Absolutism and Relativism

  • Created by: Chantal
  • Created on: 25-04-13 17:59

Absolutism and Relativism

  • Absolutism
  • Relativism
  • Cultural Relativism-
  • Normative Absolutistism
  • Normative Relativism
  • Situation Ethics (Joseph Fletcher)
  • Strengths and Weaknesses
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  • Moral truth is objective
  • Moral actions are right or wrong intrinsically
  • Moral truth is universal and unchanging in all circumstances, cultures, times and places
  • Middle ages principle= ‘Follow the good and avoid the evil’
  • Absolutists-
  • Plato (goodness itself really exists beyond this world)
  • Aquinas (fixed divine law)
  • Bradley (Morals are fixed, part of a concrete universe
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Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Strengths:
    • Absolutism gives a fixed ethical code by which to measure actions.
    • One culture can judge that the actions of another culture are wrong, and then act upon that judgement.
    • Absolutism can support universal laws such as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
    • Absolutism may often be seen as an impossible ideal
  • Weaknesses:
    • Absolutist ethics are inflexible
    • It puts rules before people
    • Following absolutist rules doesn't necessarily lead to a better society
    • Sometimes the end does justify the means
    • It is elitist and intolerant of other cultures and societies
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  • There is no objective moral truth or if there is we cannot know it
  • What is morally true for you is not necessarily true for me
  • Morals are subject to culture, religion, time and place
  • Relativists-
    • Herodotus (Observed while certain Greeks burnt the bodies of their fathers, a different people called Callations ate the bodies of father and neither would do the others tradition)
    • Protagoras (Antient Greek philosopher- There’s no objective knowledge because all knowledge depends on the perceptions of the person)
    • Aristotle (Did not believe in universal forms which are absolute and beyond our world. He felt the forms were in the world and therefore not absolute as differing human circumstances mean no general rule)
    • Sumner (anthropologist- right way is way ancestors use)
    • Mackie (no objective values- different cultures morals are evidence)
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Cultural Relativism

  • Modern anthropologists (social scientists) have observed cultural differences and some have concluded the existence of diverse moral codes implies morality is not absolute
  • Morality simply means ‘socially approved habits’ /Moral rules are expressions
  •  ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’
  • Celebrates the variety of beliefs and values held by different peoples
    •  Eg in a strict Islamic country the women are right too cover themselves but in a Western country women are right o expose more skin
  • Doesn’t raise one particular cultural expression to supremacy over others
  • Right and wrong not only differs from culture to culture but also from time to time
    •  Eg in the past was acceptable to leave highway men to starve and rot but today that form of punishment is considered morally unacceptable
  • Moral points of view vary from time to time, from culture to culture, from religion to religion and from place to place
  •  Suits the multicultural nature of the world,More modern and open ethical system
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Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Strengths of Relativism:
    • Easy to understand and can be constantly upgraded for new problems and issues as they arise, such as genetic engineering and foetal research.
    •  It is flexible and can take different situations into account
    •  Allows people to take responsibility for their own decisions and make up their own minds about what is right or wrong
    • It focuses on humans and concerns for others
    • Explains different cultures moral values
  • Weaknesses of Relativism:
    • People need rules and society cannot function without laws
    • It is much harder to apply relativist theories
    • What do you do if two relativists disagree?
    • Cultural relativism is a very weak ethical position. It doesn't really allow ethics to happen, because it claims that the right thing to do is to follow the rules of your society
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  • Normative Absolutism
    • Kant
    • Natural Law
  • Normative Relativism
    • Situation Ethics
    • Utilitarianism
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Situation Ethics

  • Joseph Fletcher
  • Is prepared to set aside their rules in the situation if love seems better served
  •  Reason is the instrument of moral judgements
  • Disagrees that the good is to be discerned from the nature of things
  • ‘The situationist follows a moral law or violates it according to love’s need’
  • All moral decisions are hypothetical. They depend on what best serves love
  • Eg lying is justified if love is better served by it
  • Roots= new testament when St Paul writes ‘Christ Jesus...abolished the law'
  • Uses principles to illuminate the situation but not to direct the action
  • Fletcher divides his principles into two categories: the four working principles and the six fundamental principles
  • The good result is that which serves agape love best.
  • Any action that leads to that end is right
  • For the situationist conscience describes the weighing up of the possible actions before it’s taken
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Four Working Principles

  • Four working principles:
  • There are presuppositions that Fletcher makes before  setting out situation ethics theory
    • 1. Pragmatism-
      • What you propose must work in practice
      • The proposed cause of action must work towards the end, which is love
    • 2. Relativism-
      • There are no fixed rules but all decisions must be relative to agape
      • All decisions must be relative to Christian love (agape)
    • 3. Positivism-
      • A value judgement needs to be made, giving first place to love
      • Natural positivism:
    • 4. Personalism-
      • Situationist puts people first
      • What to do to help humans best?
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6 Fundamental Principles

  • 1. ‘Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love: nothing else at all’-
    • Only love is good in and of itself
  • 2. ‘The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else’-
    • Jesus replaced the torah with the principle of love
  • 3. ‘Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else’-
    • Love and justice can’t be separated from each other
  • 4. ‘Love wills the neighbour’s good, whether we like him or not’-
    • Love concerned with is not a matter of feeling but attitude
    • Agape love is unconditional, nothing is required in return
  • 5. ‘Only the end justifies the means, nothing else’-
    • To consider moral actions without reference to their ends is a haphazard (lacking any principle) approach
    • The end must be the most loving result
  • 6. ‘Love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively’-
    • Jesus reacted against the kind of rule-based morality that he saw around him
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Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Strengths
    • Easy to understand and can be constantly updated for new problems and issues as they arise
    • It is flexible and can take different situations into account but is based on the Christian concept of love
    • Focuses on humans and concern for others- agape
    • Allows people to take responsibility for their own decisions and make up their own minds about what is right or wrong
    • Bishop John Robinson called it ‘an ethic for humanity come of age’
  •  Weaknesses:
    • Was condemned by in 1952 by Pope Pius XII, who said it was wrong to make decisions based on individual circumstances if these went against the teaching of the church and the bible
    • It is not possible to determine the consequences of actions- how do we know that the result will be the most loving for all concerned
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