Moral Relativism



There are no objective moral truths. All moral values are relative to society and individuals. No particular view is right. The job of ethics is not to impose morality but to reflect on individual and social traditions. The only absolutist truth is that truth is relative and not open to debate

Subjective Relativism

  • Rorty argues that the individuals should be free to develop his/her morality and then relate with a particular group of people who share the same views

Cultural relativism

  • Morality is concerned with social groups. E.g. faith communities.
  • The fundamental idea is no society is better than another and as a result, this creates a good multicultural society.
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Types of Cultural relativism

The Diversity Thesis

  • Ethical rules differ from society to society as a result of historical developments.
  • As a society develops in isolation from its neighbours it produces moral laws often based on social taboos to that society

Dependancy Thesis

  • Sunmer argued the morality of a society is dependant on the aspirations, beliefs, enviroment and history of that society.
  • Each person has a different set of beliefs arising from personal circumstances.
  • Time means morality develops a kind of common denominator that win social approval
  • Society values change over time. E.g slavery

Pyramid relativism

  • The fundamental principles are at the top of the pyramid.
  • A society therefore creates its moral pyramid by logically cancelling out bad principles.
  • Different societies have different principles.
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Subjective Relativism

  • Personal choice
  • Hypocrisy- if everything were subjective then hypocrisy would not exist. People would not judge.
  • Rorty supports this by arguing a relativist frame is needed to maximise freedom of the individual. People can have different beliefs as long as long as they respect and tolerate eachother.
  • Rorty further argues you can live in different micro- societies at the same time. For example, acting one way infront of your grandparents as oppose to your friends.
  • Individuals can live with different moral norms without being hypocrites as long as they understand their customs vary from micro society to society
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Strengths and Weaknesses


  • Belief in tolerance & respect which is useful because we live in a multicultural society now and human development is impossible to change
  • Rejects moral imperalism which was why most of the 20th century wars started
  • Language- trusth, justice, freedom are different for different societies


  • Fails to appreciate certain moral values which are universal
  • There is always a difference on what is good and wrong
  • There had to be a 'role in ethics'. It can not just be descriptive because if ethics just done this it would be impossible to condemn corruption.
  • Relativists want a multicultural society- human history does not support this
  • Limits social reform, so by limiting interference, some cultures are always fixed in the past
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