Harrison, Geoffrey. The fact that one moral outlook cannot be conclusively proved superior to another does not mean, however, that it cannot be judged superior; nor does it imply that one cannot give reasons for preferring it. This is, in effect, another version of the charge that moral relativism entails an “anything goes” attitude that countenances obvious wrongs in other societies such as religious persecution or sexual discrimination. Prescriptivism, for instance, the view developed by R. M. Hare, acknowledges that moral statements can express emotional attitudes but sees their primary function as that of prescribing how people should behave. But if they are speaking at different times or from different locations (standpoints) this is possible. Includes an extensive bibliography. There is a spectrum of possible versions of this thesis. Closely related to the argument concerning a society’s capacity for self-criticism is the objection that moral relativism implies there is no such thing as moral progress. (i) “Universal values” can mean moral values or norms to which every culture, as a matter of fact, is committed. The relativistic viewpoint would be significantly modified and some account would be owed of why the principle of tolerance alone has universal validity. Similarly, “homosexuality is morally wrong” is true relative to the perspective of conservative Christians and false relative to that of twenty-first century liberals. Relativistic positions may specifically see moral values as applicable only within certain cultural boundaries (Cultural Relativism) or in the context of individual preferences (Ethical Subjectivism). Ironically, an extension of this argument in favor of the view that what appears on the surface to be similar acts can have different “situational meanings” has been used as an objection to descriptive relativism. In effect, the argument is that moral relativism entails normative relativism (see above). Some meta-ethical relativists focus more on the justification of moral judgments rather than on their truth. And in both cases, it is not possible to demonstrate logically the superiority of one standpoint over the other. In the early Modern era, Baruch Spinoza notably held that nothing is inherently good or evil. In 1947, the American Anthropological Association submitted a statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights criticizing what some viewed as an attempt by the West to impose its particular values on other societies in the name of universal rights. The debate over moral relativism in modern times has thus not been an abstract discussion of interest only to professional philosophers. So, saying “Nelson Mandela is a good man” expresses approval of Mandela; it is like saying “Hurrah for Mandela!”  Other forms of ethical non-cognitivism have built on this idea. “On Custom” and “On Cannibals,” in. Understood in this way, the position is incompatible with relativism. From this standpoint, intolerance can and will be criticized, as will other policies and practices, wherever they occur, that seem to cause unhappiness or unnecessarily limit people’s prospects. (iii) A third option for relativists is to embrace what might be called (following Richard Rorty) an “ethnocentric” position. Most forms of ethical non-cognitivism, like moral relativism, have been fueled by acceptance of a fact-value gap. Moral relativism is an important topic in metaethics. Tolerance is, of course, a central value espoused by modern liberal societies. These philosophers assert that if the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on a society's norms, then it follows that one must obey the norms of one's society and to … Moral Dilemmas is the second volume of collected essays by the eminent moral philosopher Philippa Foot. the moral life of a nun is incompatible with that of a mother, yet there is no purely rational measure of which is preferable). The point of conflict between these cultures and those that tolerate homosexuality may thus be viewed as being, fundamentally, not about the intrinsic rightness or wrongness of homosexuality but the different factual beliefs they hold concerning the consequences of homosexuality. We can all decide what is right for ourselves. Hume was not a relativist, but his arguments helped support elements of relativism. This is a normative universalism. If, on the other hand, relativism is true, then this principle of tolerance does not express a trans-cultural obligation binding on everyone; it merely expresses the values associated with a particular moral standpoint. They simply admit that when they appraise moralities, they do so according to norms and values constitutive of their particular moral standpoint, one that they probably share with most other members of their cultural community. This allows for an assessment that avoids judging according to an external standard. Plato claims that moral relativism has no ethical or logical ground to stand on, since it refutes itself. To the critic, moral relativism implies that one moral view is just as good or as bad as any other, and to take this line is to countenance immorality. What makes their position relativistic is their denial that there is any neutral, transcultural court of appeal to provide an objective justification for preferring one standpoint over another. For instance, some societies condemn homosexuality, others accept it; in some cultures a student who corrects a teacher would be thought disrespectful; elsewhere such behavior might be