Moral Absolutes

In Hugh LaFollette, John Deigh & Sarah Stroud (eds.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell (2013)

Authors
Luke Robinson
Southern Methodist University
Abstract
The term “moral absolute” refers to many different ideas. In contemporary moral philosophy, it most commonly refers to the idea of a moral prohibition or rule that holds without exception. Less commonly, it refers to the idea of a moral rule or standard that applies to all moral agents, rather than only to members of a particular society or culture or only to particular individuals (e.g., those who accept it). The present topic is moral absolutes in the first of these two senses (hereinafter, “moral absolutes”). Notable philosophers who have maintained that there are such absolutes include Immanuel Kant and Elizabeth Anscombe. And the debate over the existence of moral absolutes has implications not only for general moral theory, but also for many topics in applied ethics and just war theory. For example, the question of whether the prohibition on deliberately killing the innocent is absolute has important implications for abortion, euthanasia, and noncombatant immunity.
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