There are many questions that can be posed when speaking of right and wrong: what determines whether one s actions are right or wrong, what exactly right and wrong are, and why actions must be judged as either right or wrong All three questions can be answered with the statement that the only universal absolute is that all things are relative. The previous statement may seem to be a paradox, but with closer examination it is evident that what is true for all human beings is that there are no truths. A prime example used in the debate on what constitutes right or wrong actions is Ryunosuke Akutagawa s Rashomon. The story takes place in twelfth-century Kyoto, Japan with the main character as a former servant of a noble samurai warrior, who was forced to take refuge from the rain underneath the Rashomon, a large gate. It was at the Rashomon that he found an old woman making wigs out of the hair of the corpses of those that had been left there.
He confronted the old woman who was committing, what he considered to be, an unpardonable crime, and with his sword drawn, demanded an explanation for her vile behavior. She told the servant that what he thought was a great evil was what she had to do in order to live, and he was then overcome by a powerful urge to rob the old woman, beat her, and vanish into the night. The story shows the main character s eventual rise of evil to facilitate survival. Even in a society based on nobility, honor, and pride, when faced with certain circumstances, in this case, death, one will try to secure his place in the world and prolong life by any means necessary. The servant debated for quite sometime whether he would become a thief and live, or starve to death, but he could not muster enough courage to justify becoming a thief. This was the case until he found the old woman doing what he thought was wrong but what she believed to be right under the circumstances.
She justified her actions by saying that the corpses deserve no better and probably wouldn t care. It was at that moment that the servant was able to justify his own thoughts of becoming a thief, he would merely be doing what was necessary for him to continue living. In Rashomon, Akutagawa shows the main character s transformation from right to wrong. Under the circumstances, he was able to abandon all of his moral, spiritual, and cultural beliefs and give in to the anomalistic nature of man to fight for what he believes is his. When he was finally provided with an acceptable justification for his actions he did not find anything wrong in robbing a old woman, as long as her actions seemed to be worse; and in a sense even made himself feel like a super hero by taking revenge on society s garbage.
Thus, what may be right for one may be wrong for another, as the opposite is also true, so an absolute basis for judging right and wrong does not and cannot exist.