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Unformatted text preview: flicted on others.
So mere individual belief about what is right and what is wrong
cannot morally justify someone’s actions.
There must be something else that justifies her action (or not),
some moral reasons for or against the action.
So most people who find moral relativism attractive do not find
subjectivism attractive. Instead, the alternative formulationsubjectivism
which involves appealing to cultural relativism- seems to be
favored: the rightness of an action is determined by what
people in a given culture by and large believe.
10 Moral Relativism
Moral The major consideration in favor of this theory is that it seems
to reflect actual moral practice. That cultural differences in
moral belief and attitudes exist is a certainty.
Burial practices vary from culture to culture, female
circumcision is practiced in some culture (Guinea, Mali, Sierra
Leon, Somalia, Chad, Egypt,135 million) and condemned in
others, certain animals are approved eating in one culture but
not another and the list could go on.
These differences exist across time as well as geography.
There is huge temporal variation in cultural belief about moral
Women’s voting right appeared ridiculous to an American
President until 1776. There is a difference between how people
in the USA feel about equality and the scope of equality today
as opposed to over 200 years ago.
Some writers particularly anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict,
believe that this fact establishes the truth of moral relativism. This
view is attractive to many because it is viewed as tolerant of moral Moral Relativism
Moral Moral relativism is based on a recognition of cultural
diversity-there is no right or wrong that transcends a given
culture, no universal truth to morality.
It is important to note that relativism is a radically strong
claim. It is not to be confused with the view that rightness
is somehow context sensitive- which is fairly
Instead, relativism maintains that there are no universal
moral truth at all, where ‘universal’ is understood as
‘across all countries’ precisely because moral quality is
understood relative to belief of persons in a given society.
A person who believe that the claim ‘It is wrong to cause
unnecessary sufferings’ might vary from context to context
depending on the facts of the situation.
So for example, it might be wrong for Joseph to buy a
carpet in a situation in which the carpet was made using
child Moral Relativism
Moral We may disagree with what people believe about torture in one
culture, we can always adopt a tolerant attitude by holding as
relativism would seem to demand that ‘Torture is not okay by
me but it is okay for them.’
And tolerance is moral virtue. If there is no objective truth to
appeal to, then criticisms to various cultural practices seem
What we call ‘morality’ is a just a construct of various societies
and cultures each with its own set of norms and not subject to
criticism or praise from outsiders.
Of course we are free to ask whether or not tolerance is ,
universally a virtue. If so, relativism is false. If not, then what
about cultures that reject tolerance themselves?
Relativism also seems to offer a principled way of approaching
moral disagreement, at least at the cultural level. If someone
wants to know whether or not stealing is wrong, he just has to
determine what the prevailing beliefs are in a given culture.
13 Moral Relativism
but it would not be wrong for Alexandra to buy a carpet
given that it was made without harming anyone.
Thus, it is logical to say that whether or not it is acceptable
to buy a carpet depends upon the circumstances- but not
in any way that undercut moral universalism.
The Universalist can claim that the relevant moral truth is
that it is wrong to cause unnecessary sufferings- and this
holds both of the cases mentioned above.
Relativism denies that claims such as this have any
universal or objective standing. Truth of moral claims
depends completely on the beliefs that are common to the
culture in which the judgement is made. Those beliefs and
practices can vary dramatically across cultures.
14 Moral Relativism
Moral However, this reality just seems to favor a moral
confirmity. Moral progress is often achieved through the
efforts of rebellious individuals with beliefs that do not
conform to popular cultural beliefs. It seems odd to say
that they were wrong and that everyone else was right,
until just happened to start sharing their beliefs.
But relativism has its limitations too. Tolerance of the
behavior of others only goes far. As long as there is a view
that rights-moral rights are being violated, most people will
not think tolerance in that context a virtue. This indicates
that there is some universality to morality in that
oppression is wrong, no matter what...
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- Fall '12
- The American