Ethical relativism and ethical absolutism

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  • Created on: 14-05-12 12:47
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Ethical Relativism
Morality is relative
No objective moral truth
No set of absolute moral laws
Subjective ­ depends on the circumstance
Not one universally binding moral code
Good is what is socially acceptable `SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY'
Sophists in the 5th century argued that morality varies between places, times and people
Protagoras said "man is a measure of all things" ­ no objective moral knowledge as it depends on the
perceptions of the person
Herodotus recalls a story where the King of Persia asked the Greeks and the Callations to swap
funeral customs. The Greeks burn their dead while the Callations eat them. They refused to swap for any
sum of money as they disagreed with the others customs. This shows morality is dependent on culture
and places as fire burns the same in Persia and Greece.
Diversity thesis
Morality can differ between places etc.
E.g. in many parts of the Arab world polygamy is accepted, whereas in Western countries in tends to be
against the law (UK, America)
Homosexuals are considered wrong in some countries, whereas in other places they are allowed to
enter into civil partnerships and marry
Cause clashes of moral codes
Dependency theory
Morality depends on what part of the world you live in and what culture you belong too
Depends on the nature of society
Cultural relativism
Morality varies between cultures ­ differing moral codes
Example of Callations and Greeks
No objective standard can judge one culture better than another
Own moral code just one of many
Moral code only right for the society that they apply too
Reasons for relativism
Decline of religious authority
Development of competing theories
Greater understanding of other cultures
Rise of meta-ethical analysis ­ what do ought, right and wrong actually mean
Strengths Weaknesses

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Take into account the individual Cannot criticize other cultures
circumstances of situations
Realistic with a concern in the telos Difficult to condemn the morality of others
(outcomes) of an act e.g.…read more

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One set of moral absolutes
Rules have to followed regardless of place or time
Certain things are right or wrong from an objective point of view
Deontological ­ concerned with the morality of the act itself, consequences are irrelevant
A crime is a crime no matter what
Theist ­ the commandments are ordered from God
For example 10 commandments which Judaism follows
Agonistic/Atheist ­ the set of absolutes are intrinsic, natural order, for example can you ever remember
your parents telling you not to…read more


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