Practical Moral Relativism

Hey yall, first post, dropping this TLDR brain dump to test the room, lol

So I’m betting a lot of Atheists have kinda gone through a similar thing, raised Christian (Christian-Mormon, specifically), thought that god would appreciate me questioning him whereas other people didn’t think so, and ended up landing on the idea that people can define god as whatever initiated the universe – whether it be brahma, jesus, or natural forces – but the actual characterization of what the initiating factor is actually like is what no one can agree on. I’ve come to think about why monotheism has become so popular, and my main hypothesis is that it’s because, in polytheism, people are arguing about which gods are included and which are the best, but in monotheism, people can always say they ‘believe in the same god’ but just ‘disagree on some of the specific traits of that one god’.

For the purposes of morality, I feel that the initiating factor(s) of the universe (probably just crazy maths, 0/0) have not made clear any type of preferences on how we live in that this ‘personal god’ that so many people believe in just allows people to parody and impersonate it without any interjection (whereas I feel that most people would have a preference against being impersonated, at least to their children…? if we are talking about how the Christian god is characterized).

So Practical Moral Relativism. Ultimately, I see morality as being derived from three different factors: priorities, information/education (the information that is held by a person at the time of an action, including experiences), and assessment of authority (that people will act in a way that seems virtuous to whom/what they believe will have the most influence over their ability to thrive).

The way I see it, even if you tell someone that killing is wrong, if they believe that it would benefit their priority, neither telling them nor god will convince them not to do it because why would they choose to benefit people that they care less about? For example, let’s say someone can’t afford a necessary treatment for their child (whom we are assuming is their highest priority in this example, and they love their child more than any person or god they may believe in), but they believe that they could steal the money and get away with it (that the assessment of the authority becomes a non-issue), why would someone choose not to steal the money? Why would they value someone that means nothing to them over their child (that we assume matters to them)? Why would I, a person that they care less about, be an influential opinion in their decision? If they know no other way to get the money they need (the education/information is not a factor that can be considered), it would seem that it’s only for my own personal emotional satisfaction to punish them with jail or beatings for stealing the money because it neither decreases the likelihood that they will see it necessary to steal money in the future in order to serve their priorities, nor does it inherently pay the victim back money just to see them rot or hurt.

Similarly, no matter how much we tell people it is moral to do the right thing, that doesn’t really tell them what the right thing may be in their situation. If we said it’s wrong to kill to a person, and then hypothetically put others in a situation that could be fatal with that person having a red button that says ‘let the people go free’ and a green button that says ‘make them suffer’ in a language they don’t understand, no amount of human free will will be able to magically allow them to know which button they should press. No matter how much they care about human life, their overwhelming urge to help those people will never be able to transcend their inability to figure out the ‘right answer’ by speaking a language they’ve never been exposed to before.

Practical Moral Relativism is the idea that people are going to do whatever they want, regardless of human laws or god’s morality, in favor of their priorities, information, and assessment of authority and that it is much more likely for people to regard anyone else’s morality is being wrong than it is for people to change their priorities for those who are lower on the list. It does acknowledge that people will act in a way they would generally not act if there is a threat of authority (person, group, or perceived force), but it also suggests that people will go against those actions if they think they can get away with it (and that their adherence to the authority is in relationship to the effects they think it will have on their priorities).

So this brings me to the idea of responsibility. Many cultures, specifically governments and religions, call responsibility ‘responsibility’ and that people should pay for their crimes. The punishment is usually not oriented in a way that actually lowers the necessity of the person to act the same way to sustain their priorities, but I rather perceive that it is for the purpose of emotional gratification to see someone who has been labeled as harmful to themselves be harmed. I feel that there is a factor of people’s necessity to lower the likelihood that they will be harmed, so a response is reasonable to expect, but at the same time, I find it unreasonable that someone responds to (here’s this) people doing drugs, for example, with jail time. When they get out, what is the likelihood that they will find it easier to cope with their life? What is the likelihood that their incarceration won’t make them resentful towards the society that treated their inability to find sufficient comfort in their life as a scourge that practically made them deserving of constant threat of physical attack and r*pe, even if to the judges and officers in some cases it was technically indirect? What is the likelihood that their punishment will actually make them less likely to commit again or that it would make them care more about what society wants from them?

I find the Christian idea of ‘free will’ that I have become accustom to being indoctrinated by to be a distasteful attempt to blame other people for one’s own inability to protect one’s self, that’s just me. To say that it’s people’s fault that they are stolen from or injured, I don’t feel that’s necessarily fair. On the other side of the coin, to say that it’s reasonable to expect most people not to be out to harm you – even to go so far as to call it paranoia to assume the worst from everyone around you – I think that is (excuse my French) délirant. I accept the likelihood of any given person being the one to attack me in some way is low, okay, can anyone else accept that the likelihood is never zero? Can anyone accept that it may be someone you don’t know or someone with whom you are intimate?