encouraged. Instead, they are defined by culture. This would seem to mark a basic and serious disparity in moral perspectives. The more difficult, practical question concerns not whether we should ever criticize the beliefs and practices found in other cultures, but whether we are ever justified in trying to impose our values on them through diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, boycotts, or military force. The responses are sufficiently uniform, according to the laboratory’s director, Mark Hauser, to support the idea that there is a “universally shared moral faculty” common to all human beings and rooted in our evolutionary heritage. True, the general criterion of efficiency or success being used here could be called transcultural; but the relativist can plausibly argue that the criterion is one that every culture would accept; for to reject it would amount to saying that one did not care whether one’s society flourished or failed. Hume is often interpreted as a moral skeptic who denies the possibility of proving by reason or by empirical evidence the truth of moral statements since our moral views rest entirely on our feelings. Some philosophers maintain that Moral Relativism dissolves into Emotivism (the non-cognitivist theory espoused by many Logical Positivists, which holds that ethical sentences serve merely to express emotions and personal attitudes) or Moral Nihilism (the theory that, although ethical sentences do represent objective values, they are in fact false). Cultural Relativism is the view that moral or ethical systems, which vary from culture to culture, are all equally valid and no one system is really “better” than any other. Ethical non-realism is the view that there is no objective moral order that makes our moral beliefs true or false and our actions right or wrong. For instance, the current treatment of animals on American factory farms could be criticized by an American relativist who adopts the standpoint of a utilitarian committed to the minimization of unnecessary suffering. Ruth Benedict states the idea forcefully at the end of her influential work Patterns of Culture, when she expresses her hope that, on the basis of the sort of anthropological research she has described, “we shall arrive at a more realistic social faith, accepting as grounds of hope and as new bases for tolerance the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence” (Patterns of Culture, p. 257). Explain the problem with moral relativism regarding majority/minority views. But it is possible to articulate a position that most who call themselves moral relativists would endorse. The relativistic stance is useful, however, in helping to make us less arrogant about the correctness of our own norms, more sensitive to cultural contexts when looking at how others live, and a little less eager in our willingness to criticize what goes on in other cultures. Critics claim that relativists typically exaggerate the degree of diversity among cultures since superficial differences often mask underlying shared agreements. To them, such a “proof” of slavery’s wrongness will appear question begging, and they can reject it without being inconsistent or irrational. Relativism is sometimes identified (usually by its critics) as the thesis that all points of view are equally valid. Moral relativism is a broader, more personally applied form of other types of relativistic thinking, such as cultural relativism. Geoffrey Harrison argues that while moral relativism, properly understood, is essentially a meta-ethical position about morality, the claim that we should be tolerant is one made from within a particular moral point of view; the latter does not follow the former, therefore, since they belong to different levels of discourse. For instance, some relativists presuppose that value judgments are fundamentally different from factual judgments (which can be objectively true), while others see the truth of both kinds of judgment as irreducibly relative to some conceptual or cultural framework. Boas viewed cultural relativism—a commitment to understanding a society in its own terms—as methodologically essential to scientific anthropology. In its weakest, least controversial form, descriptive relativism merely denies that all cultures share the same moral outlook. With this view, stoning adulterers is right relative to some moral standpoints (for instance, that of ancient Israel) and wrong according to others (for instance, that of modern liberalism). The difference is, rather, at the meta-ethical level in their view of the status of moral judgments and the kind of justification they allow. This is a weak response, however, since the sort of self-criticism it allows is quite limited. Among the ancient Greek philosophers, moral diversity was widely acknowledged, but the more common nonobjectivist reaction was moral skepticism, the view that there is no moral knowledge (the position of the Pyrrhonian skeptic Sextus Empiricus), rather than moral relativism, the view that moral truth or justification is relative to a culture or society. Philosophers like Gilbert Harman, David Wong, and Richard Rorty who defend forms of moral relativism seek to articulate and defend philosophically sophisticated alternatives to objectivism. Edvard Westermarck makes this connection in his 1932 work Ethical Relativity when he says, “Could it be brought home to people that there is no absolute standard in morality, they would perhaps be on the one hand more tolerant and on the other more critical