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Why You Can Never Convince Someone that Something is Immoral
Family Reporter ^ | 4/27/04 | Editor, Family Reporter

Posted on 04/27/2004 10:51:09 AM PDT by Vitamin A

"If You Have to Ask . . .": Why You Can Never Convince Someone that Something is Immoral

By: Editor, Family Reporter

One day as a friend and I lunched on fish tacos, he told me about the latest developments in the Michael Jackson molestation case. My friend told me that the police had found a hidden passageway leading from Jacko's bedroom to another room lined with pictures of pre-teen and teenage boys. I facetiously asked my friend, "So what's wrong with that?" To which my quick-witted friend replied: "If you have to ask, you'll never understand."

On our way back to the office I realized how much wisdom was embedded in my friend's quick-witted comment. Truly, if you have to ask why certain things are wrong, you will probably never receive an explanation that satisfies you. There are certain things that we know with the deepest certainty--not because we've arrived at some reasoned conclusion in our minds--but because we instinctually sense them at our most basic, visceral level of human understanding. We need no explanation, no debate, no proof that these fundamentals are true. Rather, we see undeniable proofs of their truthfulness everywhere we look in the world around us, and sense them in every molecule of our bodies.

Let me give an example of what I'm talking about. Imagine if someone were to ask you what was wrong with incest. You would probably respond with several reasoned explanations, all of which would probably be true. For example, you might point out the dangers of allowing sexual unions that could create two-headed offspring. But of course, the questioner could point out that infertile incestuous couples don't present that risk, thereby eliminating any justification for denying those couples' their "right" to choose their sexual partners. If at that moment you were to closely re-examine the source of your position on the issue of incest, you would perceive that beneath your mind's superficial layer of reasoning, the very thought of incest provokes an intense, instinctual sense of revulsion deep within you. Without needing any explanation at all, and without even knowing how you know, you sense with an undeniable certainty that "incest is just wrong." That instinctual sense of revulsion is a moral perception as accurate and undeniable as your sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, or hearing. And just as you don't need a logical explanation to know that fertilizer smells bad, you need no logical explanation to convince you of the undeniable truth that incest is disgusting and wrong.

This "sixth sense" of morality is really no different than the Founders' concept of "self-evident" truths upon which they based the United States and its Constitutional rights. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," proclaimed the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The concept is a simple one: certain truths need no explanation or outside proof; they prove themselves. The rights of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness," for example, are inherent in the nature of mankind and the universe, and any person can sense them. Just consider for a moment the absurdity of being challenged by someone to "prove" to him that mankind has an unalienable right to "Liberty." It is self-evident; the only proof of that truth's existence is the very existence of the truth that you are being challenged to prove!

The modern insistence on debating the un-debatable is a clash between the Founders' concept of self-evident truth with the hippie generation's concept of moral relativism. Whereas the Founders established this nation on the sound assumption that there are certain absolute truths in this universe that are self-evident, today's moral relativist says there are no absolute truths, and that what may be true for you is not necessarily true for me. Thus, moral relativism puts into dispute all truths that mankind has always considered beyond dispute. This includes, for example, the self-evident truths that it is wrong to kill an unborn child, or to engage in homosexual acts.

Some may challenge the idea of self-evident moral truths by arguing that not everyone is repulsed by, for example, bi-sexuality. Thus, the argument goes, the idea of self-evident truth is entirely subjective and therefore unreliable. However, exactly the same thing could be said about the "self-evident truth" that "all men are created equal." One might just as well cite the prevalence of so many totalitarian regimes throughout the world to disprove the Founders' declaration of mankind's equality. In short, the absence of unanimity on whether or not a self-evident truth exists demonstrates nothing.

But that raises the question of why some people deny self-evident moral truths. And I actually think the answer is quite simple: people who deny self-evident moral truths actually know--either consciously or subconsciously--that those truths exist. In fact, the "shock value" that attracts people to certain immoral behaviors is actually a testament to the fact that those people sense those behaviors are wrong; those people have simply come to enjoy the thrill of shocking their conscience. For example, my criminal law professor--a Harvard-educated homosexual--told our class one day that his gay friends loved to drive across state lines to where sodomy was illegal to engage in homosexual acts just because of the added thrill they got from breaking the law. Not only did my gay professor's remark teach me that an Ivy League education means nothing these days, but it also taught me that some people will do anything for the thrill of doing something shocking. And the very fact that certain conduct shocks the conscience--even in a way that has become a pleasurable to an individual--proves that individual is violating a universal self-evident moral truth.

