Do you think that there are universal moral laws?

Ethics often takes the form of articulating laws or principles which are intended to guide how human beings should act. Consider, for example, the command: thou shall not kill. Or: an action is moral if it creates the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. The presumption here is that ethics can somehow be articulated as a series of rules or procedures that, if one follows them, will allow one to act ethically. Most ethicists then engage in a debate to determine the correct set of rules.

As you have perhaps noticed, our textbook, and by extension continental philosophy, is somewhat (though not universally) skeptical about this approach. However, this is not that say that continental philosophers think that there is no right or wrong and that it is permissible to act in whatever way that you choose. Rather, continental philosophers pay much closer attention to context and historical and cultural circumstances than philosophers in the analytic tradition. Moral demands and obligations issue not from universal laws or rules, or rational systems, but from concrete encounters between human beings. As such, it may not be possible to formulate universally applicable rules for right behavior, and in fact, as we have seen several times in this book, if you are content to merely following the rules you may not be able to act ethically. The reason for this is that ethics requires you to really confront the situation at hand and make a decision, and if the answer is just to apply and follow the rules of a certain ethical system then you are not the one making the decision: the rules make the decision for you.

So what do you think? Do you think that there are universal moral laws? What are these laws and rules and how would you justify them? If you are skeptical about the existence of universal ethical principles, how would cultivate ethical practices in their absence?


Approximately 250 words