Talk:Moral universalism

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Making encyclopedic[edit]

This page, although interesting, was the personal credo of a humanist neo-Stoic, not an encyclopedia entry. So: being bold, I decided to change it. This has resulted in the replacement of pretty much the entire previous content (I've kept a historical reference to Stoicism). The 'History' and 'See Also' sections need to be expanded, hence the stub tag. I hope nobody's too offended.

--Sam Clark 17:55, 21 July 2006 (UTC)

This is not correct![edit]

Moral Universalism is not the opposite position to Moral Relativism! Some Moral Universalist theories are in fact based on Moral Relativism (e.g. theories that say that while morality is relative to each and every individual human being, all human beings have similar enough experiences -- experiences that transcend culture such as birth, growth, puberty, suffering, love, death, etc. -- ensure that they also hold many of the same moral views).

Thus, it's incorrect to say that Moral Universalism is the opposite of Moral Relativism. Rather, Moral Absolutism is the opposite of Moral Relativism. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Tullie (talkcontribs) 03:17, 10 January 2007 (UTC).

Moral relativism is universal in the sense it applies universally within culture, i.e in cultures where it is morally acceptable to kill parents when old it is universally held within culture and not: okay for (a) but not (b) because we don't like (b) - that is definition of universality! — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2A02:C7D:2FC5:3B00:5C73:12E6:B9A8:F1AC (talk) 05:33, 31 August 2015 (UTC)

Moved from article[edit]

I've removed the following two unsourced sentences from the article as they appear to confuse moral universalism with moral relativism:

The characteristics of the universal ethic depends upon the wishes of the group of people to whom it applies.

A society has liberty when its mandates conform to and enforce the universal ethic accepted by its citizens.

-Pfhorrest (talk) 07:13, 2 October 2008 (UTC)

Passages of questionable notability[edit]

There are two paragraphs in this article referring to the views of someone named Foldvary, the editor of an online news site of questionable notability. They were previously stated as objective normative facts about the contents of the universal ethic, rather than about moral universalism as a meta-ethical theory. I've cleaned them up to present as the opinions of one author on morality, but their notability is still questionable, and honestly I don't think we should even have various peoples' normative claims on a meta-ethics page at all. -Pfhorrest (talk) 07:16, 2 October 2008 (UTC)

I agree. Our readers could also be spared of Noam Chomsky's controversial and narrow-sighted views about George W. Bush and self-defense. There is no inconsistency in claiming universal right to self-defense and applying it against suppressive and aggressive regimes. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:53, 9 October 2008 (UTC)

Meta-ethics reorganization[edit]

The definition of moral universalism and the equivalence of other terms to it are now part of a larger project I am undertaking, regarding disambiguating the terms moral realism, moral objectivism, moral universalism, moral absolutism, and moral relativism. I have started a discussion about this at Talk:Meta-ethics#More_extensive_reorganization; please come by and contribute your thoughts there. -Pfhorrest (talk) 22:56, 4 October 2008 (UTC)


ack! I misread the main page: I thought it listed utilitarianism as a species of nonuniversalism but I see now that it only listed it as a species of nonabsolutism. I'm less opposed to that and it's less obviously false so I won't bother to change it even though I think it's still incorrect. Everything that is said below is a product of this misreading of mine, however I think it's worth leaving just as is anyway. I'm a wikipedia novice so if someone wants to prettify this or move it off the front of the talk page for me then go ahead. I'm only editing because the opening lines of the main page ticked me off and I think I have some contributions to make.

First of all, welcome to Wikipedia, and I'm glad you are so eager to contribute. I've moved your comments to the bottom of the talk page (where new comments usually go) and properly titled it, per your permission above.
I'm curious about your notion of moral absolutism. The current wiki article on moral absolutism reads...
...which is the sense in which I've always heard it used, contrasting it with consequentialist theories. (That example there being one of the most famously controversial theorems of Kant's absolutist deontology).
I'd be interested to see quotes from those other sources you mention supporting the notion of absolutism meaning overriding incommensurability of moral reasons. Incommensurable with what, in particular, I'd like to know. --Pfhorrest (talk) 22:13, 27 December 2008 (UTC)


I have a rather unusual objection. It's essentially just in agreement with and a special case of what Tullie's earlier objection was to the equation of universalism with anti-relativism or anti-situationalism. (I disagree with him however that moral absolutism is opposed to relativism ... it's not necessarily.)

