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Essay on morality is a relative concept

Ancient Greece In the view of most people throughout history, moral questions have objectively correct answers. There are obvious moral truths just as there are obvious facts about the world. Cowardice is a bad quality. A man should not have sex with his mother. Such statements would be viewed as obviously and objectively true, no more open to dispute than the claim that seawater is salty. This assumption was first challenged in fifth century B. The idea was that moral beliefs and practices are bound up with customs and conventions, and these vary greatly between societies.

The Greeks said nothing could induce them to do this. The Callatiae were horrified at the suggestion. The sophists—notably Protagoras, Gorgias, and some of their followers—were also associated with relativistic thinking. As itinerant intellectuals and teachers, the sophists were cosmopolitan, impressed by and prompted to reflect upon the diversity in religions, political systems, laws, manners, and tastes they encountered in different societies. So, relativistic thinking seems to have been in the air at the time.

Essay on morality is a relative concept

Strictly speaking, it is a form of moral nihilism rather than moral relativism, but in rejecting the whole idea of objective moral truth it clears the ground for relativism.

Even though moral relativism makes its first appearance in ancient times, it hardly flourished. Plato vigorously defended the idea of an objective moral order linked to a transcendent reality while Aristotle sought to ground morality on objective facts about human nature and well-being.

A few centuries later, Sextus Empiricus appears to have embraced a form of moral relativism, partly on the basis of the diversity of laws and conventions, and partly as a consequence of his Pyrrhonian skepticism that sought to eschew dogmatism. But Hellenistic skepticism gave way to philosophy informed by Christianity, and moral relativism effectively became dormant and essay on morality is a relative concept so throughout the period of Christian hegemony in Europe.

Relativism thus ceased to be an option until the advent of modernity. In the 17th century, Hobbes argued for a social contract view of morality that sees moral rules, like laws, as something human beings agree upon in order to make social living possible. An implication of this view is that moral tenets are not right or wrong according to whether they correspond to some transcendent blueprint; rather, they should be appraised pragmatically according to how well they serve their purpose.

Hume, like Montaigne, was heavily influenced by ancient skepticism, and this colors his view of morality. His argument, that prescriptions saying how we should act cannot be logically derived from factual claims about the way things are, raised doubts about the possibility of proving the correctness of any particular moral point of view. So, too, did his insistence that morality is based ultimately on feelings rather than on reason.

Hume was not a relativist, but his arguments helped support elements of relativism. With the remarkable progress of science in the 19th and 20th centuries, the fact-value distinction became entrenched in mainstream philosophy and social science.

Science came to be seen as offering value-neutral descriptions of an independently existing reality; moral claims, by contrast, came to be viewed by many as mere expressions of emotional attitudes.

  1. The claim that morality only governs behavior that affects others is somewhat controversial, and so probably should not be counted as definitional, even if it turns out to be entailed by the correct moral theory.
  2. But it does not seem likely that we can account for this part of morality by appeal to norms for guilt and anger, and it is not at all clear that there are emotions that are as closely linked to supererogation as guilt and anger are to moral transgression. Archaic words lexicology essay everyday use characterization essay.
  3. Objections to Moral Relativism a.
  4. 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. The Relativist Position on Tolerance is Problematic A good deal of the debate surrounding moral relativism has focused on its claim to exemplify and foster tolerance.
  5. Moral Relativism Promotes Tolerance The idea that moral relativism promotes tolerance is a normative argument. It can only be gauged by reference to some particular moral standpoint that cannot be conclusively proved superior to other points of view.

essay on morality is a relative concept This view of morality suggests that all moral outlooks are on the same logical plane, with none capable of being proved correct or superior to all the rest. According to one interpretation, Marx holds that there is no objectively true moral system, only interest-serving ideologies that use moral language.

But Marx wrote little about ethics, so it is hard to pin down his philosophical views about the nature of morality and the status of moral claims.

