Ethicalrelativism is described as a type of cynicism on ethical reasoning.The reasoning is that there exists correct and wrong answers toethically asked questions. Generally the theory suggests thatmorality is somehow relative to the models of an individual’sculture. In that respect, a particular deed is considered right orwrong depending on the society in which it is undertaken. An actioncan be deemed morally wrong in one society but right in another. Thispaper will look to elaborate on this theory. It will outline the mainbrands of relativism and outline the strengths this particular theoryholds. Additionally, it will give a detailed account of the drawbacksof the theory. It is also vital to give my own assumptions of thetheory and try to relate it with the current way of life.
Differentcultures differ on moral values and looking at it descriptively,relativism tend to be correct. Evidently, ideologies on ethics differvastly globally. Descriptive ethical relativism entails thedescriptive or rather factual assertion that ideologies on valuesdiffer. To backup descriptive relativism, morality will consideredacross different cultures. It is morally wrong to bribe orparticipate in such like acts in some cultures, whereas others do notcondemn the same. Sexual practices also tend to vary across manygroups. For instance, cannibalism is acceptable to some culturessince it boosts tribal fertility and can also increase manliness.However, the same practice is condemned in many cultures and can leadto imprisonment. Individuals from Alaska and northern Canada also hada belief that elderly people could be abandoned if they could notcope with the rest of the group. Some Indian cultures also practicedthe killing of an innocent individual whenever someone dies as a wayof fighting death. The innocent killing would somehow appease thegroup. Viewing this kind of behaviors from a different perspectivewould indicate a moral wrong. Examples of descriptive relativism arequite vast, and the most logical one entails clothing. Some nationsdo not tolerate short skirts i.e. women are supposed to cover theirhair as well as legs. However, it acceptable in some nations. Femalegenital mutilation is another aspect that is controversial in somecultures yet some adopt the practice. Values are adhered todifferently across the different cultures. This does not mean thatvalues are morally right, there can a general consensus of whether apractice is justifiable. Not all values are facts. Therefore, despitehaving a varying thought on certain values, it is quite possible forit to be wrong even if it is practiced [ CITATION Mac l 1033 ].
Metaethicalrelativism insinuates that no objective or universal norms exist.According to this assumption, absolute values do not exist. Instead,values are just opinions, feelings, beliefs or practices of culturesas well as individuals. In Accordance to metaethical relativism, anobjective wrong or right does not exist. Generally, by utilizing thisassumption, there is no factual way of stating whether a deed isright or wrong taking different societies into consideration.
Ethicalrelativism can be well understood by relating ethics to science. Avast majority of individuals are certain that natural sciences i.e.chemistry, geology, biology, physics as well as their modernmodifications explain more on the natural world. Through science,nature and the global structure has been uncovered. Science hascontributed to the progresses across the globe in various aspects.Modern science is acceptable across the globe regardless of anindividual’s background. It generally possesses a mutual body ofknowledge across all individuals. Though not all aspects of scienceare agreeable across the globe, most of them have the same effect.For example, not all cultures believe western biomedicine hold thekey to good health. On the other hand, morality is not perceived tobe objective. Apart from people not having a general agreement onwhat is right or wrong, individuals also doubt whether ethicaljudgments can be agreed upon. Morality in some cases is thought to bean issue of subjective opinions. In general therefore, ethicalrelativism views morality as a function of moral values individualshave. There is no reality or moral truth that is analogous to naturestudied by science [ CITATION Mac l 1033 ].
Infurther elaborating the ethical relativism nature, it can becategorized into two forms i.e. individual or personal and culturalrelativism. Individual relativism or rather subjectivism entailethical beliefs that express the moral attitudes and outlook ofindividuals. Such judgments are considered subjective rather thanobjective. Each individual has his/her own ethically sound valuesi.e. an individual’s view can be correct to him/her but differ witha different individual. For instance, one may have a view that acertain war is justifiable whereas another believes it is not. It ismostly a matter of difference in opinion. Everyone has his/her ownhistory that leads to certain views. In that respect, an individual’sviews and attitude are only correct to that particular person. Theycannot be generally correct to another person. For them to becorrect, then a standard has to be initiated to justify whether adeed is correct or not. However, in accordance to ethical relativisma standard of that order does not exist.
Culturalor social relativism suggests that ethical values differ amongsocieties. Additionally, the foundation of moral judgments depend onthe cultural or social views. A person has to consider the social orcultural norms before deciding whether something is right or wrong.Persons within the society may deem their views to be morallycorrect. However, a social relativist asserts that no particularsociety can view their values to be better than others within atranscultural logic. Though the views may differ and not beacceptable in the larger side of the society, it does not make themmore backward, incorrect or worse in an objective sense [ CITATION Mac l 1033 ].
Strengthsof the theory
Byupholding the societal means of defining right and wrong deeds,individuals can maintain their views in line with the same. A personis mainly guided by cultural norms rather than individual views.Descriptions of what is right or wrong helps maintain a conduciveenvironment. For instance, if killing for personal satisfaction wasto be dependent on personal view, then the society could be havingproblems. However, by outlining morally right and wrong deeds withinthe society, such cases are minimized or rather dealt withappropriately.
Moraldiversity is one aspect supporting relativism. Contrary to otherfields such as history and science, ethics has no consensus on anumber of views. Ethics embraces the fact that moral views are quitediversified. Diversity also tends to create tolerance as well as openmindedness. Since there is no standard view on morality, people tendto tolerate one another without necessarily judging one another.There is also a great deal of uncertainty concerning morals.
Thetheory helps differentiate what norms can be guided by society andindividuals. Some views are made on a personal level i.e. they aredeemed right or wrong at a personal level. In that respect, anindividual’s definition of right or wrong can defer from anotherperson’s definition. Some aspects are also governed by society i.e.for a deed to be considered right or wrong, the societal norms haveto be taken into consideration.
Weaknessof the theory
Somenorms tend to be shared among different cultures but with varyingcapacities. For instance, different cultures may agree that lifeshould be valued but disagree on what life stands for and how itshould be valued. In that respect, the theory does not give auniversal understanding of what is morally right or wrong across thedifferent cultures. Generally, relativism tends to beself-contradictory in some aspect. By suggesting that values arerelative, then probably relativism itself can be considered as avalue of judgment [ CITATION Mac l 1033 ].
Accordingto Louis Pojman, universal values which transcend across the culturesexist. He argues against relativism mainly favoring a universalismapproach. Contrary to the relativism approach whereby views differacross different cultures, the universalism approach tends to suggestthat norms are the same across the various cultures. Even thoughLouis criticizes the relativism theory, it is still a noble one. Thisis because the suggestions within the theory are justifiable. A goodexample of how the theory is quite logical can be drawn fromclothing. Different cultures uphold a certain degree of dress code.It does not have to be uniform across the cultures. Some culturesbelieve in covering the entire body i.e. hair and legs, whereasothers do not condemn short skirts [ CITATION Mac l 1033 ].
Inconclusion therefore, the ethical relativism theory is applicableacross most cultures. The way people perceive moral values differsdependent on history, culture among others. Though some values can beupheld in different cultures, it does not entirely suggest that theyhave to be adhered to the same way. Moral values are also dependenton an individual. An individual may not be morally obligated tobehave in some manner, if the value is not governed within thesociety.
Mackinnon. "Ethical Relativism." Ethical Relativism (n.d.): 46-67.