In todays dynamic world there is much confusion about what is good and what is bad, as well as about the true nature of humans. Relativist philosophies are popular as never before because they enable people to embrace a diversity of ideas about morality. Proponents of such theories believe that such values as truth, morality and goodness can vary because they depend much on a vision of a certain cultural group or community. Because liberty is valued more than morality nowadays, tolerance to different versions of good is an attribute of our epoch. Yet, while it is possible to partially agree with this point of view, there is also a reason to agree with Platos theory, which claims that truth and goodness is objective in its nature and does not depend on external factors or cultures.
Indeed, even though in the contemporary world the diversity results in multiple visions and points of view, it appears that this diversity highlights the values which all people have in common. The relativist points of view are popular and date back to Protagoras who believed that any value is subjective because it is determined by an individual. So, when two different people are watching, they can find out different attributes about the same subjects because it is their personality that is reflected in their statements. In other words, people do not see the objects but they see themselves through these objects. Based on this observation, Protagoras makes an assumption that there cannot exist an objective truth or objective goodness because such judgments are created by people.
Plato does not agree with such a point of view, first of all because it places an individual as the highest creature in the universe. On the contrary, he believes that peoples knowledge is limited, as is their time, while there is much beyond who we are: our perception and intellect are subject to error, our point of view limits what we can apprehend or understand. Still, even though it is out of our understanding, we can form concepts of the infinite, whole, eternal, true universe ( Plato). This means that a persons mind is not only a place where an idea is born but also it can be a recipient of universal ideas that do not belong to humans. They may be called values of divine love, harmony, truth and goodness. When a person is honest with himself, it is easy to see the difference between relative and objective values of goodness. If we think relatively, such a thing as, for instance, murder can be justified under certain circumstances. If we think in terms of absolute morality, murder is an evil by default. Relativity means flexibility and compromise; it allows a person to adjust his or her views to a particular situation. It is true that it is more convenient to think relatively, yet absolute goodness deals with higher spiritual values.
Still, there is some controversy about absolute morality too because arguments arise, which values are universal. Looking at the definition, we find out the following information about it: Moral Universalism is the meta-ethical position that there is a universal ethic which applies to all people, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality or other distinguishing feature, and all the time...Moral Absolutism is the ethical belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are right or wrong, regardless of the context of the act (Moral Universalism. Moral Absolutism). So, the sense about goodness being absolute is having standards or guidelines which are common for all people. These are essential rules of a game under which harmony in society is kept, but it is not only about that. Unless there are high standards against which people can always check themselves, they tend to degrade morally without even noticing it. So, having absolute ethics rather than relative decisions allows a person to retain self-awareness of where he or she is on a moral scale.
Returning to Plato in this context, it should be noted that he gave a profound philosophical justification to his theory. Thus, he presented the model of the universe which is based on duality of the divine and the human, the one and many, soul and body, truth and appearance, permanent and changing, knowledge and opinion, etc. The second notions in these oppositions belong to the relative human reality, while the first ones are values which are absolute. It is impossible to reach the absolute for a human, but people have inborn goodness, which means that they want to look for God and universal truth. Because people are genuinely good, they tend to want the universal goodness but the problem is that the values are twisted by human society. Or, the case may be that a person was brought up in the environment where wrong values were planted. So, according to Plato, there are no bad people but there are wrong beliefs and lack of knowledge. Philosophys role in this context is to give access to knowledge about the universal moral standards to people and make them behave according to these standards.
All things considered, it should be noted that the idea about universal truth and goodness of people is quite convincing. Even though relativism is popular today, the belief about absolute morality sets higher standards for people and makes them more responsible for their actions.
- Moral Universalism - By Branch / Doctrine - The Basics of Philosophy
- Great Philosophers: Plato II - Objective Values