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What does the following quote mean: "There is no right or wrong, only thinking makes it so."

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This quote is a variation of Hamlet's line to Rosencrantz in act 2, scene 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet: "for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so" (2.2.257-258).

Hamlet's uncle Claudius, who murdered Hamlet's father to become king of Denmark, sends Hamlet's childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to "glean / Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him" (2.2.16-17)—in other words, to find out what's troubling Hamlet.

This is the context of the line:

HAMLET. What have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune that she sends you to prison hither?

GUILDENSTERN. Prison, my lord?

HAMLET. Denmark's a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ. Then is the world one.

HAMLET. A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.

ROSENCRANTZ. We think not so, my lord.

HAMLET. Why, then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. (2.2.248-258)

For Hamlet—at that moment—the issue is situational, not moral. Hamlet is addressing the circumstances in which he finds himself—being confined to Denmark indefinitely—not the moral implications of "good or bad."

Hamlet feels trapped, and he's under continual scrutiny by Claudius, who sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on him, of which Hamlet is keenly aware.

Nevertheless, Hamlet might be taking a larger view of his situation, and extrapolating from the writings of Marcus Aurelius (121–180 CE), Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher.

Reflect that everything is matter of opinion; and opinion rests with yourself. (Meditations, Book XII, 22)

The world is a succession of changes: life is but thought. (Meditations, Book IV, 3)

In terms of moral relativism, which other educators have touched on in their responses to this question, there are two basic relativist theories. Both of these theories are relevant to Hamlet's overall situation in the play, and contribute to Hamlet's inner conflict and to his conflicts with other characters.

Individual moral relativism is a theory by which the individual determines their own moral or ethical code. Hamlet has determined, for example, that his mother's marriage to his uncle is morally reprehensible. Hamlet's mother and uncle apparently disagree with Hamlet's opinion about their marriage.

Cultural moral relativism states that a society, not the individual, determines the moral standards for the society as a whole and for the individuals within that society.

Hamlet's individual moral code is clearly in conflict with the murder, usurpation, incest, and deception that seem to be morally acceptable in the society in which he finds himself entrapped in Elsinore.

Hamlet spends the entirety of the play trying to reconcile these divergent, conflicting, and untimely irreconcilable moral codes. This results in the deaths of everyone involved in these conflicts, including the two seeming bystanders, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

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It is a theory of living that negates the importance or function or morality. For example, if you believe that a lifestyle is okay then it is okay. If you believe that one behavior is okay then it is okay "for you". According to this theory, all typical human actions or behaviors are socially prescribed but not an expression of morality, they are not inherently correct or incorrect.

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It's a statement of what's called moral relativism.  This is the idea that there is nothing that is truly right or wrong and that what we think of as right or wrong is really just determined by our society.  In other words, what we (or our society) think about something is what makes it right or wrong.

There are a number of examples of things that are seen as perfectly okay in one society but that are frowned upon in another.  One example would be the way women dress in our society.  We think it's normal, a devout Muslim would think it's wrong.  Or on the flip side, we think cock fighting is completely immoral and we ban it while in the Philippines, for example, it's perfectly legal and my uncle makes money raising fighting cocks.

So the quote just means that nothing's truly right or wrong and that right or wrong is all in the eye of the beholder.

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