In moral philosophy, you are either absolutist or relativist. What is not good is bad and what is bad is not good. Middle grounds don’t work well in the world of moral philosophy. But are all bad things not-good? Can anything good come out of Nazareth as the writer of the gospel asked?

Jesus was a moral philosopher, but which camp was He? Absolutist or relativist? Did He stand at one end of the moral continuum or did He, at some point take a middle ground? How for instance can one explain His anger at the use of temple grounds as a trading floor then setting a confirmed adulterer free? These explain the slippery path which every moral philosopher must walk.

Someone may want to throw the law of identity into the mix. Something is either A or not A. At this moment of writing rain has introduced itself where I live. If I say it rained last night in Ifa and another person says it did not rain at Ifa, of the two persons who is correct and of the two persons is wrong if both of them refer to a particular geographic spot in Ifa. This is the absolutist argument. To say it threatened to rain does not change the status of the law of identity.

Now to the argument as to whether bad is absolute or not. Some cases may help us resolve the issue.

Take first the medico-moral issue of euthanasia or mercy killing. Should a medical doctor retain nutrient infusion into someone with extremely painful terminal, incurable illness? Oxygen or intravenous nutrients or whatever is applied to keep someone alive is called life support. If the doctor or some other health personnel pulls off the life support facility and the patient pass on, has the health personnel committed murder? If the sick person does same if he or she has the strength and knowledge to do so, would it amount to suicide? Mercy killing continues to attract intense controversy in medical and religious circles the world over.

For our purpose, is stopping heart-breaking pain to end life bad or not-good?

In the Federal Service of Nigeria, the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) operates a policy which at first sight appears simple and a product of common sense. No public officer must embark on a project without the cash to pay having entered the bank account of the agency. For cash to enter the account full due process must have been followed. This policy pre-empts emergency decisions, but the thrust has been to avoid corrupt practices as well as committing government to pay a contractor to avoid embarrassment.

When this issue was explained to Heads of institutions of higher learning at Abuja in 2007, I asked a question: what happens if student infrastructure faces collapse and pre-emptive action is necessary to reduce damage as well as save the lives of students? The young BPP staff repeated his warning but after all questions had been answered he went back to my question. He said there should be documentation and request to BPP for letter of no objection before looking for a willing contractor to use own funds to save the situation. He did not tell the audience how long such letter would take. The question is: would pre-emptive action to save infrastructure and lives against government policy be bad or not-good?

Now, imagine the difficulty an institution’s head faces if there is money in the account labelled “Maintenance of Student Infrastructure” when the account for drugs for the Medical Centre has not been funded. Transferring and using money from the former to the latter implies transgression of public policy known as virement which attracts a jail term of two years. The question again haunts us: use of money meant for painting of hostel to buy critical drugs to save the lives of students is bad or not-good? Policy inconsistency can keep a CEO sleepless and hike blood pressure.

Based on above one should not be surprised at the situation Jesus the Christ found Himself. Jews were on the side of the law – a woman caught in adultery must be stoned. Jesus found a way out and when He raised His head to see an empty arena, He told the woman, “Go, sin no more.” The statement confirmed the accusation that the woman stood guilty as charged. But the law did not take its course whether the law should be considered just or unjust. The question therefore stands again at the public square: should setting free someone who was without doubt guilty bad or not-good?

The argument as to absolute truths and morals versus relative truths and morals more so in the context of action will continue for all time. What rational people should do is not to rush into judgement and or conclusion. Look closer. Can heavy rain and drizzle be regarded as rain? What indeed is precipitation? What is bad is not-good, but a caveat should be written in. To take a position on any issue, obtain as many perspectives as is possible. The truth lies somewhere.

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