So what does this all mean for the "members of the choir" reading this article? First, understand that when someone challenges you to explain to him why something is morally wrong, he is inviting you to an un-winnable debate. Because when it comes to questions of morality, you either just "get it" or you don't. If someone has to ask what's immoral about something, then he's obviously either conditioned himself to ignore or doubt the conscience within him, or he is willfully denying it. The bottom line is, when it comes to moral matters, there is just no way you that can convince someone of a truth that their conscience should have already apprehended.

The other lesson that readers will hopefully take away is that there is nothing wrong with citing self-evident moral truth as the basis for one's convictions. You don't need a long-winded philosophical justification for your belief that homosexual marriage, abortion, or any of the other innumerable evils that are so prevalent in American society are immoral. The concept of self-evident truth is a well-established one, and it is the very idea upon which our Founders predicated our great nation's independence. And if you have to ask what's so great about that, you just wouldn't understand my response.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: moralimmoral; morality
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1 posted on 04/27/2004 10:51:10 AM PDT by Vitamin A
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To: Vitamin A
Good post. Thanks.
2 posted on 04/27/2004 10:59:33 AM PDT by UnklGene
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To: RikaStrom; xsmommy; Gabz; Texan5; dubyaismypresident; secret garden; Dan from Michigan
interesting point......I will use this line of reasoning soon for the imbeciles I encounter, I am sure...
3 posted on 04/27/2004 11:05:41 AM PDT by tioga
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To: UnklGene
Good post.

Sorry, but I disagree - not that it shouldn't be posted, which is fine, but that the content is worth much.

This is all self-referential. "I know what's right, and if you don't believe me, just ask me." If a "self-evident" truth is not evident to (essentially) everyone, then what makes it "self-evident?" Why, it's self-evident if it's obvious to me, alone. That's all it takes.

I'm not convinced. More than that, it's not an argument that will convince anyone who wasn't already drinking the same bathwater, so why bother? And there is a great risk that if you buy into the "self-evident" - which is to say, "self-referential" - definition of morals you justify those who have their own view of what is moral. After all, it's 'evident' to them that they're right, and if you can't see it . . .

Every society that has lost its anchor to an enduring, documented system of morals has slid into immorality. Even now, millions of Americans think divorce is no big deal, yet a few years ago it was "self-evident" that a promise to "Love, Honor, and Obey until Death do you part" meant just that. But now it's "self-evident" that people who aren't happy together should break their vows and move on, at least, it's "self-evident" to a majority of the population.

I personally believe the best, enduring, documented basis for moral decisions is the Bible. Making that case is another argument, but I will maintain that without some written basis for morals, decay into licentiousness is inevitable. (And, no, I am not saying that all written codes are acceptable, just the opposite, but all unwritten - which is to say, "self-evident" - codes are demonstrably unable to prevent decadence.)
4 posted on 04/27/2004 11:16:30 AM PDT by Gorjus
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To: Vitamin A
Nice post. Paul made as similar point eloquently in Romans. I also saw something similar in a Florence King essay some years ago. She argued that Southern men drove liberals crazy because, when pressed about why he thinks something is wrong, the southern man will often reply "I don't know. It's just wrong."
5 posted on 04/27/2004 11:19:19 AM PDT by ModelBreaker
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To: Vitamin A
The essence of PostModern thinking. The author not only claims morality is what he feels it to be, but he also asserts that he cannot explain why. When two such people meet, it's fun to watch (from a distance.)
6 posted on 04/27/2004 11:22:03 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: Vitamin A
Elevate personal squeamishness to the level of a moral absolute? No thanks. If one can't adequately explain why a given act is wrong (which one can, for incest), either one is a poor debator or should consider whether that act is wrong in the first place.
7 posted on 04/27/2004 11:27:24 AM PDT by FreedomFlynnie (Your tagline here, for just pennies a day!)
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To: Gorjus
Gorjus, I guess you have a real problem with Jefferson's reference to self-evident truth in the Declaration of Independence.

And isn't your professed adherence to only written law based on your self-referential determination that only written law is stable?

You're kicking against the pricks. All belief ultimately comes down to self-reference, because you only agree with an external written source of morality, like the Bible, because your conscience tells you it's correct.
8 posted on 04/27/2004 11:30:28 AM PDT by Vitamin A (Family values news & activism:
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To: Vitamin A
Interesting post.

I've always thought it interesting that the same people who deny an absolute morality when talking about modern social/sexual issues have no problem with absolute morality when it comes to environmental issues.

