Children think there are no Moral Facts


Childrenthink there are no Moral Facts

The New YorkTimes editorial posted on 2nd March, 2015 by Justin P.McBrayer caused a panic – panic over morals. The editorial warnedthat children in schools do not identify with moral facts. They donot differentiate what is right and what is wrong. They do not acceptthe truth about values. But is it right for a person to cheat or lieor kill to get what he/she wants? Children today could not answerthat for sure. Justin McBrayer’s most argued claim says how theyouth in the country turned out to be very dissolute. But if themillennials have not acquired respect for ethics, then it is becausethe parents and other grown up individuals that are letting themdown. McBrayer argues that children are taught in school that thereare no moral facts. But where is the evidence that teachers arefeeding these children jumbled and jaded moral guidance? Thiseducational approach is wrong however much there are a lot of truthsin it. The purpose of the paper therefore is to examine the reasonsbehind why children think that there are no moral facts, how theteachers have turned the children into moral monsters, and why it isa wrong educational approach. In addition, the paper disagrees withmodern schools that devalue morality, by making it appear lessirrelevant of important.

To begin with,McBrayer start by putting across his side of the argument. He saysthat “as a renowned philosopher, he knew already that a lot ofcollege students do not believe in the moral facts.” However, hefailed to back up this point since he did not have enough data but hewas convinced that “overwhelming” number of college studentswhile in class rooms viewed moral claims as a mere opinions that maybe true or are only true to certain cultures (Zamulinski, 2007). Anumber of questions could arise from this point of view. How did whatthe children and college students do become wishy-washy? Does it meantheir values have disappeared in the middle of postmodernism noticedin most schools? He does not think so. He thinks that the modernschools have developed a tendency of devaluing morality and make lessimportant. In addition, students are taught and appear to lack moralvision from the first day they entered school. The teachers have alsoplayed a part in espousing moral relativeness (McBrayer, 2015).

School childrenin the modern day are known to be moral relativists that rely onfavorite tools of philosophy: Intuition and anecdote. According toLaupa (2000), children do not hold moral views based on absolutism.On the other hand, McBrayer (2014) thinks that the case withnaturalism is the increasing contention that the presence ofobjective moral “truths” and “facts” can, in a way, bescientifically discerned, and that it can be based on subjectivereferences, which cannot be scientifically adjudicated. Actions,based from this, is judged as a “wrong” or “right” based onconsequences in the society (McBrayer, 2015). McBrayer arguesstrongly that moral facts are there, and that children have beenmisled by their tutors. He went ahead and adds that the tutors shouldas well teach the children that objectivism is derived from the moralfacts, and if not handle with care, the word would degenerate intoimmorality.

According toMcBrayer, it creates confusion that schools tout implicitly on moralrelativism to have children differentiate between “fact” and“opinion”, and what is wrong. Moral relativism from McBrayer’sargument could not give a better explanation of the fact of enduringand deep moral disagreement. In my opinion, it means that if moraldisagreement provides evidence against moral truth objectivism, thenit can only give evidence for moral nihilisms – the idea that nomoral truths are present. This educational approach is wrong sincethe argument that supports moral relativism from diversity is not asconvincing it should have. According to Shafer-landau (2013), if thefact that people or groups disagree over a certain idea was enough toreveal that there is no objective value, then there could not havebeen any objective truth about the causes of autism or the age of theuniverse.

McBrayer pointsout the common codes involve while “distinguishing it with thefact, reasoned judgement, and opinion in a text.” But how did“opinion” got separated from “reasoned judgement”? He seemsto imply that opinions do not involve judgements or reasoning, whichis questionable, peculiar and telling. Laupa (2000) thought thatthere is absolute emphasis in support of one’s opinions with“evidence.” A thing that cannot be backed up by “evidence” isjust an opinion, and that something with more substantial “facts”is supposed to be held highly. It should also be noted that factsdoes not always define something and therefore it should be selectedout of the many. In addition, not every moral argument is supportedby moral facts. McBrayer gave an example that killing for fun shouldbe considered wrong but why? He gave the idea to highlight thatwhatever children are taught in school is an example that there areno moral facts, and that teachers are teaching them, for example,that killing for fun is right. If teachers emphasize that killing forfun is wrong, considering human life is dignified, then the childrenshould be aware that the life of a human being should be handled withcare, whether for fun or otherwise.

McBrayerargues that there is confusion between “facts” and “opinions”categories in schools. He claims that in public schools, thecurriculum instructs the children that any form of moral claim –from “thou shall not kill” – should be handled as an “opinion”,a product of a mere believe with no taste of the truth. He arguesthat, “moral facts are not there. And since they are not there,then moral truths are not there either” (Zamulinski, 2007). If ourkids are taught that when ethics comes into play, everything isvalid, then their brains will be filled with “doublethink”, andthey will be locked inside within the realm of moral relativism.

