Moral Relativism - Moral Relativism: What It Is, and Why...

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Moral Relativism: What It Is, and Why You Probably Don't Really Believe It Dr. Robert Noggle Assistant Professor of Philosophy Central Michigan University Disclaimer: These notes are intended to supplement to my PHL 118 and PHL 218-L courses. Because those courses do not deal with meta-ethics, these remarks make certain simplifications that are not appropriate for a more detailed study of the subject. THE PROBLEM OF MORAL DISAGREEMENT People's opinions about morality differ. Some people believe that abortion is immoral. Others believe that abortion is a morally legitimate choice. Some people believe that no war can ever be just. Others believe that at least some wars are just. Some people believe that we must never lie. Others believe that sometimes lies are morally justified. Some people believe that it is immoral to eat animals. Others believe that there is nothing wrong with eating animals. Moral disagreements are common and familiar. What do such disagreements tell us? How should we deal with them? What should we do when we have to deal with people whose moral opinions differ from ours? There are three main ways to cope with moral conflict and disagreement: moral dogmatism, moral relativism, and moral reasoning. MORAL DOGMATISM One option is to simply shout out our opinions more and more loudly, or to resort to other anti- intellectual tactics. Some people simply assume that they have the correct moral opinions and refuse to consider the possibility that they might be wrong. This attitude is called "dogmatism." Dogmatism is the holding of a belief without being willing to discuss it, or to offer any reasons to support it, or to consider any opposing viewpoint. People who hold an opinion dogmatically often assume that their opinion is so obviously true that they do not need any reasons for it. Hence, a dogmatist will typically refuse to give any reasons or rational arguments to support the dogmatic opinion. This is not the way rational persons should behave of course, but it does happen (as anyone who has seen the Jerry Springer Show can attest). MORAL RELATIVISM Another way to deal with the problem of moral disagreement is to adopt some sort of moral relativism. Moral relativism is the claim that what is moral for a person really is just whatever
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she or her culture believes. That is, moral relativism is the theory that moral truth is relative to the individual or to society. (1) (Technically, the term "moral relativism" actually refers to the doctrine that moral truth is relative to the society or culture. "Moral (or ethical) subjectivism" actually refers to the doctrine that moral truth is relative to the individual. These technicalities will not affect what I say here, so I will just use "moral relativism" to cover both.) Moral relativism is more than just the claim that people's and societies' moral beliefs differ. That claim is obviously true: members of some societies believe (or have believed) that polygamy, slavery, infanticide, female circumcision, cannibalism, and so on are moral. And clearly
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This note was uploaded on 09/19/2010 for the course PHILOSOPHY phil taught by Professor Brown during the Spring '10 term at Indiana Institute of Technology.

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Moral Relativism - Moral Relativism: What It Is, and Why...

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