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Absolutism is a theory stating that there is only one moral truth for everyone. Recognising this view we can better understand some people’s opposition to animal rights.
You can better understand the animal rights position of some people when you recognise that they are taking an absolutist stance. For better or worse, some of your own assumptions or rationalisations may be absolutist.
Absolutism is universal. Absolutism is an ethical theory that states there is only one moral truth for everyone. According to absolutism, concepts like right and wrong, true and false, beauty, valour and loyalty are universal: they are the same for everyone, in all situations, everywhere, in all societies and for all time. Thus moral value is permanent, immutable and the standard by which you can judge everything. For instance, there is only one good life for everyone to follow because there is only one goodness.
King Charles I (1600 - 1649) was the last absolutist monarch of England. He held that there could be only one King and everyone was subject to the king's power, which was total and permanent. In a changing society, he would not alter his belief and was eventually beheaded.
Where do absolute values come from? Depending on your attitude you might claim that absolute values originate from God, society, the state, tradition or some other source, like natural selection. You might therefore declare you have an absolute right to use animals because God gave humanity dominion over them (anthropocentrism, religion). Or that we have absolute right over animals because the law declares it (legalism). Or you might assert that you have the total right to hunt animals because of tradition: 'we do it because it's always been that way'. Or you might assume that you could hunt animals because you are superior to them (prejudice and speciesism) and must manage nature (anthropocentrism). Equally well you could adjust any of these arguments to expound the view that animals have a right to exist unmolested by humanity.
Another name for absolutism is objectivism, aptly named because it opposes subjectivism, another ethical theory, which says morality depends on each individual's opinion.
An issue with absolutism is whether we can know absolute truth? Who is to say what is right? Who is to say that eating animals or experimenting on them is right or wrong? If you believe in religious authority you may accept the word of religious leaders. Or if you believe in philosophers or professional authority you may accept the word of intellects or people who tell us they know best. But if you are an atheist or critical freethinker you might reject them and have to look elsewhere for a moral code.
Another objection about absolutism is that it inhibits thinking for yourself and prevents debate because it allows for no choice. Absolutism says that there is only one morally correct path. Having just one right path removes the need to reflect on what the right moral action could be, yet surely morality is about reflection.
Finally, absolutism can be confusing when conflicts arise. Your country may command that it is your absolute duty to defend your country and kill people if need be. Your mother may plead with you always to eat the meat on your plate. But what if you believe that taking human or animal life is wrong no matter what the circumstances? To resolve conflict and decide on the right moral action you should take, you may have to appeal to an ethical theory other than absolutism.
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