What Is Ethical Absolutism?

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Ethical absolutism is the philosophical viewpoint that certain human actions are right or wrong based on an objective moral code. This ethical standard is not dependent on the context or circumstances in which the actions arise but is true in all cultures and is applicable to everyone. Ethical absolutism arises from religious doctrines that dictate right and wrong human behavior, such as the Judeo-Christian biblical commands.

Ethical absolutism holds true even if the consequences of the action are positive. For instance, adultery or stealing may be considered wrong under all circumstances. Ethical absolutism stands in contrast with other philosophical doctrines such as moral relativism, which espouses that many moral laws exist. Right or wrong is therefore determined by social customs, historical context and the circumstances in which the actions occur. For instance, adultery or theft may not be considered unethical if there is a positive intention behind the action and the act promotes a greater good ? such as stealing food to give to a hungry child.

Religions often have objective ethical positions that are believed to be commands from God and are therefore divine, absolute and unchangeable over time and place. Many secular philosophies also hold that absolute ethical laws are inherent in nature, human beings and the universe.