The real reason most college and university students are moral relativists is because they want to get laid–not just once, but promiscuously. They also want to get drunk–not slightly, but thoroughly and often. I could add drug use, rudeness to professors and to each other, and the other problems students have in a decaying culture.
Other than sociopaths and psychopaths, people have consciences. They do not like to feel guilt. If they convince themselves that what they feel is right is “right for them,” then that can do bad things without the guilt. In the past, this tendency of the young to rebel was controlled by strong parenting and strong community standards. Even in the government schools, students were taught that there are some actions that are right, not just for them, but for everyone else–and that some actions are wrong–not just for them, but for all people. In the 1970s, “values clarification” was used to try to teach relativism to students in K-12. Students who are that age between childhood and adulthood who wanted to “go wild” then had an excuse–there are, they were taught, no cross-culturally valid moral standards. The government schools still teach such relativist garbage (the trend began in England before it began in the U.S.; read C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.
Part of adulthood is understanding one’s responsibilities in life and following basic standards of moral decency–avoiding excessive anger, avoiding jealously, envy, murder, theft, sexual wrongs, and other actions that are harmful to human flourishing. Moral relativism is one of many forces that have pushed the effective age of adulthood for Americans to around twenty-six.
People without a firm moral compass will literally try to do everything they desire to do. It is no surprise that even white collar people have been involved in scandal after scandal–there are other causes for their behavior than relativism–bad character, for instance, but the relativism rampant in the school system does not help matters.
Man is a social animal, and for mankind to survive, certain moral rules are essential–do not murder (take innocent human life), steal (for the notion of property rights collapses otherwise), do keep promises (this is necessary for contracts to have any meaning, as is general truthfulness), do not commit adultery (for the sake of a stable family). As far back as Aristotle these were considered to be values required to be a good human being who contributes to the community. Ancient thinkers from Aristotle to Confucius believed in a common moral code that, despite cultural differences in application, had the same general list of virtues and vices. C. S. Lewis calls this code the “Tao.” A society that rejects the Tao will end up like the children in Lord of the Flies, committing murder and hunting with a stick sharpened at both ends (I am grateful to the late Louis Pojman for this point).
Some students will grow out of their relativism, especially after having children of their own. Others do not, however, and this contributes to the decay of the fundamental institution of society, the family, and of social institutions both public and private. Hopefully parents will counteract the influences facing their children these days, as difficult as that is. I am frankly tired of hearing students saying that the evil deeds done by Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were “right for them.” They were not right, period, and young people ought to have enough sense to recognize that.