Ethical Relativism Essay

4021 words - 17 pages

Ethics is the systematic study of the fundamental principles of morality. It is an attempt to explain moral principles. It is concerned with the question of right or wrong in human behavior. It explains how men ought to behave and why it is wrong or right to behave in a certain way. Ethics weighs human actions or inactions on a moral scale to determine whether the action is morally good or morally bad. Thomas Hobbes on ethics explained it as the science of “virtue and vice.”1 Morality and ethics cannot be divorced. Morality is the basis of ethics, the latter is the explicit reflection on, and the systematic study of the former (Joseph Omoregbe 1993 p.3)2. How then do we ...view middle of the document...

Even earlier, Indian Jainism espoused as one of its basic principles the Anekantavada principle that truth and reality are perceived differently from different points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth.
However, the increased awareness of moral diversity (especially between Western and non-Western cultures) on the part of Europeans in the modern era is an important antecedent to the contemporary concern with moral relativism. During this time, the predominant view among Europeans and their colonial progeny was that their moral values were superior to the moral values of other cultures. Few thought all moral values had equal or relative validity, or anything of that sort. The main impetus for such a position came from cultural anthropology. Anthropologists were fascinated with the diversity of cultures, and they produced detailed empirical studies of them—especially “primitive,” non-Western ones. At the beginning anthropologists accepted the assumption of European or Western superiority. But this assumption began to be challenged in the twentieth century, especially by some social scientists in the United States. An early dissent came from the sociologist William Graham Sumner, who proposed a version of moral relativism in his 1906 Folkways. But the most influential challenge originated with the anthropologist Franz Boas. He and his students—in particular, Ruth Benedict, Melville J. Herskovits, and Margaret Mead—explicitly articulated influential forms of moral relativism in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1947, on the occasion of the United Nations debate about universal human rights, the American Anthropological Association issued a statement declaring that moral values are relative to cultures and that there is no way of showing that the values of one culture are better than those of another. Anthropologists have never been unanimous in asserting this, and more recently human rights advocacy on the part of some anthropologists has mitigated the relativist orientation of the discipline. Nonetheless, prominent anthropologists such as Richard A. Shweder and the late Clifford Geertz have defended relativist positions in recent years.
What is Ethical Relativism?
Ethical relativism can be referred to the claim that morality is relative. According to moral or ethical relativism, there are a variety of possible moralities or moral frames of reference, and the deciding factor of rightness or wrongness of an action, good or bad, just or unjust, etc. is relative. In other words, the template for judging moral actions differs. What is morally wrong based on the moral mainframe of Person A, maybe morally right on Person B’s mainframe. For instance, polygamy and polyandry are morally wrong in some cultures. But permissible in others. Does it make one culture superior to another? Ethical relativism is made up of two types of relativism: cultural and individual relativism.
Cultural Relativism
Cultural relativism...

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