“It’s true for me if I believe it,” says moral relativism. In the same breath, it argues “if it is acceptable in my culture to torture people (for any reason), then I am accountable only to the constraints of my society’s beliefs of what is right, and not to any other standard of moral truth”. In asserting itself, moral relativism embodies the concept of ‘that’s true for you but not for me’ and implies that this moral disagreement between cultures leads to the conclusion there can be no absolute moral truth. In this essay, I will firstly outline briefly the arguments for moral relativism before countering them with reasons why the arguments are implausible. Secondly this essay will discuss the logical concept of absolute truth while highlighting a few weaknesses of relative truth.
You might be a relativist regarding ethical matters--saying that moral correctness is merely in the mind of the individual, or maybe the dominant group in the society, but remain an absolutist about mathematics, saying that 1+1=2 regardless of whether you or I or anybody else thinks so. Relativism related to moral issues is called ethical relativism: the denial of any absolute or objective moral values and the affirmation of the individual, community or culture as the source of moral values. A relativist might say that there are no absolute moral rights for women to walk the streets unaccompanied by men; they do have that right in the U.S., but not in Afghanistan, and who are we to judge what another society believes? The opposite of ethical relativism is ethical absolutism: there are universal moral standards--not in the sense that everybody accepts them, but in the sense that those who do not accept them are wrong. Thus, a person who defends universal human rights is an ethical absolutist, on
According to this theory, what is morally good for one person or culture might be morally bad for another, and vice versa: there are no moral absolutes. There is also an individual form of moral relativism. Thus, this is where morality varies between individuals, it is called subjectivism. Subjectivism, on the other hand, involves our beliefs or perceptions, in figuring out what is good and what is bad. Narveson explains subjectivity through morals, which he believes to be “subjective.” Narveson believes that “they are merely a “matter of opinion,” there being no such thing as moral knowledge, nothing about can be really correct or incorrect” (Narveson, MM, p. 3).Thus, whether peanut butter tastes good, for example, varies from person to person; for some people this is true, for others it is false.
I will try to show some logical contradictions that occur even if we ignore this is-ought problem. One maxim of moral relativism which will form the basis of the following arguments is “There is no “universal truth” in ethics—that is, there are no moral truths that hold for all people at all times” (Rachels 1986, p. 421). I will compare this claim to others made by relativists and attempt to show that this central claim of relativism is violated by the others. “The moral code of a society determines what is right within that society; that is, if the moral code of a society says that a certain action is right, then that action is right, at least within that society.” (Rachels 1986, p. 421) This is the central claim of moral relativism, the single claim that sums it up best. It is a very interesting claim though, because it states what is right, not within a single society, but within all societies.
Lord Alfred Denning controversially stated “without religion there can be no morality: and without morality there can be no law”. For this absolute statement to be disproven the author must merely provide one fault. However, for one to understand the statement, one must distinguish the differences between religion, morality and law. ‘Religion’ is defined by the Macquarie Concise Dictionary as “a particular formalised system in which the belief has been embodied”. Whereas, ‘morality’ is defined by the Macquarie Concise Dictionary as “conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct”².
2010; Frued, 1962; Ward, 2012). First research question : What is the meaning of morality? There is no universal system of morality as the meaning differs from one area, group and time. To some it means a guidance of a person’s conduct by reason, religion or upbringing. The philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead suggests: ‘Morality is what the majority then and there happens to like and immorality is what they dislike’.
Secondly, moral absolutes do exist. The final body paragraph will counter the supporting arguments by clarifying that absolute objective truths do not exist as moral truth can be universal but not absolute as every culture has the opportunity to hold the same moral truth and the opportunity to be tolerant of all societies. To reply, a current example that is relevant today is provided to show that theoretically the counter argument is strong, but practically Sumner’s statement is not possible. Cultural relativism is the theory that a person's culture strongly influences an individual’s mode of perception and thought (“Relativism”, 2014). The principle claims that there are no objective truth or values as morality is relative to each society or culture.
Thus, since cultural relativism states that we can’t judge other cultures moral codes, then we must be tolerant of them. The Cultural Relativism theory generates an argument in a form of proposing a conclusion about morality based upon facts of a culture. For example, infanticide is a moral code of the Eskimo society. The Eskimo’s believe that infanticide is morally acceptable while American’s view infanticide as iniquitous. As a conclusion, infanticide is not right or wrong because it depends on the cultures opinion and beliefs about infanticide.
Some people believe that culture is a way that morality can be established, but morality differs from culture to culture. In Doing Ethics, Lewis Vaughn talks about cultural relativism and lays out an argument for it. In the second premise it states “If people’s judgments about right and wrong differ from culture to culture, then right and wrong are relative to culture, and there are no objective moral principles” (Vaughn 26). He makes it clear that he does not support this premise and explains his points as to why this is false. Cultural relativism is the idea that the moral principles someone has are solely determined by the culture one lives in.
A follower of natural law would say that the statement is flawed, and that the theory can be extremely useful when dealing with issues concerning the environment. However, there are those who would believe otherwise, and suggest an alternative ethical approach to be more appropriate. One way in which natural law is of no use when dealing with issues concerning the environment is that some rules formulated by the theory do not work when applied. For example, Aquinas’ synderesis rule of ‘do good, avoid evil’ is the foundation of his ethical theory, this principle implying that the exploitation and abuse of the environment would be wrong as it is regarded as evil. Despite this, his synderesis rule consequently cannot be applied to all situations when dealing with issues concerning the environment as it is impossible to ‘avoid evil’ completely.