Is it fair to say that you can have a healthy relationship while also planning for the contingency that the people around you could hurt you in that moment? There is a place to say that may be a lot of anxiety to always need your finger to be on a trigger, okay, it’s not the response that I find to be ideal. I feel that there is equal ground to claim it to be unhealthy to constantly be needing to be in dreamland where everyone is considered to be trustworthy. I feel that it’s okay to be suspicious of people and waiting for them to hurt you while also not needing your heart to be racing all the time.

So responsibility and the utility of it. It’s been a while since I wrote about this so please forgive me if there is more I remember later on, but the idea is that there are multiple implications of responsibility. Firstly, the type of responsibility that people are quick to, which is emotional gratification; it’s the type of responsibility that requires someone to suffer. This is usually tied to the person who is closest to an unsavory event that is not considered a victim. Then, there is the actual causal responsibility which is the decreasing of likelihood that an event will happen again. Finally, there is the fixing responsibility in which someone or some people have to actually set the world back to the state that it was before the event as much as possible.

It’s considered to be most ideal when the suffering is directly tied to the fixing of a problem, and the expectation is that this suffering inherently decreases the likelihood of the event happening again. I understand that actually identifying these different types of responsibility requires more nuance than pointing the finger at the closest person with blood on their hands, but to those (mostly Christians and Abrahamic religious people) who say that Atheism is an attempt to negate responsibility, I will say this. It’s not right for people to tell you that you aren’t allowed to have your opinion, it just doesn’t make that opinion useful. Believing that people have ‘free will’ relieves a cognitive dissonant sense of powerlessness that comes from the awesome strength of the universe’s most measly rock floating around in the backwaters of space somewhere, but the likelihood of decreasing your own suffering. Shouldn’t that come before making people suffer and trying to change people that don’t affect you? Sorry, I’m still upset about what they did to Alan Turing.

So morality, what is it really based on? Well, I propose that there are wants and needs. Needs are only needs because of wants. You can’t need food unless you want to not be hungry and/or you want to stay alive. Let’s say you wonder if you need food, but you are not concerned with your life and food serves no part in any of your goals. In this hypothetical, you don’t care about your hunger. Technically, you don’t need food. Is being alive a need? Well, if you want to see your hamster again, yes, you need to be alive to do that. But inherently, is being alive a need? No, because there is nothing that must follow from being alive.

Let’s say someone wants to be alive, but they don’t want to eat. Well, that sucks, because they need to ingest nutrients (what is loosely referred to as eating here, through drinking or a tube or otherwise) in order to accomplish their want of being alive. Let’s say someone ‘needs’ to be alive, but for no particular reason. They do need to be alive in order to do things they may want to do, but if there is nothing specific they want, being alive is really just a want in itself.

Determining morality based on pain is tricky because you need to feel the burn to get a good workout. It’s difficult because you need to tell people that they are wrong to hurt others, and it may shatter their fragile preconception that whatever they want to do is inherently good because someone or some book told them so. They will say that hurts them.

Determining morality based on wants is easier, I believe, because you can only have the highest likelihood of getting what you want if it is the goal of an internal state. If you want to think of the color blue, you don’t need to change other people to think of the color blue. When you want other people to think of the color blue, the likelihood that you will get what you want decreases dramatically because, even if you can get ninety-nine percent of people to think of the shade of blue you like, there will always be that one person that is like ‘I’m more of a pink fellow, myself’. As well as that, if people feel comfortable, they are usually honest about what they want. No one knows what they need, and even more interestingly to me, I believe that people are unaware of a majority of the suffering they are going through. It’s related to expectations, repression, and denial.

To say that everyone deserves whatever they want from everyone else is not really how I feel. More accurately, I feel that people should be allowed to want what they want and that people should be able to choose whether to engage in consensual transactions with them, but be under no obligation to provide that to them without getting something that is agreed to in return*. (There is an asterisk here for being a parent because parents force people to exist, but this is a point that should be discussed in more detail somewhere other than in this specific post, maybe a comment chain or something if that’s what yall want to talk about). The most essential right that people must have under these premises is the right to leave. In a given country, if someone tells you that you can’t be gay, you’re dependent on the rest of the people to not agree so much with that person that they all band together against you. If a person can leave that country (no one should have to) then that person has the option of what they feel will best support their priorities. I’ve found that you can’t really expect reality to do anything for you, but I do feel that the least people can do is understand why others put in so much effort to escape them. The right to leave is pretty much the most fundamental factor in negotiating power. Any party that does not have the right to leave a situation basically loses all negotiating power because of that fact, and in turn, anything can be expected from them without recompense. Alternatively, if someone is guaranteed the right to leave, people will be able to find a group where they are considered to be morally acceptable, and they will hurt the people around them relatively less than if they are forced to stay in a group that is preemptively inclined against them in the first place.

