Moral Realism and Tolerance

Hereabouts I have caught wind of the opinion that belief in an objective moral reality can make people intolerant. (Note: that would not prove there is no objective morality. It might argue for hushing up its existence, however.)

Here are some reasons why this need not be the case. (You will note some overlap here with the recent abortion post: I was thinking about these things together, in fact.)

1) Good people often make bad decisions: we are all sinners! If I want my sins forgiven, I ought to show similar tolerance for others.

2) The fact that one believes that there is an objective moral reality does not mean one thinks one has unique, infallible access to that reality. I suspect that what some people who get upset about an assertion of moral realism are really upset about is the idea that if someone thinks there is a moral reality, and that s / he has it perfectly mapped out, that person can become extremely intolerant. But one can be a moral realist while being humble about one's own understanding of that reality.

3) Using force to compel moral behavior can, at times, produce even worse results than the original immorality. That is why, contrary to what you might have guessed, although I am anti-abortion, I don't think it should be outlawed, given the current climate of opinion.


  1. Unfortunately the loudest of those that profess to believe in moral realism often forget 2, so you can't always blame the relativists for thinking we're crazy.

    I've thought a fair amount about your final point, and I can't agree with you. If it were up to me, I wouldn't prosecute mother's who aborted, but I would toss abortionists in and throw away the key. Abortion, properly understood, isn't too far from suicide in terms of the amount of spiritual damage required to make it seem like a good idea. While this does not remove guilt, jail time won't protect anyone and would likely cause further damage to the soul. Tossing abortionists in jail would protect people.

    I understand that the climate of opinion cannot be discounted in the decision. This story was an eye-opener:

    Estimated 500K illegal abortions a year in Argentina (population 40M), vs. 800K in US. Is a law no one listens to worse than no law at all? But then I heard TLP: what do they want to be true? So I would have to assume the pressure on the reported number of abortions is upward. I don't know the answer to how much influence public opinion should have on this, but ceding authority to public opinion is definitely social construct morality.

  2. "Unfortunately the loudest of those that profess to believe in moral realism often forget 2, so you can't always blame the relativists for thinking we're crazy."



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