Throughout my teaching life I fought an ongoing battle with ethical relativism. My job was to help young people take possession on their own minds: to help them learn how to think. But everywhere I turned in the ethical domain I ran into the mindless question “Who’s to say?” In ethics, so it is said, it’s all a matter of opinion. You have yours and I have mine — and mine are just as true as yours or even Plato’s. So I heard. It’s difficult to get people to think about things when an easy escape is ready at hand: “that’s just your opinion.”
Surely the events of the past few weeks and months — if not the past four years — have taught us something about ethics and the notion that it’s all a “matter of opinion.” We have been witness to a series of events involving the violation of most, if not all, of the basic ethical and religious values that have sustained us as a people for centuries. Lies, violence, bigotry, hatred — the list goes on.
And it is precisely the ethical principles involved here that are at the heart of the matters: principles such as respect for persons and fairness, universal ethical principles that separate us from the other animals who act purely on instinct.
One would think that having endured the travesties of recent months we would have learned that there are things that matter, things that go beyond simply my opinion or yours. We have lived through the reductio ad absurdum of ethical relativism. here are things that matter, things that make us “civilized” and take us out of ourselves and into the lives of others where we find there are things that can be done to make the world a better place — and displace the hatred and fear that have haunted us of late.
Or so one would think.