There are many ways that people decide what is right and wrong. For a large amount of the world’s population, the decision as to how to behave and what is right or wrong is made for them by their religion. But what about the rest of us (those who don’t follow the rules of a particular religion)? How do we decide what is right?
One obvious answer is to follow the law. This is a little misleading. The law tells us how we should behave in the society so as to remain free and allowed to continue life in the manner of our choosing. It does not necessarily tell us what is “right” or “wrong”. The law in many states, for instance, tells us that it is illegal to jaywalk. Does this mean jaywalking is wrong?
Maybe. Maybe what is right and what is wrong is dictated by the laws of the particular country. If you believe this to be the case then you must accept that every country has different rights and wrongs, and that nothing is certain. While I am a relativist, I am not comfortable saying that right and wrong is dictated by the laws created by a subset of people pushing forth their own views on morality.
I don’t go about breaking the law whenever I feel like it. To keep society functional I believe we should do our best to follow the rules of the society in which we live. However, I don’t believe the laws are God’s word, so to speak, in the way that a Christian may take the 10 commandments to be the rules of God, rules not to be broken or questioned.
So, if we do not believe the law necessarily dictates right and wrong, and we do not strongly follow a religious definition of right and wrong, how do we decide?
My approach is based on feelings. The idea of doing certain things creates what I will unscientifically call an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach. This ranges from things like murder to theft and lying. These are not hard and fast rules. If I had to lie to protect a friend then I would do so, but I tend to decide what is right and wrong based on my gut feeling.
As a result of my approach I have to accept that right and wrong is relative to some extent. What I “feel” to be wrong may be completely fine to another person. It would be far more comforting to say that there are universal rights and wrongs; things that no one should ever do, murder for instance. But I am not comfortable saying that there are situations I can understand where taking the life of another may be reasonable (self-defense, euthanasia) and there are situations that I personally cannot understand where other groups of peoples believe taking another life to be justified (sacrifice, punishment, etc).
If I do not believe in a universal system of right and wrong then it is difficult for me to claim that others are guilty of wrongdoing. This is a problem I have brought up before when discussing the potential sacrifice of a small child and the problems of knowing right and wrong.
What I want to know is how do you decide what is right and wrong?
And, do you think that your views are ones that everyone should hold?