Opinion: On measuring truth and morality



SarahBeth Caplin

SaraBeth Caplin

SarahBeth Caplin is a senior English major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

People have wondered about the origins of truth and morality since the beginning of time. Does the environment in which we were raised determine it? Personal instinct? Religion? The answer can be determined by any, or a combination, of those things. However, it is my belief that truth and morality are anything but relative.

Most of us would agree that certain acts, such as rape and child abuse, are always immoral regardless of the circumstances. We say they are wrong because innocent people are being harmed. We also happen to live in a society where both behaviors are considered crimes and are punishable by the law. But what if you grew up in a culture that condones “honor killings” of women who have been raped? Isn’t it likely that you could feel radically different about the issue? Clearly, there are some people who feel that such a heavy penalty is warranted in that situation. We may find it reprehensible, but on what grounds? How can two different groups of people strive to live moral lives in completely opposite ways? Who has the correct moral “truth,” and who doesn’t?

When we insist that truth and morality are relative, something that everyone decides for himself or herself, we risk not having any real reason to justify why we have been wronged. Say that someone breaks into your house and steals your new TV. Your first instinct might be to call the police and report it, but maybe the burglar’s moral code perfectly justifies him taking what does not belong to him if he can’t afford one for himself because he feels that he’s earned it. Would it not be fair, then, to impose a truth that stealing is always wrong?

When making important decisions, doing what “feels right” is another common route. In this “if it feels good, do it” culture, simply having the desire for something is reason enough to go for it. Imagine a husband trying to explain to his wife that he had an affair with a neighbor because it “felt good” at the time. Clearly, making the right choice must require criteria based on something more concrete than emotions.

I have to laugh every time I hear someone say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” My response is always, “Is that an absolutely true statement?” If everyone defines truth based on their own made-up standards, why do we have laws? If we believe that justice is determined by culture, what we really mean is that we let society tell us what to believe. We live by behavioral trends and then get offended any time someone has the nerve to share an unpopular way of measuring truth and the origins of morality – especially when shared in an opinion piece. Why bother getting offended if my version of truth is just as relative as everyone else’s?

I make no apologies for having strong, narrow views. But I assure you; I won’t require you to follow them.