Sorry for the book! Thoughts?

Welcome @Aexistentialist

I love reading others thoughts…always adds to my own thinking :thought_balloon:

For myself the idea of morality boils down to well-being and less harm. It is needed for individuals as well as society (groups). Individually we determine a balance for ourselves and as a group we make rules. This has evolved through time and evidence of certain “rules” within society has (eg. stealing) demonstrated group “needs” (killing vs murder or marriage arrangements). Damn. When a person reads about various societies and their practices as groups, quite frankly, “morality” is incredibly subjective (caste/classes, cannibalism, genocide, slavery, pedophilia, rape/marriage etc) All of the worst of human behavior (imo) has been (and still is in some areas) acceptable practices within groups/tribes.

On the other hand the best of human behaviour is also evidenced. Acceptance, kindness, empathy, supports, equality…

Consent is a determining factor for the idea of “morality”. To give consent is “sharing” - no consent, it’s “stealing”. Assisted suicide vs murder. Consenting adult relationships vs property ownership and rape. When an individual harms another (does not have or gain consent) society usually has a method of removing that person from the group (a whole other subject for details on when that may become “harmful”).

Co-operation and healthy relationships have allowed society and individuals to survive (and in some cases, thrive).


Thank you for the response!

I agree with a lot that you shared! I agree with you that consent is one of the determining factors in whether something is harmful, and I believe reduction of harm to be the ultimate goal of morality, the naturally selected trait if interest, if you will.

However, I must ask. Is it not possible to prioritize your child above others, even if it doesn’t minimize harm? Hypothetically, if your child was drowning on one side and two others were drowning on the other side, would you not choose to save your child first? Would it not be acceptable for someone to save their child first? Is it not fair to care more about some people than others, or to value people that you’re close to above people that you aren’t close to?

If people say that being honest with them is harmful to them, but they are harming other people, do you minimize the harm that you cause or try to minimize the harm in the world?

Absolutely. The other kids might be assholes :wink: - besides, where’s their parents??? My job as a parent is to reduce harm to my children first.

We absolutely care about people we know (or dislike them more because we know them), our own communities, our countries, etc. (those we relate to and group ourselves to).

The idea of harm can be subjective or objective - and I tend towards honesty (factual or my honest opinion, which is subjective).
Vocally speaking and sharing a “truth” (of course depending on many factors), I don’t care if the recipient has “hurt” feeling. That is harm :woman_shrugging:t2: but my objective is less harm and if they are harming others obviously (depending factors) the one over-rides the other.

Each situation and personality is subjective (for example, do I “hurt” an abusive mom’s feelings to address her kid’s treatment by her or just call Family Protective Services and let them investigate??? Tons of factors BUT a child’s interests always come before an adult’s).


Thank you, and I agree.

This is a subjective decision. But from this subjective decision we can expand it by objective examination.

For example, if reduction of harm is the determining factor, then everyone should be vaccinated against Covid. This action reduces the prospect of harm for every individual, society, and even industry. Even if you factor in the negative effects of the vaccine (illness, death) which is 0.0022% of all vaccinated compared to the 6,615,945 deaths worldwide, vaccination is rational and logical.

Ahh, the typical and well used “save your child or allow many others to perish” moral dilemma.
The problem is that this is a hypothetical scenario designed to conflict with our choices.

How about we deal with a real life situation, the vaccination against Covid as I described above. What would jesus do? Do you support vaccination?


I can appreciate with how much we agree on!

So, we agree there is a factor of minimizing harm, but, from what I gather, you also mention that it’s fair to say that we minimize harm on a priority basis:

And I understand there is a factor of this:

From your post, I feel that I would respond in the same way in those situations.

So, I believe that religious people adhere so strictly to religion because they believe in the false sense of objectivity that it brings them, but I don’t believe they are wrong to look for objectivity in general. I come into conflict with the idea of a personal god because it is a statement that there is objectivity in a fact that is unproven, but that isn’t to say that there is no objectivity to be found in morality at all.

I can see where you’re coming from in saying that many things are subjective. I consider subjectivity to be what can change based on perspective, and this includes things like emotions and strength of emotions, goals and priorities, and information that people have.

My goal is to be able to determine what parts of morality are objective because I believe that objectivity is the only way to find a real sense of consistency, so in morality, do you feel that there is anything that is objective?

I can identify with the goal to minimize harm, but in terms of responding to people that harm you in some way, like for instance, stealing from you, how do you feel that the minimization of harm should come into play? Is it adding harm to pass laws that sends them to jail, or is it more harmful to do nothing; do you feel there is a response that decreases harm more than either of those options?