From therelativism point of view, there are two significant ingredients:denial of any kind of objective truth, and assertion of some form ofmoral truth. Supposed that moral conflict does trigger some doubts onthe objective truth of any sense of moral code, then the questioncould be does it mean that moral codes are the truth in other sense?The answer would be no. Perhaps it is because people tend to disagreesince they are acculturated in uniquely different moral cultureshowever, standards or all moral beliefs are false. This means thatthe educational approach employed by teachers in schools present adisagreement that could be argument for nihilism rather than formrelativism on morals.

McBrayer (2015) asks how do relativists hope to come up with theirthesis since moral arguments are true sometimes without truthfullybeing objective? Relativists, on the contrary, tend to argue insteadfor the negative thesis, that morality is objectively not true, as ifit is true for its relativistic conclusion. Moral judgements, in thiscase, are judged on emotions that reasoning cannot identify whichvalues to adopt. Murdoch (1971) add that even in the presence ofsomething like human nature, it could be of no use since the factthat we have nature triggers an open question on whether what isconsidered natural, is really morally good. The relativism approachraises doubts on the objective truth on moral beliefs. In case of anabsence of any special form of truth, which is supposed to besomewhere in between accurate representation and mere belief of anyobjective reality, then why should we only think of moral judgementsto be the truth of any form? Why is it hard to say that moral codesare not the truth?

This approach is also wrong since human reasoning is the only thingthat determines what is right and what is wrong. However, the problemis observed by McBrayer when he keenly examines the absurdity andinconsistency that comes with moral relativism. He hoped to havesolved the question while stepping on the same foundation like thatof moral relativists. Public schools teach the children about moralrelativism because they handle the situation from the supposeddefault atheism position, which is also a wrong approach. This isbecause the atheistic and moral relativists come from a positionwhere human reasoning is the truth. The approach is again wrongbecause it identifies errors in moral relativists. On the contrary,the solution has to be driven deeper than “examination of evidence”approach, which is hard to argue its evidence. The childrenidentifies with what they are taught in the school curriculum. Theyimplicitly have a commitment to specific system and on whether theyarticulate will it or not. This is conditioned the manner in whichevery student will interpret and internalizes whatever they presentedto them within the curriculum. According to Shafer-landau (2013), hecautions that there is nothing like “neutral rationality” defaultposition. Children are rational beings however, their rationality isnot put into practice when in a vacuum.

Again, the approach is wrong since while going against the idea thatdifferentiating between an opinion and a fact is binary, there isignorance that Common Core articulates specifically a third choice.For example, a quick observation at pre-CCSS standards shows thatfour states in the US asked students to differentiate between anopinion, fact, and opinioned judgement. Only one state madedistinctions between opinion, propaganda, bias, fact, and hype.Distinctions by contrast, are acknowledged by the Common Core thatthere is a third possibility, which is the reasoned judgement, andthat it is far from reinforcement of the idea that statements areeither de facto opinions or objective facts (McBrayer, 2014).

McBrayer does not provide the actual argument as to why there areno substantial moral facts. A wrong approach is also shown in hiseditorial since he dogmatically assumes that the truth is that moralfacts do exist. The same is observed in ethics on why it is hard toconvince school children that the ultimate goal of good health is thewellbeing of a person. Likewise, teaching that “taking iron fillingis not good” is by no means exactly true but it could be anabsolute truth if the stated goal to the school children is to drivethe common notion that “health” is important (McBrayer, 2015). An absolute truth, therefore, is a notion that has no need for and itshould not be embraced.

In conclusion, it thus seems that the approach, from McBrayer’sargument goes against devaluing of morality by modern schools makingit appear less important. This is thus hard to ultimately avoid moralfacts and relativism of devaluation of morality in schools (Laupa,2000). Whatever is plausible for one student is implausible for theother. There is no amount of looking for evidence could ever root thestudents out of their cultural, social, backgrounds to a pureobjective fashion. And while human reasoning is place at the moralarbitration pinnacle, it is hard to avoid the revitalization of nosimple truths. The educational approach is therefore wrong andmisdirected. What is needed perhaps is addressing our knowledgepreconditions of the moral truth if the autonomy is a predisposedhuman rationality, and then moral relativism becomes the inevitableconclusion.


Murdoch, I.(1971). The sovereignty of good. New York: Schocken Books.

McBrayer, J. P.(2014). Introducing ethics: A critical thinking approach withreadings.

McBrayer J. P. (2015). Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are MoralFacts. The New York Times. New York NY.

Laupa, M. A. (2000). Rights and wrongs: How children and youngadults evaluate the world. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.

Shafer-Landau, R. (2013). Ethical theory: An anthology. Chichester,West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Zamulinski B. E. (2007). Evolutionary intuitionism: A theory ofthe origin and nature of moral facts. Montreal: McGill-Queen`sUniversity Press.