The Use of Relative and Universal Moral Theories

The Use of Relative and Universal Moral Theories

Unit VII Essay


BSL 4080 Creative Thinking and Problem Solving

Columbia Southern University

The Use of Relative and Universal Moral Theories

This essay will compare and contrast how a successful leader may use relative moral and universal moral theories. This paper will discuss the impact that unethical behavior can have upon a team and will promote a leading theory in terms of which is thought to be more effective in establishing trust within the team. After providing brief explanations of these two moral theories, this essay will expand on why some researches agree with the universal stance considering morality to be evolutionary while others consider it to be solely influenced by the individual.

According to Judith Boss’ Think; Critical Thinking and Logic Skills for Everyday Life (2007), moral reasoning occurs when we make decisions about what we should or should not do regarding a specific issue. This reasoning takes place throughout our lives and happens every single day. In fact, the Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that morality is the most fundamental expression in rational human nature. While non-moral values are the basic, goal-oriented, decisions we make each day and are an instrument for us to get where we want to be, moral values are those related to compassion, justice, and forgiveness. Moral values benefit self and hold their own worth and value on their face (Boss, 2007).

Because morality is relative to the individual, it is important to understand that moral theory is the basic understanding that allows us to recognize if something is right or wrong; just or unjust; good or bad. There are two basic types of moral theories that scholars have been debating for centuries. One camp subscribes to the belief that morality is relative and the other claim it is universal. Moral relativists, those on the relative side of the fence, claim that we each create our own moral compass and make adjustments to it throughout our lives. They believe morality is not something that is shared, common, or universal; what one person might consider morally absolute may not be in line with that of a friend, a spouse, or even that person’s children. On the other side of the fence are the Universalists who claim, in contrast, that morality is, in fact shared and mutually common for all people. Because we all know someone who projects an inability to take a stand on certain morality-based issues such as capital punishment or abortion, most scholars believe this comes down to personal opinion and not an attack on the theories themselves. Researchers hold the theories are still valid and, upon in-depth analysis, the individual actually does hold a belief that would fall into one of these two categories or theories; they are simply guarding it (Boss, 2017).

For many, the essence of morality is conscience. Morality is concerned with right and wrong. The ability to discern right from wrong has long been considered the hallmark of humanity (Davenport, 2014). Conscience has been described as that little voice in one’s head advising on what is right and what is wrong. There are emotional elements attributed to conscience that provide humans the ability to bounce things off the wall in our head before making a decision. Moral sentiments are the emotions that motivate us to help others, feel compassion, get angry at someone, or even feel guilty for something we have done or not done (Boss, 2017). While empathy also falls into this category and allows us to take the feelings of others into account, compassion is the action that follows the empathetic feeling. Because many of these sentiments create an uplifting tone or feeling, moral outrage or indignation can take over when we see something perceived as wrong or in contrast to what we think is right. Guilt often accompanies these conscience feelings as it alerts us to the fact that we are motivated to correct or fix something that we have done (or failed to do) for another.

When thrust into a team environment, we experience these emotions or feelings often. Because functions of team are those wherein individuals work together toward a common goal, our conscience is constantly working in conjunction with actions to fulfill our portion of the overall plan or goal. These thoughts and feelings can become overwhelming when someone on the team cheats or does not follow the plan (Stewart et al., 1999). They can even become worse when something illegal or immoral actually aids the team in achieving the goal because of the conflict created by winning by cheating. When we know about or even condone the cheating, guilt is often the product. The same is often true when the individual him/herself is the one doing the cheating. An example might be a high level athlete taking performance enhancing drugs or steroids. The use of these drugs are barred by the rules, can be harmful to the user, but may help the team succeed in winning. The well-balanced individual will often feel a wide array of emotions because of the moral reasoning that is taking place on top of all their common emotions and feelings. Shame and guilt often occur because the user realizes he/she has not lived up to expectations on one hand, but on the other hand, they are being praised or recognized for pushing the team toward victory and accomplishment (Dasborough, et al., 2020). As the average athlete may not separate guilt from shame, critical thinkers must and do distinguish between the two.

When all this is going on within our example’s mind, a virtual house of cards, being fed by cheating, remorse, exhilaration, joy, accomplishment, and guilt is created. The team is counting on each individual and everyone is working in concert toward the common goal. When unethical or immoral behavior and actions are introduced, be it self-induced or via a teammate, that house of cards begins to crumble. Regardless of which theory (relative or universal) one subscribes to, when this type of conflict occurs, a moral dilemma happens. By definition, a moral dilemma is a situation in which conflict arises from differing moral values (Boss, 2017). Humans resolve typical dilemmas many times a day, but some involve such unique variables that solutions are hard to imagine. According to Boss, the best solution to a moral dilemma is the one that honors the greatest amount of moral values at that particular time. In some of these situations, finding the greatest amount of positive moral values can be extremely difficult and may seem as if the person is choosing between the lesser of two evils.

As the debate as to which theory holds more value for the greater amount of people continues for another thousand years, most would still agree with Aristotle who believed that morality is the most fundamental expression in rational human nature. While times have changed and the issues that we suffer with may have adjusted with living conditions, the little voice in our head remains constant. Always attempting to guide us away from wrong and toward whatever the most positive end-result may be. From the ancient philosophers to the nameless neighbor down the street, trying to balance our morality against wellbeing, conflict, need, and desire can be quite a struggle that will continue until our final days.


Boss, J. A. (2017). THiNK: Critical thinking and logic skills for everyday life (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Dasborough, M. T., Hannah, S. T., & Zhu, W. (2020). The generation and function of moral

emotions in teams: An integrative review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(5), 433.

Davenport, David. “Moral mechanisms.” Philosophy & Technology, vol. 27, no. 1, 2014, p. 47.

Stewart, G. L., Manz, C. C., & Sims, H. P., Jr. (1999). Teamwork and group dynamics. New

York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.