Yes, I support vaccination, lol. Jesus wouldn’t have had vaccines at the time, if he were divine he wouldn’t need them, and if he was a regular person living now he would probably be the pastor of a mega church and get vaccinated while arguing against them. Just my opinion!

However, just because I cared to get vaccinated doesn’t mean I care what other people do. When someone chooses not to get vaccinated, the people that really hurts is their children, and I care more about that than whether they get vaccinated. If someone who didn’t have children chose not to get vaccinated, I don’t see how that affects the people who did get vaccinated. Let me know if you disagree!

That’s the point of morality, isn’t it? Just to say the reduction of harm is a goal doesn’t specify the group that you reduce harm towards; there is a difference between reducing harm to the general population first and reducing harm to people you prioritize first, right? So in discussing morality and how people determine what the most moral thing is to do, isn’t it relevant to identify whether the goal is to reduce harm to specific people or harm in the world overall?

The answer is simple, the world overall.

We humans are a social species, our interactions with each other individually and collectively determines our future and well being. Thus the priority is “world overall” over the individual.

I can not live and prosper without others such as the truckers who bring food to my grocery store, the electricians who provide power, the police who maintain law and order, and the research technicians who designed and provide Covid vaccine.

Anyhewww, what would jesus do? He did put himself second to mankind, he did die on the cross for mankind. I am sort of amazed that you, a christian would even consider selfishness over sacrifice.

Haven’t you read the bible, didn’t you get that message?

Once we make the relative decision that morality is about reducing harm, everything that follows is objective. We can measure and calculate what reduces harm. I provided my example of Covid vaccine as an example.

My support of Covid vaccine is based on the numbers, it is objective.

1 Like

I wish to add to my previous post.

Just four days ago we honored the fallen, in the US it is called Veterans Day, up here in Canada “Remembrance Day”.

We honor and respect those who were willing to sacrifice themselves for others.


Speaking of which, there are indeed people in the world so wicked that ending their life serves that part of humanity with any virtue, IMHO.

While engaged in such activity I was as close to being objective as I’ve been about anything, and it was a rare occasion that fairness entered my mind while doing so.

And yes, where “wicked” begins and ends depends upon where one’s allegiance lies.

My .$02.

Good for you.

And this ties in with my position that once we agree that reducing harm for people is the reference point in our morality, then our assessments and decisions can become objective.

Assholes harm others, and “taking care” of them is the proper moral position.

“Fairness” is a wishy-washy term that attempts to straddle the gap between justice and mercy. And since justice and mercy are contradictory, one must choose between the two extremes.

If I had to mete out justice, I would not lose a second’s sleep over it.

Overall, the written laws and various Charters and Constitutions cover many objective moral values.

For example, equality. This doesn’t allow for owning a person as property (slavery), denying housing or necessities based on gender or sexual preferences, etc. My use of “equal” isn’t “the same” BUT equal “in value”.

The legal system has tiers for “murder”. There is self-defence, manslaughter, 2nd and 1st. Also claims by the prosecutor has to be evidenced and the choice of peers or a judge decides whether the evidence presented supports the claim.

Our human legal systems (using Canada) recognize that “taking a life” causes harm BUT under what circumstances & motives are part and parcel of “objective”.
Dead bodies in a war zone are a different “objective reality” then dead bodies in a grade 3 classroom.

Perhaps the idea of many objectives within reality and NOT one :point_up: is an approach to find a sense of “consistency”.

My morality is; work towards “less harm” more “well-being”. Consent is a determining factor. Self-interest and responsibility is balanced with group (societal) interests and responsibilities. I am prepared to inflict “harm” on another to serve my self interests (eg. I gained a divorce from my religious husband even though he didn’t want it and didn’t consent - I chose myself over his and the group interests…from their POV I’m an apostate - and I am happy being one).


Agreed. And as soon as law enforcement close the distance on a killer of Grade 3 humans and that killer continues to not play well with others, aspects of what is and is not moral in such a situation come into much sharper focus from their perspective.

Questions of morality truly are questions about the happiness or suffering of others creatures; creatures that one is in a place to affect the happiness or suffering of, that is.

1 Like

Oh well that is like having an easter egg hunt on Mars; you aren’t going to find any.


I’m inclined to agree, we may (sometimes) reach a broad consensus, but morals must necessarily involve subjective reasoning and choice.

That is an evolved imperative, whereas fairness is just a subjective and entirely abstract notion, this is not to say it’s not a useful notion sometimes.

Any species that didn’t care about protecting its offspring or alternatively give birth to self reliant offspring, wouldn’t last long. It’s called natural selection. Our morality is complex because we have also evolved a brain capable of critically examining the choices we perceive, it’s precursors are likely linked to evolutionary mechanisms like survival of the fittest and natural selection.