Absolutists believe that there is one universal truth about right and wrong that applies across people and situations. They believe that there is one best way to be ethical and that we should all follow it (Sun of Absolutism).
Why a Sun?
A Sun provides the source of natural light that many seek out. The Sun represents the Absolutist’s idea that what’s right is to be discovered (e.g. through human reason, spirituality/religion, etc), and that there is one universal standard of what’s right. They believe that this one correct standard should be applied consistently across people and situations. Absolutists think that there is a universal truth about what’s right, regardless of different customs and opinions. They believe that morals may differ, but that there is one truth that should guide us all. They may live by some of these sayings: “One path to the truth”, “The truth is out there”, or “There is one right way.”
Some things seem to be clearly right or wrong regardless of preference, culture or context. These are things that many feel we should not be open to or tolerate (e.g. child abuse, sexism, slavery). Consistent measures of right or wrong allow us to have concrete ways to critique ourselves, critique others and resolve differences. These consistent measures also allow us to assess our moral progress (e.g. women now have the right to vote in many places, which is progress).
In their efforts to consistently apply one standard of truth about what’s right, Absolutists may not be as open to other views that may have a piece of the truth. For example “be honest” sounds like a good universal character trait to consistently apply. However, it may be right to lie if it could save a child from an abusive person (e.g. “I do not know where they went” when you actually do know, but you lie to protect the child). Therefore, considering other opinions and questioning our standards can be helpful. We can become open to different ways of viewing the world and get beyond imposing one narrow way of reasoning. Absolutism may stop us from considering multiple reasonable approaches and balancing out their pros and cons.
Sun’s Theoretical Background:
Moral Absolutism, a form of Deontological Ethics (based on the wisdom of philosopher Immanuel Kant and others).
Sun’s Conclusion and “What do I do now?”
Absolutism highlights a valuable lesson: there are some things that are clearly and consistently right or wrong (e.g. human trafficking). However, it seems that more than just one perspective often has at least part of the truth. These different approaches can be held in an absolutist way (e.g. “X is the only worthwhile approach”), therefore it is important to remember the pros and cons of absolutism as they apply to different approaches. We suggest considering a few well-respected approaches when deciding what is right (see Pluralism and the 5Cs: Character, Code, Consequences, Care and Consult).
To better understand this focus area, see the PDF Handout.