Nietzsche, on the other hand, wrote extensively and influentially about morality. Scholars disagree about whether he should be classified as a relativist, but his thought certainly has a pronounced relativistic thrust. It is true that Nietzsche likes to rank moralities according to whether they are expressions of strength or weakness, health or sickness; but he does not insist that the criteria of rank he favors constitute an objectively privileged vantage point from which different moralities can be appraised.

These philosophical ideas prepared the ground for moral relativism mainly by raising doubts about the possibility of demonstrating that any particular moral code is objectively correct.

But anthropological research in the 19th and 20th centuries also encouraged relativism. Indeed, many of its leading contemporary champions from Franz Boas to Clifford Gertz have been anthropologists. One of the first to argue at length for moral relativism was William Sumner.

To those living within that society, the concept of moral rightness can only mean conformity to the local mores. Sumner acknowledges that if members of a culture generalize its mores into abstract principles, they will probably regard these as correct in an absolute sense.

  1. Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.
  2. For it may be that the individual would not be willing for others to try to follow that code, because of worries about the bad effects of predictable failures due to partiality or lack of sufficient foresight or intelligence.
  3. On the other hand, it seems plausible that norms for praising action might help to pick out what counts as supererogatory. The improved schema is that morality is the informal public system that all rational persons, under certain specified conditions, would endorse.

This may even be psychologically unavoidable. But it is not philosophically legitimate; the mores themselves cannot essay on morality is a relative concept an object of moral appraisal since there is no higher tribunal to which appeals can be made. The work of Franz Boas was also tremendously influential. Boas viewed cultural relativism—a commitment to understanding a society in its own terms—as methodologically essential to scientific anthropology.

From an objective, scientific standpoint one may not pass moral judgment on the beliefs and practices that inhere within a culture, although one may objectively assess the extent to which they help that society achieve its overarching goals. The debate over moral relativism in modern times has thus not been an abstract discussion of interest only to professional philosophers. It is thought to have implications for the social sciences, for international relations, and for relations between communities within a society.

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 critics of relativism thus argue that before declaring a moral difference between cultures to be fundamental we should look carefully to see whether the difference does not, at bottom, arise out of disparate living conditions or rest on conflicting factual beliefs;
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  • If a person does not care enough about the game to abide by the rules, she can usually quit.

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.

Needless to say, the statement caused some controversy since many members of the AAA did not agree with the position it laid out.

Moral Relativism

To what extent should the practices of minorities be accepted, even if they seem to conflict with the values of the majority culture? In France, a law was passed in 2011 banning face veils that some Muslim women view as required by Islam.

Essay on morality is a relative concept

Those supporting the ban appeal to values they consider essay on morality is a relative concept such as sexual equality and freedom of expression which the face veil is said to violate since it inhibits expressive interaction. But critics of the policy see it as expressing a kind of cultural intolerance, just the sort of thing that relativism claims to counter. Clarifying What Moral Relativism Is and Is Not 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.

Therefore, it is important to first distinguish between some of the positions that have been identified or closely associated with moral relativism before setting out a definition that captures the main idea its adherents seek to put forward.

Descriptive Relativism Descriptive relativism is a thesis about cultural diversity. It holds that, as a matter of fact, moral beliefs and practices vary between cultures and sometimes between groups within a single society.

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. 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.

There is a spectrum of possible versions of this thesis. In its strongest, most controversial form, it denies that there are any moral universals—norms or values that every human culture endorses. This extreme view is rarely, if ever, defended, since it seems reasonable to suppose that the affirmation of certain values—for instance, a concern for the wellbeing of the young-- is necessary for any society to survive.

But Benedict seems to approach it when she writes of the three societies she describes in Patterns of Culture that "[t]hey are oriented as wholes in different directions….

In its weakest, least controversial form, descriptive relativism merely denies that all cultures share the same moral outlook. Another objection is that many apparent moral differences between cultures are not really fundamental disagreements about questions of value—that is, disagreements that would persist even if both parties were in full agreement about all the pertinent facts.

