Question: After analyzing arguments for and against Moral Relativism, how have your views changed, if at all? Explain, and more importantly, argue for your current position on Moral Relativism
Moral relativism is one of the many philosophical arguments about right and wrong, and so it has many arguments in support and many opponents who argue against it. Moral relativism is the belief that moral judgments are only true or false from a specific viewpoint. In other words, if you think an action is right or wrong, that is considered your viewpoint, and someone else can differ or have the same idea as you. My initial view was that it promotes tolerance by encouraging us to understand other cultures on their terms. After several readings on this concept, my view has changed; moral relativism should be rejected. It deprives us of the means to raise moral objections against horrendous social customs.
Moral relativism remained unpopular in philosophy until the twentieth century. Historian Herodotus and the Sophist Protagoras from the Greek world appeared to endorse some form of relativism (Gowans & Chris, 2021). Gowans & Chris describe how the increased awareness of moral diversity between Western and non-Western cultures is crucial to the concerns raised on relativism. In most parts of Europe, some societies believed that their moral values were superior to other cultures. Edward Westermarck wrote anthropological and philosophical works defending forms of metaethical moral relativism. The latter half of the 20th century had many philosophers devoting more attention to the study of moral relativism. Discussions of moral relativism are applicable in fields such as medical ethics.
Summary of Arguments for Moral Relativism
Moral relativism has been around for a long time. In ancient India and ancient Greece, philosophers wrote that everybody interpreted morals differently. The Greeks noted that while traveling from one culture to another, the people they met had different ideas of right and wrong (Arguments for & Against Moral Relativism, 2015). Most people admit that no one society is naturally better than others. We all need to ask whether our morals are naturally better than those of the neighboring culture; this is moral relativism. No two cultures have the same moral codes. This argument is the basis of what people consider right and wrong in different cultures, and these differences are related to cultural and personal factors. There is no way to prove that one culture has a better moral code than the other without being biased. Moral relativism is generally good for the modern world because of diversity and inclusion issues. It encourages people to respect the traditions and values of different societies even if they practice a custom that is an abomination to another culture. In this case, tolerance is the fundamental virtue – it doesn’t matter what you stand for, as long as you can learn to appreciate the view.
Summary of Arguments Against Moral Relativism
Most people believe that even though every culture has its moral code, these overlap to a considerable extent. Societies have shared values such as trustworthiness, friendship, and courage (Westacott, n.d.). Many cultures and societies believe in the golden rule – treat others as you would like them to treat you. These universal values enable a culture to flourish, and their absence would consequently jeopardize a society’s chances of survival. Differences in values often relate to different circumstances of a specific society. Before declaring difference between cultures to be fundamental, one should carefully see whether such difference does not arise from a disparate living condition. Other arguments are that it ignores diversity within a culture, undermines the possibility of a self-critical society, and its position on tolerance is problematic.
Moral Relativism has Problems
Moral relativism exaggerates cultural diversity and ignores the diversity within a culture. Every human culture has some moral code that overlaps to some extent. Some differences that moral relativists hold on to can be explained by referring to factual beliefs. Some societies may see nothing wrong with slavery, whereas others view it as a moral abomination. Yet, these societies may subscribe to the principle that “all men are created equal.” Relativism ignores the diversity within a culture when it argues that the truth of moral claims and the rightness of actions is relative to the norms and values of the culture in question. This argument assumes that every member in those cultures subscribes and accepts the moral framework their supposedly share. Many modern cultures contain sub-communities with different views on religion, slavery, polygamy, and drug abuse. If the relevant norms are those of sub-cultures to which a person belongs, then a relativist would be in danger of spiraling toward subjectivism.
Relativism implies that obvious moral wrongs can be acceptable and undermines the possibility of society being self-critical. The most noticeable problem with relativism is that it argues that horrendous actions, such as stoning a person to death, are acceptable. If we conclude that an act is right or wrong only relative to a specific standpoint, it might seem possible to justify almost anything (Copeland, 2018). Relativism suggests abandoning the idea that some actions are wrong irrespective of whether approved by society or not. For example, in cultures where adulterers are stoned to death, one cannot argue that such action is morally wrong because the only norms that matter – those of the society in question – approve it. Assuming that an act can only b judged whether they are right or wrong by referring to the norms of the said culture, how can some people in such societies criticize them on moral grounds? Moral relativism hardly makes sense of a society’s members rejecting the prevailing norms.
While moral absolutism has its issues, I feel that moral relativism can hardly be a reference framework in the modern world. Moral objectivity overcomes the problems of moral relativism. Moral objectivity ultimately criticizes the abhorrent facets of history typically endorsed by moral relativism. By adopting objectivity rather than relativism, morality is no longer bound to culture. Each act gets judged whether it is right or wrong based on an objective scale. Customs that are wrong cannot be supported because the culture in question has endorsed them. Moral relativism hinders the free will to criticize actions that we believe are wrong. When we dig deeper into moral relativism, we can see significant philosophical problems that arguably, should be the basis of rejecting moral relativism.
Copeland, J. (2018). Countering Moral Relativism. https://sevenpillarsinstitute.org/countering-moral-relativism/
Westacott, E. (n.d.). Moral relativism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy | An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers. https://iep.utm.edu/moral-re/
Gowans, Chris, “Moral Relativism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2021/entries/moral-relativism/>.
Arguments for & Against Moral Relativism. (2015, September 22). Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/arguments-for-against-moral-relativism.html.