Why Is a Transcendent Moral Standard Necessary? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Picking up the argument from part 1, let’s recap. When we make moral judgments, we just take for granted that our judgments apply regardless of time period, place, or even species. Another way to say this is that our moral judgments transcend time, place, and species.

If this is true, then it seems to follow that the moral values to which we appeal when we make moral judgments must also transcend time, place, and species. If not, then our moral judgments would be nonsensical.

If moral values are dependent upon time periods, then we could not possibly make moral judgments that cross time periods, for each time period would be characterized by a different set of moral values.

For example, perhaps a moral value of ancient Rome was that women do not have the same legal rights as men. But today, at least in western civilization, we believe that men and women should have the same legal rights. If moral values are time dependent, then we cannot rationally criticize ancient Rome’s mistreatment of women.

Likewise, if moral values are dependent on place, then I, as an American, could not possibly make moral judgments about the actions of people living in places outside the US. I cannot criticize China or North Korea for human rights abuses, because they possess a different set of moral values than mine. To compare American values to Chinese values would be comparing apples to oranges.

If moral values are based solely upon human nature, then we could not possibly make moral judgments about intelligent, non-human agents. For example, criticizing the God of the Bible for acting immorally would be totally irrational if moral values were tied solely to human nature.

If aliens ever populated the earth and forced humans to be involuntary slaves, we could not complain that they are acting immorally toward us, as they would be working with a different set of moral values than ours. We might claim that we don’t like the way they’re treating us, but we could not say that they are acting immorally.

It seems, then, that if we take our common, every-day moral judgments seriously, we must posit a set of moral values that transcends time, place, and species. Any ontological theory which claims that the source of moral values is tied to time, place, or the human species would fail to account for the way we make moral judgments, a serious problem that should cause us to abandon that theory.