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Ethical Relativism…read more

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Is their one morality that is true
for everyone?
Protagoras, c.490-421 B.C.
Born in Abdera in Thrace, died in a shipwreck.
Greek philosopher. Considered the first Sophist.
» Sophists were famous for being able to argue
persuasively for something that wasn't true, (e.g.
defending the guilty successfully in court.)
» Sophistry is the art of persuasive deception.
» A leading sophist, he is notorious for his, "Man is the
measure of all things" soundbite.
» Protagoras denied any objective knowledge.
» He believed that all truth is relative to the individuals
who perceive it. There's no objective truth. Only
subjective truth.
» People determine what is right & true.
» My knowledge can only be "true for me".
» He also denied that there was any real right and wrong.
He thought morality was dependent on culture and thus
it was not the same for everyone everywhere.
» People themselves should decide how to live, there's no
correct answer or moral truth.…read more

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Key terms & ideas
· Moral relativism:
­ There is no right and wrong / moral code which is
right and true for everyone.
­ Our beliefs about right and wrong are just
opinions. No truth in them.
­ What is right and wrong is relative. It depends on
something else, e.g. culture, tradition, viewpoint
· Moral absolutism:
­ There is one true morality.
­ There are some moral principles that are true for
everyone always.
­ Morality is objective ­ it doesn't depend on
experience or how you view the world, it exists
independently of our experience.…read more

Slide 4

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Ethical Relativism
Ethical relativism has several important insights:
· The need for tolerance and understanding
· The fact of moral diversity
­ Female genital mutilation
­ Stoning for adultery (UK vs middle east)
­ Polygamy (UK vs Swaziland / middle east)
­ Death penalty (USA vs UK)
· We should not pass judgment on practices in
other cultures when we don't understand them
· Sometimes reasonable people may differ on
what's morally acceptable…read more

Slide 5

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Three Questions about the
Meaning of Relativism
What part of morality
is relative?
·Behavior Morality is relative.
·Peripheral values
·Fundamental values
How much of Relative to
morality is what?
relative? ·Individuals
·All ·Cultures
·Most ·Nations
·Some ·Groups…read more

Slide 6

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Two Types of Relativism
· Descriptive ethical relativism
­ Claims as a matter of fact that different cultures have
different moral values (merely describing)
­ Like saying: "Hey, have you noticed that in Swaziland its okay to have
many wives but in the UK it's considered really bad." ­ Merely
descriptive! Making no value judgements.
· Normative ethical relativism
­ Claims that each culture is right unto itself
­ Normative means that `it should be that way'
­ In other words, normative ethical relativism is the
idea that "morality is relative between cultures and
­ The idea that each culture should be left alone to
develop and live out it's own opinions about right
and wrong and that it's wrong to criticize them or
influence them. Are all the implications positive?…read more

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