Right vs Wrong

September 17, 2016

We'd all like to think that given any situation, story, setting, our moral judgement is so good that we can always perceive what is right or wrong in that setting without error. Obviously if that were the case  there wouldn't be so many immoral events in this world. So what is wrong with this perspective?

Firstly, we make two huge assumptions. The first assumption is that our perception of that event, story, situation is complete and sufficient to draw a moral conclusion. This has been shown to be often not the case, as it is very easy to manipulate public opinion in the media, simply by presenting different facts or a different angle of those facts.

The second assumption that we make is that all people have the same moral judgement, in other words, there is such as thing as absolute morality. In this scenario, no matter who the person involved in an event is, given the particular scenario there is only one thing that is right to do, and another that is wrong. The limitation with this assumption is the belief that we can perfectly understand or know someone else's perspective. In fact this is far from being the case. Indeed all conflicts in this world come precisely from our inability to understand different perspectives from ours. Often even when we do believe we are taking the perspective of another, what we are really doing is we are projecting our own perspective on that of someone else.

Let's take an example to see more precisely what I mean. Let's take the scenario of a mother and a daughter. The daughter, a diligent student and example for the community, has just won a scholarship from a prestigious university where she wants to pursue her studies in medicine to become a doctor and help other people. She asks her mother for support in terms of living expenses in order to fulfill her dream. Her mother discusses with her the situation and although she has plenty of money to support her she decides that she won't help her to go to university, and she wants her instead to stay home and help her in her beauty parlor business, giving up her career aspirations. Given this story I'm sure most of you will feel that something is wrong with her decision, and that given this scenario the mother should allow the daughter to go to school, after all it is the girl's right to fulfill her life and on top of that she is embarking on quite a honorable journey. But consider this: suppose that after asking her mother why she won't allow her to go to university, her mother explains to her daughter that her beauty parlor is a key component of her community, and in particular for the local women. It is the only place where women in this very mysogenistic and repressive town are able to talk to each other and exchange information, educate themselves and discuss important issues, such as the high rate of girls being raped in their town as well as the unavailability of education to women in the town. In fact an very important project is being carried on to start a school for women as well as to introduce changes to women's rights. She also explains her that she believes that although a university degree can be useful, a medical degree will likely lead her to become a puppet in the pharmaceutical industry rather than helping people, on the other hand in this community she can make a true change.

After hearing this perspective, the daughter agrees that the best decision is to stay in the town and support the beauty parlor projects. However, her aunt hears her conversation with her mother accidentally, and asks her to talk to her in private. When she consents, her aunt warns her that her mother is quite a manipulative person and i using the story of the parlor community only because she wants her to be around, not because she truly cares about the cause.

If anything should become clear from this story is that as we change perspective, the conclusion as to what is wrong/right to do changes. From the initial perspective of the daughter, the right thing to do is to go to medical school, from her mother's perspective the right thing to do is stay and work in the parlor, and from her aunt's perspective she should go to school. The problem is that we can never be sure when we have reached the 'right' conclusion, because there could always be more information that we haven't considered in our assessment, and that may change our point of view. It is never possible to have the perfect amount of information, or to have all the information, to be completely sure that our conclusion is irrefutable. No-one on this earth knows everything. Each one of us knows but a tiny fragment of the humongous amount of knowledge, experience, perception that exists in the totality of our consciousness. And with that tiny fraction of knowledge, one can only hope to derive the best conclusion.

So why is it not possible to draw universal moral truths? One can already see from this one small example that what is moral is not the same for everyone. Indeed what one person considers morally correct from her perspective, which is the summation of their experience, knowledge, belief system, and thinking, can differ from what is morally correct for another. When we try to impose our morality on another person we are practically saying: "my own experience, knowledge, belief system, thinking should preside yours". We are stating that we are morally superior to another.

This is by the way the cause of all conflicts. When two people who have differing perspectives, and thus perceive a differing set of actions to be the correct one, and fail to understand each other's point of view, i.e. to integrate each other's information in order to find a unifying perspective, they engage in conflict, that is each person tries to force her perspective and her course of action on the other, with violence or other means.

Our world will cease to be a violent, brutal place the moment people stop trying to impose their values on one other, and instead start to listen to each other. It may be the case that sometimes points of views are so opposing that it is not possible to come to a meeting of minds. However, respecting and validating another persons point of view and choice of action, although different from ours, is a great start.





 

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