moral relativism

Situation ethics, cultural relativism etc

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Moral relativism
Consequentialism / Teleology
Actions are right or wrong according to their consequences.
Actions are instrumentally right or wrong (they lead to something good or bad).
e.g. testing drugs on animals. May be considered intrinsically bad, but the
consequences (human health and safety) are good, therefore it could be considered
to be instrumentally good.
No action is always right or wrong (right and wrong are not absolute) ­ it depends
upon the outcome.
Flexible. Overcomes the inflexibility of absolutism / deontology.(`baby Hitler)
The consequences are taken into consideration; therefore the outcome is likely to be
The individual has to make a moral decision; therefore actions are more `genuinely'
Problems and questions
How do you know what the consequences will be? Impossible to be certain. E.g.
speeding to get someone to hospital.
Complicated by the `ripple effect' ­ consequences may be numerous &
What consequences should we be aiming for? E.g.
Egoism / hedonism ­ happiness of the individual
Utilitarianism ­ happiness of the majority
Surely certain actions are always wrong ­ e.g. killing humans
Cultural relativism
NO absolute right or wrong
NO rules that apply always to everyone (unlike universalism)
J. L. Mackie: "There are no objective values."
(subjective = something based upon opinion.
objective = a fact that is not dependent upon belief or opinion.)
- The existence of cultural moral differences is proof that there is no such
thing as absolute right & wrong Cultural Relativism

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For ethical relativists, morality is SUBJECTIVE (dependent upon the opinions / values
of the individual or society ­ not absolute) so we should not criticise or try to
influence others.
For absolutists / universalists, morality is OBJECTIVE (fact; absolute; real; not
dependent upon opinions) so we should criticise & pressurise other societies if we disagree
with their standards of morality.
Advantages of cultural relativism
Tolerance of other societies.
Discourages individuals / societies from trying to impose their morality upon other
cultures.…read more

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However, surely at least some values are absolute?......
Soft universalism
Perhaps some moral truths exist in all societies.
James Rachels (1941- ).
3 universal values held by all societies:
1) Caring for infants to ensure survival of the group.
2) Lying is wrong.
3) Murder is wrong.
e.g. Old Inuit (Eskimo) culture: custom of killing some female babies due to high death rate
among male hunters.…read more

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Individuals are not subject to the rules that bind them. Nothing is intrinsically right or wrong, except the
principle of love.
Love seeks the well being of others even if the course of action is not one of preference.
It is modelled on the teaching of Jesus, and so it could truly be considered Christian.
'Dr Fletcher's approach is the only ethic for a man come of age.…read more

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However it is also true that Jesus seemed to be prepared to set aside some rules in some cases,
usually because a person mattered more than the rule.
Situation ethics provides an alternative Christian ethic that is consistent with the Gospel representation
of Jesus.
Situation ethics is more consistent with the new testament than natural moral law, providing a
corrective to that and other legalistic approaches.…read more

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However both of these radical developments are to compromise on one aspect of the radical of
situationalist thinking
Situationalist thinking does seem to have similarities with some more recent moral thinking that is
beyond christian.
Many old morals = over turned, now seem to be living in a much less certain age.…read more



Thanks :)

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