Philosophy:Moral absolutism

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Short description: Ethical view that all actions are intrinsically right or wrong

Moral absolutism is an ethical view that some (potentially all) actions are intrinsically right or wrong, regardless of context or consequence.

Comparison with other ethical theories

Moral absolutism is not the same as moral universalism. Universalism holds merely that what is right or wrong is independent of custom or opinion (as opposed to moral relativism),[1] but not necessarily that what is right or wrong is independent of context or consequences (as in absolutism). Louis Pojman gives the following definitions to distinguish the two positions of moral absolutism and objectivism:[2]

  • Moral absolutism: There is at least one principle that ought never to be violated.
  • Moral objectivism: There is a fact of the matter as to whether any given action is morally permissible or impermissible: a fact of the matter that does not depend solely on social custom or individual acceptance.

Ethical theories which place strong emphasis on rights and duty, such as the deontological ethics of Immanuel Kant, are often forms of moral absolutism, as are many religious moral codes.


One can adhere to moral absolutism in a strictly secular context, exemplified by the many variations of deontological moral rationalism. However, many religions, especially ones which define divine commandments, also adhere to moral absolutist positions. Therefore, to followers of such religions, the moral system is absolute, perfect and unchanging. Some secular philosophies, borrowing from religion, also take a morally absolutist position, asserting that the absolute laws of morality are inherent in the nature of people, the nature of life in general, or the Universe itself.[citation needed] For example, someone who absolutely believes in non-violence considers it wrong to use violence even in self-defense.

Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas never explicitly addresses the Euthyphro dilemma, but draws a distinction between what is good or evil in itself and what is good or evil because of God's commands,[3] with unchangeable moral standards forming the bulk of natural law.[4] Thus he contends that not even God can change the Ten Commandments, adding, however, that God can change what individuals deserve in particular cases, in what might look like special dispensations to murder or steal.[5]

See also