Other seeming differences may be explained by reference to the different factual beliefs that people hold. Take the issue of slavery. Some societies have seen nothing wrong with slavery; others view it is a moral abomination. This would seem to mark a basic and serious disparity in moral perspectives.
And defenders of slavery in the United States did indeed used to argue that blacks were sub-human and could therefore legitimately be treated like animals rather than as human beings. 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.
The question of whether or not there are universal values has been at the center of many of the debates about moral relativism. If there are universal values in this sense, then it is an objection to a strong version of descriptive relativism which sees cultural diversity as sufficiently radical to preclude any common ground that all cultures share.
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. This is a normative universalism. It is likely that most who hold this view see these universal values as constitutive of an objectively correct moral point of view. Understood in this way, the position is incompatible with relativism.
But the view that there are, as a matter of fact, universally shared values does not entail this normative universalism. After all, every society might agree that homosexuality is wicked or that men should have dominion over women. It would not follow that everyone should embrace these values.
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. This may sometimes be the case; but such homogeneous and relatively static cultures are increasingly uncommon. Given that this is so, which set of norms and values are we supposed to refer to when judging a belief or practice?
If the relevant norms are those of the sub-culture to which the person making the claim belongs, then the relativist position seems in danger of spiraling down toward subjectivism, since there can be many sub-cultures, and some of them can be quite small. From the other direction comes the objection that relativists tend to ignore the extent to which cultures overlap and influence one another. These criticisms are related, as both accuse relativists of presupposing an oversimplified and outdated view of what a culture is.
This charge seems to have some purchase on the sort of relativism that treats the validity of moral claims as relative to specific identifiable cultures. It seems less damaging, though, to the kind of relativism that relates moral claims to general normative standpoints without requiring that these be identified with actual communities. The most serious objection to moral relativism is that relativism implies that obvious moral wrongs are acceptable.
The objection is that if we say beliefs and actions are right or wrong only relative to a specific moral standpoint, it then becomes possible to justify almost anything. We are forced to abandon the idea that some actions are just plain wrong. Nor can we justify the idea that some forms of life are obviously and uncontroversially better than others, even though almost everyone believes this. 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. This line of attack appears compelling against normative relativism, the view that what goes on within a society should only be judged by the prevailing norms of that society. 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.
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. 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.
To many critics, however, this denial is precisely what renders relativism unacceptable. In responding to this criticism, moral relativists would seem to have three options. However, virtually no one takes this position since it amounts to a form of moral nihilism.
This allows for an assessment that avoids judging according to an external standard. However, for the relativists, this line of defense only sets the problem back a step. 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?
If relativists allow for no way of appraising such goals, insisting that any preferences we express are arbitrary, then, the critics will say, their position is once more shown to be beyond the pale of common sense. Relativists of this stripe continue to insist that all moralities are in the same boat insofar as none can be conclusively proved in some absolute sense to be true or false, right or wrong, or better than any other available moral outlook.
But, they argue, it does not follow from this that relativists cannot consistently prefer some moralities over others, nor that they cannot offer reasons for their preference. 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.
Thus, a relativist might condemn laws prohibiting homosexuality in the name of such values as happiness, freedom, and equality. But she does not claim that she can prove that this normative standpoint is objectively superior to that of the culture outlawing homosexuality.
Possibly those she is criticizing might share her values, in which case they may be open to persuasion. But they might have different basic values; for instance, they may favor executing homosexuals in order to realize a certain vision of moral purity. In that case, the standoff seems to be at the level of fundamental values. And when that is the case, the relativist may accept that she cannot demonstrate the objective superiority of her views in a non question-begging way—that is, without making assumptions that those she is trying to persuade will reject.
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. But the difference between Western academics who are moral relativists and their fellow academics who criticize them is clearly not a deep difference in moral values. They all are likely to praise democracy and condemn discrimination. 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.
The relativists see this anxiety as mistaken since what it asks for is both impossible and unnecessary. If the rightness or wrongness of actions, practices, or institutions can only be judged by reference to the norms of the culture in which they are found, then how can members of that society criticize those norms on moral grounds? And how can they argue that the prevailing norms should be changed? If, for instance, a society has a caste system under which one caste enjoys great privileges while another caste is allowed to do only menial work, then this system will necessarily appear just according to its own norms.
So there will be nothing to criticize. 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. For instance, an official commitment to equality is belied by discriminatory laws. Thus, a society can be self-critical by noticing gaps between its practices and its ideals. This is a weak response, however, since the sort of self-criticism it allows is quite limited.
Often, the most important kind of self-criticism involves a demand that the ideals themselves be changed, as, for instance, when the American and French revolutions articulated new egalitarian values. The answer is that it all depends on the precise sort of moral relativism being espoused.
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. But if the relativist only insists that moral claims are true or false relative to some particular standpoint, then this does not follow.
In that case, the prevailing moral norms can be judged wrong from an alternative point of view, which may be the one the relativist favors. 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.
A society may change its norms by, say, ending systematic discrimination against certain groups, or becoming less indifferent to the suffering of animals. But if there is no neutral point of view from which such changes can be appraised, how can one argue that they constitute progress? Indeed, from the point of view of the old norms, any changes must appear suspect, since the old norms dictate what is right.