For instance, the taboo against homosexuality in some cultures may rest on the belief that homosexuality is a sin against God that will result in the sinner suffering eternal damnation. 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.

In light of such difficulties, contemporary defenders of descriptive relativism usually prefer a fairly modest, tempered version of the doctrine. Cultural Relativism Cultural relativism asserts that the beliefs and practices of human beings are best understood by grasping them in relation to the cultural context in which they occur.

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It was originally put forward as, and remains today, a basic methodological principle of modern anthropology. 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. For instance, ritualistic infliction of pain may look, on the surface, like a punishment aimed at deterring others from wrongdoing; but it may in fact be viewed by those involved in the practice as serving a quite different function, such as purging the community of an impurity.

Thus, Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker, argued that the action by an Eskimo of killing his aged parent, where this is socially sanctioned as a way to spare their suffering, is not the same act as the killing of a parent in a society where such an action would generally be condemned as murder.

Since the meaning of each act differs, we should not infer that the values of the two societies are necessarily in conflict. The term cultural relativism is sometimes also used to denote the corollary methodological principle that social scientists, if they wish their work to have scientific status, should describe and analyze what goes on in the cultures they are studying, carefully eschewing any normative appraisal of what they observe.

Ethical Non-Realism 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. It continues to be widely held, and leading contemporary defenders of ethical realism include Thomas Nagel, John McDowell, and Richard Boyd. Ethical non-realists obviously reject ethical realism, but not all for the same reasons; consequently there are several types of ethical non-realism. The most head-on rejection of ethical realism is perhaps the sort of moral error theory defended by J.

A skeptical attitude toward moral realism can be more tentative than this. 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.

More recently, Michael Ruse, has defended an updated version of Hume, arguing that we are conditioned by evolution to hold fast to certain moral beliefs, regardless of the evidence for or against them; consequently, we should not view such beliefs as rationally justified. And Walter Sinnott-Armstrong has shown how difficult it is to refute moral skepticism, especially the sort of non-dogmatic Pyrrhonian skepticism which holds that one may be justified within a restricted context in affirming a certain moral belief—for instance, in court it is wrong to lie as opposed to telling the truth—yet not be able to justify the claim that lying, or even perjury, is essay on morality is a relative concept in some absolute, objective sense.

Ethical non-realism is typically presupposed by moral relativists, but it is not the whole of moral relativism. Clearly, no one who believes in the absolute authority of essay on morality is a relative concept law or the intrinsic value of a rational will would be likely to embrace relativism. But merely denying that morality has an objective foundation of this sort does not make one a relativist; for moral relativism also asserts that moral claims may be true or false relative to some particular standpoint such as that of a specific culture or historical period.

An especially influential version of this view, first put forward by Ogden and Richards, and later elaborated upon by A. Prescriptivism, for instance, the view developed by R. Hare, acknowledges that moral statements can express emotional attitudes but sees their primary function as that of prescribing how people should behave. Most forms of ethical non-cognitivism, like moral relativism, have been fueled by acceptance of a fact-value gap. But unlike ethical non-cognitivism, moral relativism does not deny that moral claims can be true; it only denies that they can be made true by some objective, trans-cultural moral order.

It allows them to be true in the humbler, relativistic sense of being rationally acceptable from a particular cultural vantage point. Meta-Ethical Relativism Meta-ethical relativism holds that moral judgments are not true or false in any absolute sense, but only relative to particular standpoints. This idea is essential to just about any version of moral relativism. Relativizing truth to standpoints is a way of answering in advance the objection that relativism implies that the same sentence can be both true and false.

But if they are speaking at different times or from different locations standpoints this is possible. Saying that the truth of a moral claim is relative to some standpoint should not be confused with the idea that it is relative to the situation in which it is made. Only the most extreme rigorists would deny that in assessing a moral judgment we should take the particular circumstances into account.

Most people would agree that lying in court to avoid a fine is wrong, while lying to a madman to protect his intended victim is justified.