I have been trying to find any argument against this statement:

As good and bad can't be objectively defined because everyone has a different vision about what's good and what's bad, it becomes that good and bad things for person A could be bad and good things for person B (good for A is bad for B and vice versa). So good and bad number of definitions are as extensive as population itself.

This implies that what's bad for most of the people (raping, homicide...) could be seen as good in certain circumstances for somebody and think they are doing the correct thing. Then, you can not say that person is "bad" if you could certainly know he considers his acts purely good. All you could say is that he is "bad" the way you consider good and bad things.

For example, imagine that in the year 1944, there is a nazi soldier who really thinks killing Jews is the right thing. Imagine he feels like he's doing the right thing (much as you would if you gave a sandwich to a homeless person). Then that nazi soldier could be a bad person for you, but you couldn't state he is actually bad because he's not conscious about doing anything wrong. Only by changing his vision of morality he could think he had acted bad.

  • 1
    Your argument pre-supposes moral relativism to come up with a conclusion about moral definitions within the moral relativist framework. In this sense, your argument is right. However, if (you weren't specific so I cannot tell) you are asking about whether this argument is in general true, well that depends on whether moral relativism is true -- and that is very controversial (and off topic on the philosophy SE since we ask questions about ideas not debate whether certain philosophical schools are more valid).
    – Cicero
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 17:17
  • Your second paragraph is a little circular (using your conclusion about moral definitions to re-affirm moral relativism), though it could be interpreted as giving a take on what calling someone "good" or "bad" means in a moral relativistic framework.
    – Cicero
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 17:24
  • 1
    I still don't understand the very first claim that is so central to relativism. Why does the fact that we interpret reality differently from individual to individual entail anything about the reality itself? The point, in philosophy, is not in that we interpret things differently, but in which interpretation is correct. That every human conceives some thing about morality is suggestive that there is in fact an objective right and wrong, at least in some capacity. I could just as well say that the wondering about the reality of morality is as extensive as the population.
    – Jecko
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 17:29
  • 1
    Furthermore, that there are constants consistent throughout nearly every conception of morality (that some things are in fact well for a person while other things are not) suggests that it is not as distinctive between persons as you might believe. Why focus on the differences when we could just as well point out the similarities as support for the reality of morality that subsists externally and internally?
    – Jecko
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 17:31
  • Well thanks for your comments. I was just wondering for something to put in doubt my statement. I had a friendly argue with a friend long time ago and I couldn't find a way to tell moralism hasn't to be by force relativist and independent of someone's thoughts, even if they are logically wrong. So I'm not trying to begin a debate with this post but just ask why what I has hasn't to be true for sure. I'm not a philosopher by profession, I just like it for personal interest
    – Felix L.
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 19:22

4 Answers 4


This view relies on an assumption that morality assements are only a function of the moral sentiments of each of the "actors" individually -- in any sensible moral system the sentiments of all sides of the interactions need to be considered. If I give a sandwich to a homeless person he/she (presumably) wants it, and will benefit in physical terms (have better nutrition). If I kill someone because of their religion or ethinicity, they do not want that, and suffer in physical terms. The morality of an individual's actions aren't judged in a vacuum, they need to be judged in relation the other people that are affected.

  • So one might think he is acting good (or bad) but can never know the real moralty of his actions because you can never know all the circumstances being involved (maybe that homeless person is a psycopath) and not gfeeding him might jeep him weak so a victim can escape... just an example
    – Felix L.
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 14:08
  • In this sense, to judge properly the moralty of an action you must know all the consequences (direct and indirect) it will have in the future?
    – Felix L.
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 14:11
  • @Krotanix if "judge properly" means being certain about the global consequences, then yes you need a lot of information. If the definition of "judge properly" is more modest, e.g. being fairly certain about the immediately foreseeable consequences of the action, then the knowledge burden is correspondingly lower.
    – Dave
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 16:49

As other have suggested, your question about moral relativism has a long history in philosophy engaging many of humanity's best minds and "souls."

The most famous, and still compelling, response is Kant's "categorical imperative." This is basically a reasoned, logical formalization of the golden rule. When you don't know "why" it's wrong, your parents say: "What if everyone did that?" That is the essence of Kant's moral arguments. Today, we also have more empirical "genetic" explanations of why a moral consensus works "for the species."

None of this is proof against extreme skepticism. But extreme skepticism carried out logically regresses into solipsism. And we can argue from instinct or intuition that we simply "know" we are born among "others" and never pure isolate "individuals."

