Ethical Relativism - .Cultural Ethical Relativism • 21 “Ethical values vary from society to society

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  • Ethical RelativismETCI Page 20

    Ethics & Contemporary IssuesProfessor Douglas Olena

  • Common Sayings

    20 What is right for one person is not necessarily right for another.

    What is right in some circumstances is not right in other circumstances.

    If these statements are true then it seems we cannot make any general or objective moral assessments.

  • Plan

    Examine ethical relativism. What are its two basic forms? Present reasons for and against it.

  • What is Ethical Relativism?

    20 A theory that holds that there are no universally accepted ethical standards.

    It is the view that there is no objective standard of right and wrong, even in principle.

    21 The opposite point of view, that there is objective right and wrong, is often called objectivism, or sometimes nonrelativism.

  • Compare Ethics with Science

    21 The sciences tell us about the natural world. With a common method and goal, science has

    proven to be a generally reliable means of securing knowledge about the world with the proviso that that knowledge may be refined.

  • Compare Ethics with Science

    21 Morality, in contrast to science, does not seem so objective.

    Ethical Relativism states Specifically, no realm of objective moral truth or reality exists that is comparable to that which we seem to find in the world of nature investigated by science.

  • Two Types of Ethical Relativism

    21 Personal or individual ethical relativism. Social or cultural ethical relativism.

  • Individual Ethical Relativism

    21 Ethical judgments and beliefs are the expressions of the moral outlook and attitudes of individual persons.

    We have histories and experience by which we have acquired our views.

    But to say that our views are right or wrong, correct or incorrect will not work because that judgment assumes an objective standard.

  • Cultural Ethical Relativism

    21 Ethical values vary from society to society and that the basis for moral judgments lies in these social or cultural views.

    For an individual to decide and do what is right, he must look to the norms of the society.

    No societys views are better than any other societys.

    One cannot judge another societys values in any objective sense.

  • Reasons Supporting Ethical Relativism

    21 Moral diversity among peoples and cultures 22 We have moral uncertainty about what the

    right thing to believe and do is.

    Situational differences make it hard to believe we could all have the same values.

  • Moral Diversity

    22 It is not only on particular issues like abortion that sincere people disagree, but also on basic moral values and principles.

  • Moral Uncertainty

    22 We are uncertain about what the right thing to believe and do is.

    We are aware of our personal limitations and the subjective glance we bring to moral judging

    Thus, we distrust our own judgments. We then generalize and conclude that all moral

    judgments are simply personal and subjective viewpoints.

  • Situational Differences

    22 People, situations, cultures and times differ in significant ways.

    We find it difficult to imagine that any of our rules could apply to these situations.

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    22 Moral Diversity: How widespread is the disagreement? What does the fact of disagreement prove?

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    22 Moral Diversity: How widespread is the disagreement?

    Does disagreement about a moral matter amount to a moral disagreement?

    CO2 emissions: This is a disagreement of fact about whether

    CO2 emissions will in fact damage our atmosphere, not a disagreement about whether we should allow damage. (chart 23)

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    22 Moral Diversity: How widespread is the disagreement?

    22, 23 A moral relativist would need to show a disagreement about a relative value: health and peace, honesty and generosity, or peoples rights.

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    23 Moral Diversity: What would disagreement about basic moral matters prove?

    People can disagree about what constitutes the right thing to do and yet believe that there is a right thing to do.

    With respect to the laws of nature, there is basic agreement, but at the frontier of discovery there are many competing theories.

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    23 Moral Uncertainty: We are often uncertain about what is the morally best thing to do.

    Whistle blowers are weighing the consequences of what they do, not whether it is the right thing to do.

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    23 Does that mean just because we are uncertain about what to do, there is no correct answer to that dilemma?

    Matters of science and history often eventually get clarified and settled.

    What about slavery and womens rights? Are we perfectly clear about those issues?

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    23 Situational Differences: Do dramatic differences in peoples life situations make it unlikely or impossible for them to have any common morality?

    With respect to health as a value: It would be wrong to forbid a diabetic insulin, but it would be right to forbid insulin to a non-diabetic.

    With respect to justice: We believe that people should be treated fairly according to what they deserve.

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    23 Situational Differences: One reason situational differences may lead us to

    think that no objective is possible is that we may be equating objectivism with absolutism.

    Moral absolutism says that moral rules or principles have no exceptions and are context-independent.

  • Are These Reasons Convincing?

    23 Situational Differences: 24 Absolutism: Stealing is always wrong. The objectivist may suggest that to satisfy hunger,

    life may be more important than property.

    Fisherman dies at the stream because of hunting laws.

  • Further Considerations

    24 A problem for both types of relativist lies in the implied belief that relativism is a more tolerant position than objectivism.

    However to demand that people be tolerant implies that there is an objective and transcultural value of toleration.

  • Further Considerations

    24 If ethical relativism is true, then it cannot be because the other persons moral views may be better than mine in an objective sense.

    25 Objectivists might insist that their position provides a better basis for believing that tolerance is an objective and transcultural good

    and that we ought to be open to others views because they may be closer to the truth than ours are.

  • What Does Objectivism Offer?

    25 Moral Realism Realism states that there is a correspondence

    between our moral observations and some objective moral values.

    26 Is there some value that is objectively good or behavior objectively bad? What is the test?

    Or are all values merely reflections or expressions of individuals or cultures.

  • What Does Objectivism Offer?

    26 Moral Pluralism Is there only one good or many? With respect to the Preamble to the

    Declaration of Independence, are the rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness all on a level playing field, or is one more important, primary, to the others?

  • Conclusion

    26 The purpose of studying ethics, as noted in Chapter 1, is to improve ones ability to make good ethical judgments.

    If ethical relativism were true, then this purpose could not be achieved.