in their judgments” (Ethical Relativity, p. 59). A very clear study, fairly sympathetic to relativism, which analyzes and appraises many of the central arguments for and against. With the decline in religious faith that is a hallmark of modernity, this foundation for morality was shaken. Descriptive relativism is the simple observational point that human beings have differing views about things like morality, religion, culture and so on. The somewhat simple form of descriptive relativism, which takes any differences between the moral beliefs or practices of two cultures as evidence of a difference in moral outlooks, has been heavily criticized both by social scientists such as Solomon Asch and by philosophers such as Michele Moody-Adams. The relativists see this anxiety as mistaken since what it asks for is both impossible and unnecessary. Yet both parties may subscribe to the principle that “all men are created equal.”  Their disagreement may be over whether or not the people being enslaved are fully human. Relativists who base their position on a sharp distinction between facts and values must work with two distinct notions of truth: factual claims are made true by correspondence to reality; moral claims are made true by cohering with or being entailed by the surrounding conceptual scheme. Moral Relativists point out that humans are not omniscient, and history is replete with examples of individuals and societies acting in the name of an infallible truth later demonstrated to be more than fallible, so we should be very wary of basing important ethical decisions on a supposed absolute claim. This idea is essential to just about any version of moral relativism. The answers to these questions d… In ethics, this amounts to saying that all moralities are equally good; in epistemology it implies that all beliefs, or belief systems, are equally true. These criticisms are related, as both accuse relativists of presupposing an oversimplified and outdated view of what a culture is. Thus, diversity by itself proves very little. In the absence of any special faculty for detecting such properties, and therefore of any real evidence for their existence, we should conclude that they don’t exist; hence all statements that assert or presuppose that they exist are false. The objection that relativists exaggerate cultural diversity is directed against descriptive relativism more than against moral relativism as defined above; but it has figured importantly in many debates about relativism. For instance, an official commitment to equality is belied by discriminatory laws. The statement declared that: Standards and values are relative to the culture from which they derive so that any attempt to formulate postulates that grow out of the beliefs or moral codes of one culture must to that extent detract from the applicability of any Declaration of Human Rights to mankind as a whole (American Anthropologist, Vol. And he explicitly embraces a form of perspectivism according to which “there are no moral phenomena, only moral interpretations of phenomena” (Beyond Good and Evil, 108). Catalogues the different types of relativism, including moral relativism, along with the main arguments for and against each type. No standpoint can be proved objectively superior to any other. However, some do, and this is another path to moral relativism. However, virtually no one takes this position since it amounts to a form of moral nihilism. Argues for a sophisticated form of moral relativism within limits imposed by human nature and the human condition. It is worth noting that descriptive relativism would also become false in the event of humanity eventually converging on a single moral outlook or of a catastrophe that wiped out all cultures except one. There is a common core of shared values such as trustworthiness, friendship, and courage, along with certain prohibitions, such as those against murder or incest. They assert, assume, or imply that a state of affairs is good or bad, that an action is right or wrong, or that something is better than something else. Defining moral relativism is difficult because different writers use the term in slightly different ways; in particular, friends and foes of relativism often diverge considerably in their characterization of it. If you are really a moral relativist, then you have to reject all of the above claims. There is no … Relativists can simply accept that the obligation to be tolerant has only relative validity or scope. But if one accepts—as many do—that value judgments are logically distinct from factual statements and cannot be derived from them, then any attempt to justify a moral claim must rest on at least some value-laden premises. So, any theory implying that such changes do not constitute progress must be false. Even though moral relativism makes its first appearance in ancient times, it hardly flourished. Thus, according to the ethical or moral relativists, there is no objective right and wrong. Since the meaning of each act differs, we should not infer that the values of the two societies are necessarily in conflict. Moral relativism is the idea that morals are not absolute but are shaped by social customs and beliefs. A rather flippant criticism is often leveled at Moral Relativism, that it is logically impossible, because, by saying "all things are relative", one is stating an absolute and therefore a logical contradiction. Thomas Scanlon, an even milder kind of relativist, also defends the idea that one can view another society’s moral norms as worthy of respect while still having cogent reasons for preferring one’s own. In their view, an “ethnocentric” justification of one’s views is the only kind available, and it is enough. Summing up the relative moral philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “You have your way, I have my way. But within the parameters imposed by the common human condition, significant variation in moral outlook is possible. Krausz, Michael, and Meiland, Jack W. “Believe me, Eugenie, the words "vice" and "virtue" supply us only with local meanings. And how can they argue that the prevailing norms should be changed? Moral relativism says, "It's true for me, if I believe it." Edward Westermarck (1862-1939), a Finnish philosopher and anthropologist, was one of the first to formulate a detailed theory of moral relativism in his book “Ethics are Relative”. As mentioned earlier, however, even some thinkers sympathetic to relativism, such as Harrison and Wong, are suspicious of the claim that moral relativism by itself necessarily entails a tolerant attitude toward alternative moralities. The Finnish philosopher and anthropologist Edward Westermarck (1862 - 1939) was one of the first to formulate a detailed theory of Moral Relativism. The question of whether or not there are universal values has been at the center of many of the debates about moral relativism. The abolition of slavery is a paradigm of such progress. In his major work, Folkways, published in 1906, Sumner argues that notions about what is right and wrong are bound up with a society’s mores and are shaped by its customs, practices, and institutions. One response a relativist could offer to this objection is simply to embrace the conclusion and insist that moral progress is a chimera; but this undeniably goes against what most people view as ethical common sense. But other critics of objectivism, such as Alasdair MacIntrye and Richard Rorty, have carved out relativistic positions that don’t rest on acceptance of a sharp distinction between facts and values. One apparent way for the relativist to avoid this objection is to point out that most societies are imperfect even by their own lights; what actually happens usually falls short of the ideals espoused. Such statements would be viewed as obviously and objectively true, no more open to dispute than the claim that seawater is salty. Greece. According to him, the term “true” is an “empty compliment” we pay to statements that we consider sufficiently well supported by the network of other assumptions, beliefs, and experiences that surround them. One reason for this, of course, is that it is widely perceived to be a way of thinking that is on the rise. The argument that relativists exaggerate the diversity among moral systems is also advanced in a subtler form, an early version of which can be found in the Dialogue that Hume appended to his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. It allows them to be true in the humbler, relativistic sense of being rationally acceptable from a particular cultural vantage point. Moral relativism is the view that moral or ethical statements, which vary from person to person, are all equally valid and no one’s opinion of “right and wrong” is really better than any other. Various ancient philosophers also questioned the idea of an absolute standard of morality. Descriptive relativism is put forward as an empirical claim based on evidence provided by anthropological research; hence it is most strongly associated with the work of anthropologists such as William Sumner, Ruth Benedict and Meville Herskovits. (ii) “Universal values” can mean moral values or norms that everyone ought to affirm. For example, just because bribery is okay in some cultures doesn’t mean that other cultures cannot rightfully condemn it. The early Sophist Greek philosopher Protagoras provides an early philosophical precursor to modern Moral Relativism in his assertion that "man is the measure of all things". The critic will next pose the question: Regarding the goals societies set for themselves, do we have any reason for preferring some goals over others? This is one reason some would give for viewing moral relativism as an instance of a more general relativism that sees the truth of any statement as a function of its coherence with a broader theoretical framework. After all, every society might agree that homosexuality is wicked or that men should have dominion over women. The 18th Century Enlightenment philosopher David Hume is often considered the father both of modern Emotivism and of Moral Relativism, although he himself did not claim to be a relativist. But they can still plausibly deny that they have an objective duty to do so, or that such values are necessarily embedded in all acts of communication and must therefore be viewed as universal. In their view, both versions of relativism put all moralities on the same plane and make one’s choice between them arbitrary. The argument obviously rests on the idea that moral objectivism has been discredited. It was championed by anthropologists like Sumner and Boas who saw it as an antidote of the unconscious ethnocentrism that may lead social scientists to misunderstand the phenomena they are observing. Awareness of the existence of diverse moralities (a) casts doubt on the idea that there is a single true morality, and (b) encourages the idea that the morality of one’s own culture has no special status but is just one moral system among many. In its simplest form, the argument runs as follows. Moral relativists are thus under some pressure to explain why they go beyond simple factual statements about what the majority in a society believes, insisting on advancing a philosophical claim about the truth of moral statements. It was originally put forward as, and remains today, a basic methodological principle of modern anthropology. Naturally, most moral relativists typically reject the assumption that such judgments require a non-relativistic foundation. The relativity clause means that the same sentence—say, “slavery is unjust”—can be both true and false, but not in exactly the same sense, since the term “unjust” contains an implicit reference to some particular normative framework. This question has arisen in relation to such practices as satee in India, persecution of religious or ethnic minorities, female circumcision, and legalized violence against women. “Relativism and Tolerance.”. They don’t wear breeches.”  The thrust of the essay is thus to criticize the ethnocentrism of the “civilized” Europeans who naively think themselves morally superior to such people. Does it matter? After all, there are diverse views on how human beings came to exist, but that does not imply that there is no single, objectively correct account. Science is generally thought to describe an independently existing, objective reality; and scientists from all over the world largely accept the same methodology, data, theories and conclusions, except in the case of disputes at the cutting edge of research. So relativists who happen to be liberal-minded denizens of the modern world are still free to judge what goes on elsewhere by their own moral norms. According to the relativists, say the critics, the beliefs of slave-owners and Nazis should be deemed true and their practices right relative to their conceptual-moral frameworks; and it is not possible for anyone to prove that their views are false or morally misguided, or that there are better points of view. To many, this is a reductio ad absurdum of moral relativism. “All this is not too bad,” he says, “but what’s the use? Normative relativism is the view that it is wrong to judge or interfere with the moral beliefs and practices of cultures that operate with a different moral framework to one’s own, that what goes on in a society should only be judged by the norms of that society. When relativists say that the truth of moral claims and the rightness of actions is relative to the norms and values of the culture in which they occur, they seem to assume that members of that culture will generally agree about the moral framework which they supposedly share. For example, in September 2011, Pope Benedict XVI blamed it for the riots that had taken place in Britain a few weeks earlier, arguing that “[w]hen policies do not presume or promote objective values, the resulting moral relativism … tends instead to produce frustration, despair, selfishness and a disregard for the life and liberty of others” (National Catholic Reporter, Sept. 12, 2011). It does not even entail that objectivism is false. Ethical non-realists obviously reject ethical realism, but not all for the same reasons; consequently there are several types of ethical non-realism. The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484 - 420 B.C.) While dozens of philosophers have explained the merits of moral relativism in very eloquent and esoteric prose, the basic argument comes down to this: no two cultures have the exact same moral code. Given that this is so, which set of norms and values are we supposed to refer to when judging a belief or practice? By this argument, Plato says that cultural moral relativism undercuts itself by allowing in it… In “On Custom,” Montaigne compiles his own list of radically diverse mores to be found in different societies, and asserts that “the laws of conscience which we say are born of Nature are born of custom.” (Montaigne, p. 83). If the particular standpoint, by reference to which moral claims are appraised, has to be that constituted by the prevailing norms in a society, then it is hard to see how those norms themselves can be criticized. Yet, relativism is not only controversial but right at the heart of some of the most divisive issues of our day, issues like whether evolution and / or creationism should be taught in schools and whether the United Nations has a right to censure China for human rights abuses. This view echoes the one expressed by the Athenians in Thucydides’ “Melian Dialogue” when they dismiss the Melian’s complaint that Athenian policy toward them is unjust. Thus, a relativist might condemn laws prohibiting homosexuality in the name of such values as happiness, freedom, and equality. One branch, meta-ethics, investigates big picture questions such as, “What is morality?” “What is justice?” “Is there truth?” […] Thus, a critic of slavery could no doubt prove the truth of what she says to anyone who accepts her basic premises—for example, that all races are equally human, and that all human beings should enjoy the same basic rights. The arguments given here thus represent different routes by which one may arrive at a relativistic view of morality. Showing genuine respect for a culture means taking its beliefs seriously, and that means viewing them as candidates for critical appraisal. Some Catholics and Buddhists, for example, have attributed the perceived post-war decadence and permissiveness of Europe to the displacement of absolute values by Moral Relativism. 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