Because one cannot "prove" a positive case against moral relativism, I like the "via negativa"offered by such disparate logics as Buddhism and Hobbes. You can only assess the "good" by the negative of obvious "suffering." We can agree it is, say, "not good" to be burned alive, etc.

Having said that, the flaw in the argument you cite is related to "objective" and "individual opinions" being somehow mutually exclusive. Without recourse to some external arbitrator or "god," the average of "opinions" is our best definition of "objective." The more "opinions"the more "objective" we can get.


It is somewhat valid because we see differences in moral beliefs and cultures, which we see in real life. This is, by definition, what moral relativism is:

Most often it [moral relativism] is associated with an empirical thesis that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements and a metaethical thesis that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to the moral standard of some person or group of persons. -Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Science has somewhat proven moral relativism. A study shows that we are predisposed to certain moral beliefs thanks to our genes the moment we are born, so our own genes play a part in people having different senses of right and wrong. That being said, there is an issue with this statement - just because your morality is subjective, what evidence you use to back it up isn't.

For example, imagine that in the year 1944, there is a nazi soldier who really thinks killing Jews is the right thing. Imagine he feels like he's doing the right thing (much as you would if you gave a sandwich to a homeless person). Then that nazi soldier could be a bad person for you, but you couldn't state he is actually bad because he's not conscious about doing anything wrong. Only by changing his vision of morality he could think he had acted bad.

Technically you could say that, but you have to look at why he thought he was morally justified to do that and whether his justifications disagree with empirical evidence or are contradictory. Many Nazis tried to use claims that Jews were controlling the media through secret Zionist groups. This moral argument goes against what we know about reality, especially during World War II Germany. Same thing with pseudoscientific 'scientific racism' that Hitler tried to use as evidence. So you can still, as a culture, view a person a wrong or incorrect because while the Nazis are free to have their own moral beliefs, the logic utilized to back up these beliefs don't hold up to inquiry.

Allegation: Relativism entails that we have no way to criticize Hitler.

Response: First of all, Hitler’s actions were partially based on false beliefs, rather than values (‘scientific’ racism, moral absolutism, the likelihood of world domination). Second, the problem with Hitler was not that his values were false, but that they were pernicious. Relativism does not entail that we should tolerate murderous tyranny. When someone threatens us or our way of life, we are strongly motivated to protect ourselves. -Philosopher Jesse Prinz in Morality: Nature or Culture?

Also, as some have mentioned, moral relativism is used by many philosophers to talk about entire cultural groups, not individuals. This is called descriptive moral relativism:

Descriptive Moral Relativism (DMR). As a matter of empirical fact, there are deep and widespread moral disagreements across different societies, and these disagreements are much more significant than whatever agreements there may be.

With this, you can argue that we, as a culture, can judge the Nazis, especially individual Nazis in our culture breaking our collective sense of right and wrong. Finally, a moral relativist can still disagree with amorality, moral hypocrisy (their actions or methods in harming a Jewish person in someway contradicts some part of their moral code they claim to follow) and moral absolutism (the belief that your culture's sense of morality should be the right morality for all of humanity and any deviations should be removed), so a Nazi doing these actions because they reject morality as a whole or believe everyone in the world should fully conform to their sense of right & wrong, then even a moral relativist can argue that the Nazi is a 'bad' guy and/or objectively wrong with how they defend their moral code.


It's valid. Morality is subjective. But this isn't compelling--there is no need to argue the point. Instead, consider that reasonable expectations for what consequences presumed bad behavior will bring are objective. Regardless of whether two people agree on the morality of a particular act, likely consequences can be leveraged to compel behavior in one way or the other. The fact that objective and subjective moral positions are indistinguishable is really of no consequence.

  • I am not exactly clear on what you are saying here. But you must know that your "consequentialist" view is hardly inarguable. Kant's famous "deontic" response was that a utilitarian morality based on "likely outcomes" must demonstrate a method for determining exactly what is "most likely." Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 2:30
  • There is no need to to determine exactly what is most likely. It's only necessary to determine what a reasonable person would believe is most likely with the information available. This is compelling enough.
    – JJBee
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 4:17
  • 1
    Stack Exchange is not a network for exchanging opinions, but rather factual information. This answer essentially isn't more than stating your opinion. Please improve this question by providing references to philosophers supporting your theory, or delete your answer. For more information, see this meta post.
    – user2953
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 6:48
  • the opinions of philosophers arent factual. morality is subjective by definition--thats a fact. and in practice, this is the case: you cant cite a single moral position that is demonstrably objective.
    – JJBee
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .