There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
In this post I would like to try to formalize and condense one cornerstone of a worldview I have found myself to be holding. Often, discussions about life or human behaviour circle the drain of co-understanding the core foundational disagreement between two sides. I believe in many cases one basic philosophical disagreement boils down to whether there is an objective truth or morality: whether there are ‘right’ versus ‘wrong’ beliefs and actions.
I believe these concepts are meaningless, inconsistent, at best relative to a specific culture, and ultimately unhelpful in any important sense.
In this post I will not try to convince you of this belief. For a thorough analysis of my theoretical justifications I the refer reader to my paper “Like Hamlet Discussing Shakespeare” (2019).
In this current text I am merely attempting to summarize a single tenet of my belief in order to quickly explain a root difference from which wholly divergent worldviews emerge.
So: in the way I see the world, there are no ‘right’ values and ‘wrong’ values in any absolute sense. People behave the way they behave, and their behaviour is ultimately explainable on different levels by physics, chemistry, biology, evolution, psychology, sociology, and so on. None of these explanation spaces consistutes a value judgement, and all of them can explain the origins of the value judgements themselves.
There is nothing ‘right’ one ‘must’ do; no ultimate truth, no true guiding light. No point system. No heaven or hell. No good or bad people. No truly altruistic nor truly evil people. No saints, no devil, and nothing in between. We’re just apes on a rock looking for berries.
Since there is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, naturally nobody is ever behaving ‘rightly’ or ‘wrongly’. People behave the way they do because of reasons. Just like anything else in the world, as far as we can tell. Moralistic judgement is meaningless and silly.
We can try to empathize with why people do what they do; we can also try to stop them, or avoid them. Feeling morally superior or judgmental, while arguably pleasurable (and arguably not), does not strike me as intellectually honest. I am not morally superior to anyone else, nor are they to me. ‘Only God can judge me’, and since there is very little evidence of a judging God, we can and should do away with all this judgement altogether.
Again, the meaning behind this post is not to convince you. That would be a longer discussion. I am trying to clarify my own basic assumptions, so that you may better understand me and I better understand what there is to understand about me. And yes, I truly believe this even in extreme cases, such as murderers, Nazis, and pedophiles. Yes, I do get upset when I am personally aggrieved, I am only human and do not maintain my philosophical composure at all times. I am not a perfect person and I do not behave rationally. I eat more cake than is rational, I smoke more than is rational, and I get angry more than is rational. I am not rational. Humans are not rational. I believe accepting this leads us to the full acceptance of lack of free will, another angle from which the lack of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ quickly emerges.
In literature, this is sometimes referred to as ‘moral relativism’, ‘moral nihilism’, and simply nihilism. In this regard you may call me a real nihilist. How’s it going, let’s get coffee.
And so in discussions about relationships, politics, economics, philosophy, morality, and taking out the trash: when people have foundational differences in their worldview, it might lead to significant and unfortunate misunderstandings.
I am thus trying to highlight and clarify a basic assumption of my worldview, in hope to facilitate better connection and mutual understanding in future conversations.
At the “bottom layer” of how we view the world, I do not believe there is a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’. You, the reader, probably either agree with me (In which case, we should grab a beer together), or you do not agree with me and you do believe there is a ‘right’ way to do things; an overarching vector which ‘should’ lead our lives both personally and collectively; a definite doctrine; a religious prescription of values. In such a case, we should still grab a beer together. Perhaps you have not given this matter much thought. Perhaps you should - in the sense that you might find it interesting.
Hopefully it does not sound like I disapprove of people who do believe in ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Clearly, that would be a contradiction in terms: I do not believe it is ‘right’ to disbelieve in ‘right and wrong’, since I do not believe in the concept of ‘right’ in the first place. I cannot judge people for judging, since then by my own standards I would be quite unreasonable.
I do and will try to accept that other people have different worldview from my own. I inevitably do this for and from my own reasons, and I often fail at this, just like I fail at many other endeavours. In my view, identically to everything else, this is not ‘right’, nor is it ‘wrong’; it is just what is.
Remembering this basic core difference in beliefs will hopefully help clarify value-based conversations and facilitate productive dialogue.
Thanks for reading! If you found this interesting, please tell me so.
- firstname.lastname@example.org, 30/10/2019