Do right and wrong exist?

Do right and wrong exist?

Popular culture increasingly encourages the idea that belief in universal principles — fixed notions of good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral — prevents “progress” and promotes intolerance. We must be “open-minded,” we are told, and eschew such rigidity. Yet “openness,” or relativism, is a path to national suicide.

Relativism is the refusal to make value judgments. It stipulates that truth is not objective, right and wrong exist solely in the eye of the beholder, and “good” and “evil” are mere conventions.

This ideology is both self-defeating and poisonous to thinking.

Relativism denies the possibility that understanding — of human nature; virtue; justice; wisdom; or how to live the good life, as the classical philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle contemplated — may transcend our subjective feelings or our historical circumstances (a relativist philosophy known as “historicism”).

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But if that is true, no knowledge is possible and the goal of “progress” defeats itself. “Progress” can only be measured if there is a standard against which to judge it. Yet it is precisely this standard the relativist abhors: if “the good life” is mere fiction, the notion of progress is a farce.

But the problem extends further, as thinking itself becomes obsolete: The man whose opinion is formed on the whim of his current mood is as valid as that of the man who has dedicated his life to the study of philosophy, ethics, and logic. The search for truth thus becomes meaningless; philosophy, ethics and logic, pointless; and thinking, baseless. Thought reduces to emotion. The mind, and society, commits suicide.

This is the quandary we face, as a significant swath of America has swallowed this suicide pill. As Allan Bloom lamented, “Only Socrates knew, after a lifetime of unceasing labor, that he was ignorant. Now every high-school student knows that. How did it become so easy?”

Searching is no guarantee of discovering truth, as Socrates realized. But if nonexistent, no search for truth begins. Instead, mindlessness prevails, nihilism reins, and society burns. And we are left powerless to regret our condition.

Cross-posted at Diversity of Ideas

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David Weinberger

David Weinberger

David Weinberger previously worked at the Heritage Foundation. He currently resides in the Twin Cities, and he blogs at

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