moral relativism

The Relativity of Morality

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I made a post recently about how we can define morality. In the post I was discussing the idea that morality is different depending on the person, the situation and what information that person has available to them, as well as what that person honestly thinks is right or just.

Today I was thinking again about this issue of morality and thinking about how everyone is on a different journey, they understand the world in a different way, have access to certain information and perhaps may be on a different path, or at a different point in their life journey compared to other people.

In the previous article I discussed whether murder was always morally wrong, and what I meant by that was whether or not a murderer was essentially evil for committing murder, or whether they themselves might have thought they were justified in doing so. Even if its the later, that opens up a new question about evil and where it comes from and where it resides, but thats for another article.

What I wanted to discuss today was taking these moral dilemmas to a less dramatic end of the spectrum. I was thinking about a recent event where a parking warden issued a fine to someone parked illegally, but whilst they did so, the owner of the vehicle was actually present still. Rather than discussing the contravention with the vehicle owner, and perhaps asking them to move along, the parking warden positioned themselves at the other end of the vehicle and issued the ticket without the owner seeing them. By the time the owner noticed the parking warden, the ticket had already been issued and it was too late to protest. It struck me in this situation that the parking attendant wanted to issue the ticket – that was their priority over say, preventing the law from being broken, or keeping the roadside clear, and in order to do that they made sure the owner did not have an opportunity to prevent the ticket from being issued. I am assuming as well that the parking attendant would get a commission for issuing the ticket which would mean they acting to benefit themselves in favor of benefiting someone else.

Personally I would not do this, were I in the same situation. I would feel guilty that I had created a benefit for myself to the detriment of someone else. I feel like this is in a way stealing karma. Or stealing good fortune. Instead I would rather have sacrificed the commission from the parking fine, in favor of informing the vehicle owner they were parked illegally. Thus saving them from a fine whilst also bettering the community by educating this person on the rules of parking and keeping the roadside clear by moving them along.

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However, I was thinking about whether or not the parking warden was morally in the wrong? Just because I found it to contravene my morals, does that mean its morally wrong for everyone else? And even if we decided as a race that this type of thing was wrong, although it would then become ethically wrong, would it become morally wrong? And furthermore, even if it was agreed upon that the action was morally wrong, if the parking warden thought he was acting in good faith – at the time he pointed out that he was upholding the law and that the owner had a chance to read the signs and not break the law in the first place – would they have been morally in the wrong still?

This once again draws on my previous article, and my thoughts, that morality is in the eye of the beholder as it were. In other words, morality is something that we all decide upon by ourselves, using the information that we have to hand. Sometimes we might have a reason to justify what we think is right, and that reason might be valid even if an onlooker does not understand it or is not aware of it. Sometimes we might hold a believe that the average onlooker would not agree with – this might be a situation where we are yet to learn how our actions are actually unjust.

For the later argument – if we simply do not understand or appreciate how or why our actions are morally wrong, then its down to ignorance rather than deliberate malice. Would or should someone be persecuted for that? I don’t think so. In this type of situation I think it just means we are still on a journey of understanding. Then I thought about the punishing of people who commit unjust acts in this vain – if someone is on a journey, they don’t yet realize that an action is morally wrong, or how it badly affects others, should they be punished for this? Should the parking warden receive abuse for their actions? Should a criminal be “punished” for their actions if they acted without understanding the implications? Or should they both perhaps be educated by others who perhaps have already walked that path and learned the lesson, or by others who already have more information available to them and are able to appreciate those acts are morally wrong?

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