I object to the notion that a utilitarian can not be a moral universalist. In fact I'm going to edit out that part right now. I perfectly well understand why someone would say this but it's just not true. Here's why:

The utilitarian follows the maxim "Always maximize utility to the best of your ability to determine it.". Furthermore, they might say everyone, everywhere, and always has reason to follow this maxim ... in fact they typically do. So these jointly make utilitarianism a species of universalism. The fact that "Maximize utility." requires different actions in different situations or that different agents will have different opinions on what the actions are is totally irrelevant.

Utilitarianism, and more generally consequentialism, and even more generally axiological approaches, are often contrasted with deontological approaches but I hope that the above shows that this is somewhat of an artificial or even false dichotomy.

I think someone would only say that utilitarians can't be universalists if they were placing restrictions on allowable means of specifying actions, so that you couldn't get maxims of the above utilitarian sort, or if they attributed to utilitarians a certain moral epistemological idealism. But these are restrictions which no one need accept and an epistemology which neither utilitarians nor universalists need to have.

Also, there's a bit of a conflation going on in between universalism and absolutism.

Moral universalism is the position that there is some not-totally uninformative means of specifying one class of actions which everyone has reason to take. The actions can be extraordinarily diverse and take account of the widest possible variety of facts, including even at least some facts about the moral agent herself, but they still all fall into the same class.

Moral absolutism is just the position that moral reasons trump any other reasons, typically in a strong way of not being commensurable with them rather than in a weak way of merely happening to outweigh them. Moral reasons are overriding reasons.

The two, universalism and absolutism, go often together but they're clearly distinguishable.

It's not surprising that the original page was by a neo-stoic since, stoicism coming from a deontological/virtue theory perspective, this might explain some of my concerns about conflations.

It's doubly not surprising that the original page author was a stoic since universalism is largely synonomous with cosmopolitanism except maybe that the latter could be construed as a species of the former. I'm quite confident that there is already a wiki page on cosmopolitanism.

In fact, it might be worthwhile to merge the two if there are two (I haven't even bothered to check.), or to merge all three into one page on universalism, cosmopolitanism, and absolutism, to be clear and explicit about their differences, and to link from and to it to pages on moral realism, moral and motivational internalism/externalism, various historical and contemporary proponents, etc.

However such a task is utterly beyond my time/will/ability. Maybe this Pfhorrest person and anyone with him can help. Consider this my contribution. Everything I say above can be either teased out from or plainly read at SEoP, IEP, and many, many sources offline.

Coincidentally, I consider myself to be a utilitarian (or at least consequentialist), universalist, absolutist, and stoic.

—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:04, 27 December 2008 (UTC) 

Too technical[edit]

The second and third sentences of the lede need to be clarified. They are too technical for the general reader. makeswell (talk) 18:47, 30 May 2011 (UTC)


Calling it "Universalism" is misleading because it implies the theological doctrine of universal salvation. This is often called "moral absolutism" in books. Where is this nomenclature coming from?? --BenMcLean (talk) 20:33, 8 November 2012 (UTC)

We consolidated the article at "moral universalism" because "moral absolutism", while often used to mean this, also has a conflicting meaning as the opposite of consequentialism, rather than the opposite of relativism. A quick Google search for "moral universalism" shows this usage certainly has currency in academic sources; if you really want we could dig through them and pick the best one to cite the first sentence to or something.
Anyone confusing it with the doctrine of universal salvation would have to be really confused. The pipe link you included isn't even exclusively about it (for that, see Universal Reconciliation); it's about universalism in an even broader and more general sense. --Pfhorrest (talk) 12:08, 9 November 2012 (UTC)

Recent edit war over ″See also″ additions between Pfhorrest and user[edit]

In these edits 1234 we have some controversy over adding Relativism to the See also section of this stub. The reason given for objection to this addition is As a general rule, the 'See also' section should not repeat links that appear in the article's body or its navigation boxes and reference to WP:ALSO. There is presently a link to Moral relativism in the article's introduction and in the See also section, but there is no link in the article to Relativism.

Thus, the apparent suggestion that a link to Relativism is already in the article appears to be incorrect. Although the policy WP:ALSO does suggest ″link redundancy″ as a reason to refuse a link in the See also section, that seems not to be the issue here. Consequently, the rejection of a link to Relativism appears unsupported at this point.

An objection might be mounted on the basis that relativism as defined by:

"Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration"

has little bearing upon Moral universalism, so its inclusion is dubious. However, WP:ALSO suggests that See also entries "do not have to be directly related to the topic", so there is a somewhat relaxed requirement for relevance. Nonetheless, it seems to me that relativism has only a tenuous connection to the subject, supporting its removal by Pfhorrest. Brews ohare (talk) 16:39, 5 March 2014 (UTC)