’ 2019). Among the beliefs of man is the inclination toward certain fixed, unalterable moral truths. These absolute moral truths, as they are known, are meant to dictate the actions of people. These truths have been posited by way of natural law, divine command, or (less likely) contractarianism. Natural law would dictate that there are basic unconditional moral principles that exist for human conduct. Divine command would suggest that these principles are God given commandments. Contractarianism suggests a social contract is responsible for these truths (through active government or political authority). Regardless, knowing these moral truths should cause a person to act in accordance with concepts such as do no steal, do not lieand do not kill. These are immutable facts which have no leniency regardless of circumstance. The human condition, however, does not appear to follow these facts. While it is within human nature to understand these concepts, fallibility often precludes them. Even knowing what is right, humans tend to act towards their own ends. Simply put, people are inclined to understand these truths to an extent though they do not always act in such a manner or follow them. Often, humans act out of self interest leading to the degradation of these principles. One doesn’t have to look far to see the violation of these principles. Officials put in powerful positions in public office often get there through deceit. This has been common practice throughout history in political and religious realms. Even when evidence isprovided to divulge such indiscretions, it is often discounted.Yet, these are the people in which we place our trust and set the standards for human interaction.
Sometimes, the human condition denies these truths in manners of law as well. Though we know through these standards it is not right to kill, laws are created for lethal injection and abortion. Stealing is considered illegal, yet certain standards in the legal system are placed upon this concept providing leeway. Even lying (defamation and slander) has certain circumstances where it can be deemed legal or illegal.These truths may be absolute, but the laws made regarding these standards are often flexible.
Where absolute moral truths are concerned, humans cannot perfectly fulfill the stringent conditions set within them. This is because they are imperfectly fallible. People err in judgment and action. However, these truths can and are guidelines that provide people with a direction which they should be following. They are a way to strive for ultimate happiness even if it cannot ever be attained. Thomas Aquinas suggested that with intellectual and moral values we could achieve happiness. However, Aquinas believed that this would never be fully possible or actualized in this life (‘Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy’). He may be right in his proposal. Plato provides a similar description to Aquinas with an allegory. In this Plato details a life where man is shackled in a cave where a fire is burning casting shadows from statues on the wall. What the men believe they are seeing is reality but when let of the cave they understand that these statues were pale imitations of the reality. Looking at the sun they begin to understand this and can see real truth. According to Plato, man must now go back to the cave to help spread this truth and good to other citizens (‘Plato’s Allegory’). In this allegory Plato suggests that the human condition is forever bound by our own senses and we probably will never break free from it. There is truth ,but it is unlikely that a person can ever come out of the sun and fully escape their conditions to arrive at these truths.
Moral Relativists go as far as to suggest that there are no absolute moral truths and that they are subjective based upon a person’s standpoint. Such people would state that morals may be subjective and based upon cultural differences, preference, or differing views. Just as Greek philosopher Protagoras proclaimed that everything is relative to individual experience and judgment, relativists base the understanding of beliefs upon the individual person instead of set universal standards.Existentialists like Soren Kierkegaard also suggest that each individual is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it sincerely. To the existentialist there are no set standards which encompass the whole for people to follow. Philosopher Paul Feyerabend stated that ‘The only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths’ (‘Top 25 Quotes’). This, however, fails to understand basic precepts which all humans understand to be true. If there were no absolute standards which humans were to live by, then people would act upon the ideas to steal, lie and kill on any such given occasion that they choose. Laws which violate these truths would not be created and enforced to seek judgment. These truths are transcendent. These standards are ingrained in human nature. This can be evidenced throughsimilar laws and customs found across a vast majority of cultures which seek to make people adhere to the values of these truths. People understand these to be truths even if they do not always act in accordance with them.
Some justification can be found in not following fixed moral truths. Even St. Augustine admitted that under some circumstances there must be some latitude. Augustine understood the theory of just war in which it was necessary to kill others in defense of innocents. He also alluded to times under severe circumstance where lying may be necessary, such as if a person was hiding another from persecution (Heyking, 2018). A fairly recent example of this being the hiding of Jewish people during the Holocaust. Similarly, there are times when stealing may be necessary in an act of desperation. For instance, if a person is starving and destitute they may steal food. Moral truth would suggest that stealing even for good reason is wrong and the laws which surround this argument may agree. However, in an imperfect world it is hardly unimaginable and unjustifiably immoral.
There is little doubt that absolute truths exist regardless of certain schools of thought. However, people will never be able to fully adhere to the standards provided by absolute moral truths. Humans are pliable and inconsistent in their actions. Such is the human condition. There is virtue in striving to attain these truths. There is substance in laws created to adhere to these standards. Given certain circumstances there is good in the inconsistency of humans when it comes to these absolute truths. These Moral standards should guide the basic moral compass of humanity. However, adherence to these absolutes is not logically suited for human nature. Much like Plato and Thomas Aquinas suggested, absolute moral truths will fully never be actualized.