IOW, my views on abortion and homosexuality are merely opinion, but their views on saving the whales and the ozone layer are universal, undeniable truths.
9 posted on 04/27/2004 11:32:26 AM PDT by watchin
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To: Vitamin A
An individual who needs rely on so-called "self evident truths" to buttress his/her argument is an individual who either does not have, or does not care to employ, logic and/or reasoning. What one deems to be "self evident" IS, indeed, subjective.

"Self evidence" is the lazy man's way to self-righteousness.
10 posted on 04/27/2004 11:33:05 AM PDT by NCPAC
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To: ModelBreaker
In Jeremiah, God said He would, under a new covenant, "write My laws in your mind and on your heart". I read that as saying that believers in Him would have a conscience and instinctively know right from wrong...
11 posted on 04/27/2004 11:34:35 AM PDT by trebb (Ain't God good . . .)
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To: FreedomFlynnie
FreedomFlynnie, it's really no different than Jefferson elevating his "personal political opinions" to "absolute truths" in the Declaration of Independence.

Maybe you folks who disagree with the article can explain why the idea of self-evident truth is acceptable in the Declaration of Independence on mixed political/moral issues (e.g., all men are created equal), but not on matters such as whether homosexuality is wrong.
12 posted on 04/27/2004 11:34:57 AM PDT by Vitamin A (Family values news & activism:
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NCPAC, looks like we have another Jefferson-hater in here.
13 posted on 04/27/2004 11:35:39 AM PDT by Vitamin A (Family values news & activism:
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To: trebb
ModelBreaker is absolutely correct. That thing called a conscience was put there by God to inform you of man.

If these bashers of self-evident truth are correct, it takes a Ph.D. in philosophy and expertise in debate to know right from wrong, which doesn't bode well for 99.999999999% of the world's population both presently and historically.
14 posted on 04/27/2004 11:38:38 AM PDT by Vitamin A (Family values news & activism:
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To: Vitamin A
Sorry, that last post was meant to agree with trebb's response to modelbreaker.

Trebb is right. Your conscience is God's law inscribed in your mind and heart. God's law is also written in the Bible, but people had God's law in their heart and mind before the Bible was cannonized. Otherwise, how could some of the Gentiles, as Paul explained, unwittingly obey the law without having God's written law?
15 posted on 04/27/2004 11:43:23 AM PDT by Vitamin A (Family values news & activism:
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To: UnklGene
Good points. What you say is true. I recently had an argument with someone over Clinton's immoral behavior while in office. To me, the fact that he kept whipping it out every 30 seconds like it was the only lighter in a crack house was evidence enough. The other person made the point that you mentioned. Namely, who says that's immoral?

I didn't know where to go from there so I responded in the usual fashion. That is, I delivered a lightning fast jab to his stomach and then asked him if he considered what I'd just done to be "wrong."
16 posted on 04/27/2004 11:43:35 AM PDT by Jaysun (I won't be happy until they put cream cheese in a spray can.)
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To: Jaysun
That's a great response. I bet the moral ambiguity of the situation gave him "paralysis by over-analysis." Was he French? Did he surrender?
17 posted on 04/27/2004 11:46:11 AM PDT by Vitamin A (Family values news & activism:
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To: FreedomFlynnie
Elevate personal squeamishness to the level of a moral absolute?

Not at all what is being discussed, but you know that. I have a big personal squeamishness about eating live scorpions, but I know good and well there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it.

In most cases, conversion changes behavior with little prompting. People know pretty well what is really right and wrong, and at some point either decide to accept that or rationalize on some points. Anyone who treats morality as some great mystery or demands a logical deconstruction of every moral law is someone who has willfully rejected what they know to be right. They aren't confused, they are rebellious.

18 posted on 04/27/2004 11:47:25 AM PDT by hopespringseternal (People should be banned for sophistry.)
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To: Vitamin A
The Bible tells us that "men are without excuse" because "what may be known about God has been made plain to them, because God has made it plain to them."

It also tells us only one thing about atheism ... "the fool has said in his heart 'there is no God'"

As I said above, those who would argue against absolute, self-evident truth in an area that condemns them are quick to assume such "truth" for their pet causes.

One day, like it or not, "every knee shall bow ..."
19 posted on 04/27/2004 11:48:23 AM PDT by watchin
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To: hopespringseternal
Couldn't have said it better myself, hope.

As they say, denial is not just a river in Egypt.
20 posted on 04/27/2004 11:48:51 AM PDT by Vitamin A (Family values news & activism:
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