Liberalism & Moral Judgments

There is a very common misconception that liberalism endorses an “everything goes” approach to morality, where people can do whatever they want. Some of my liberal friends feel guilty when they judge others, seeing it as a personal weakness that taints their liberal outlook.

Liberalism is not synonymous with moral relativism. To be a liberal simply means accepting that people’s life choices are theirs to make, and you cannot impose your views on them, or compel them to live by your own moral values.

Can you consider their life choices bad? Absolutely.

Can you try to persuade them to change their lifestyle? Only if they are willing to listen. Again, you cannot force your views on others.

Can you share your moral views publicly? You must, if you want to have any influence on the culture you live within. You cannot lament the spread of fanaticism, intolerance, immorality, and lack of consideration when you are not taking an active part in promoting your moral views.

To lead a healthy, moral life you must first begin by exemplifying your values through your personal conduct. That alone is far more influential than trying to persuade others with evidence and arguments they see clashing with your behavior.

Next, you should appeal to other people’s views, before you seek to change their values. Present rational arguments that lead to a change in perspective, rather than demand they adopt your values with threats of violence or through legislative means. Liberalism opposes the use of force, both physical and legal in trying to control human behavior.

If you want to influence others, speak up. Some will listen to you, many will ignore you, and others will speak against you. That’s part of engaging with society and causing a mental shift in people’s views and values.

Finally, I would like to stress on the difference between passing judgment and being judgmental. The first is about evaluating behaviors, whereas the second is about obsessing over other people’s behaviors and trying to evaluate them as people.

Morality isn’t about throwing people into “Good” and “Bad” categories. It’s about encouraging good behaviors (that lead to well-being and happiness), while discouraging bad ones (that lead to hostility and harm). This means that humans have the capacity to make moral choices and take responsibility for their actions.

If you’re not happy with the state of the world, begin with yourself, then contribute to a positive trend in society. Others live by their own choices, but you can help them make better ones.

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