Relativism vs. Absolutism

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The two dominant theories of morality are relativism and absolutism. The former is the position which states that moral propositions do not reflect objective or universal moral truths but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or circumstantial conditions. The latter is the ethical belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged. The theory claims that certain actions are right or wrong regardless of the context of the act. Therefore, actions are inherently moral or immoral, regardless of the beliefs and goals of the individual, society or culture that engages in the action. The theory holds that morals are inherent in the law of the universe, the nature of humanity, the will of god, or some other fundamental source. Thus, the theory recognizes objective facts about morality: moral claims are either true or false for everyone. One such relative theorist, Hobbes, argues for morality as a solution for practical problems. Morality, in his system, is a vehicle to move from state of nature into law of nature, and is a move mandated by self-interest. In the laws of nature, there is a covenant among people in which one of the parties must perform after the other through promise. However, promise in Hobbes’ system is not based on trust, virtue or any intrinsic purpose, because by the first natural right which is self-preservation, such justification seems as a luxury. Since one on trusts no one, promise keeping should be enforced by the fear of sovereign, whose job is to enforce the contract by punishing those who break it. Thus, the fear of punishment by sovereign makes promise keeping possible. In his argument for relativism, Hobbes, thus, argues that morality exists only in society and that the people, through a covenant, ensure their security by appointing a leader who will enforce a given moral law.
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