Like the previous objection, this argument has the form of a reductio ad absurdum. Almost everyone believes that moral progress can and does occur within a society. The abolition of slavery is a paradigm of such progress. So, any theory implying that such changes do not constitute progress must be false. By the same token, moral relativism can also be criticized for not allowing the possibility of moral decline, which also presumably occurs at times.
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. On this view, moral progress is possible, but not relative to objective, trans-cultural criteria. It can only be gauged by reference to some particular moral standpoint that cannot be conclusively proved superior to other points of view.
Thus, relativists, like everyone else, will view the abolition of slavery as progress because they affirm values such as freedom, equality, and individual happiness. A standard objection to cognitive relativism, which is sometimes advanced against moral relativism, is that it is pragmatically self-refuting. The basic idea behind it is that moral relativists, whatever their official meta-ethical position, cannot avoid being implicitly committed to certain fundamental norms and values, and they presuppose this commitment in the very act of arguing for moral relativism.
So, the content of the theory is at odds with the practice of affirming or defending it. Relativists, however, are likely to be skeptical about the universality of these alleged implicit commitments. To them, the concept of rationality in question is characteristic of a particular time and place. To be sure, they may, as modern Western liberals, embrace values such as sincerity or open-mindedness.
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. What does it mean for a moral belief to be true relative to a particular culture?
If it merely means that most members of that culture hold that belief, then it is a somewhat grandiose and misleading way of stating a simple fact. Presumably, therefore, relativists mean something more by it. In addition, they cannot be simply making the banal point that someone belonging to that culture who rejects the belief in question is in the minority, or is perceived to be mistaken by the majority.
This raises a number of awkward issues. It seems to imply, for instance, that the majority can never be wrong on moral matters. And a corollary of that is that within a given community, dissidents must always be wrong. These ideas go against our normal ways of thinking. A further problem for the relativist thesis is that it seems not to take into account exactly how the prevailing moral norms in a society were established. If they gained ascendancy over time, shaped by collective experience, then one could perhaps view them as the outcome of an implicit social contract, and in that sense to have some claim to rationality.
But what if they were initially imposed on a society forcibly by conquerors or dictatorial rulers? Does that make a difference? It certainly sounds odd to say that a moral statement that once was false can be made true by the establishment of a new religious or political order and the consolidation of its ideas. 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.
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. 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.
Those who see truth of any kind as ultimately a matter of inter-subjective agreement may be better positioned to avoid this problem. A good deal of the debate surrounding moral relativism has focused on its claim to exemplify and foster tolerance. There are at least three lines of criticism against this claim.
Showing genuine respect for a culture means taking its beliefs seriously, and that means viewing them as candidates for critical appraisal. It suggests that the beliefs could not withstand critical scrutiny, or perhaps that they are just not worth appraising. Relativists say we should be tolerant of beliefs and practices found in other cultures. This is a normative claim. If it applies to everyone, then it is a trans-cultural moral principle, in which case relativism is false.
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. Tolerance is, of course, a central value espoused by modern liberal societies. So for other societies, the fact that relativism promotes tolerance is not a point in its favor, and relativists have no business preaching tolerance to them.
It would not be self-contradictory for moral relativists to hold that all moral principles have only a relative validity except for the principle of tolerance, which enjoys a unique status. But the resulting position would be peculiar. The relativistic viewpoint would be significantly modified and some account would be owed of why the principle of tolerance alone has universal validity. For this reason, a more common relativistic response to the criticism is along the lines suggested by David Wong.
Relativists can simply accept that the obligation to be tolerant has only relative validity or scope. It applies to those whose general moral standpoint affirms or entails tolerance as a value; and only these people are likely to be swayed by the argument that relativism promotes tolerance. It even requires us to be tolerant of intolerance, at least if it occurs in another culture.
Clearly, this is a problem for anyone, relativist or not, who elevates the principle that we should be tolerant to an absolute, exceptionless rule. But for relativists who do not do this, the problem will seem less pressing. Tolerance, they will argue, is one of the values constitutive of their standpoint—a standpoint they share with most other people in modern liberal societies.
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. 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.
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. But it is not a problem that only moral relativists have to confront. Over the years moral relativism has attracted a great deal of criticism, and not just from professional philosophers. One reason for this, of course, is that it is widely perceived to be a way of thinking that is on the rise.
Indeed, by the end of the twentieth century it had become a commonplace among teachers of moral philosophy in the US that the default view of morality held by the majority of college students was some form of moral relativism. Another reason for so much trenchant criticism is that a relativistic view of morality is thought by many to have pernicious consequences.
It typically amounts to little more than a skepticism about objective moral truth, often expressed as the idea that beliefs and actions are not right or wrong per se, only right or wrong for someone. 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.
As they see it, they are not countenancing immorality, injustice, or moral nihilism; rather, they are trying to say something about the nature of moral claims and the justifications given for them. The main problem they face is to show how the denial of objective moral truth need not entail a subjectivism that drains the rationality out of moral discourse. Their critics, on the other hand, face the possibly even more challenging task of justifying the claim that there is such a thing as objective moral truth.
Emrys Westacott Email: Westacott alfred. Moral Relativism Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint for instance, that of a culture or a historical period and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. Historical Background a. Ancient Greece In the view of most people throughout history, moral questions have objectively correct answers.
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. 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.
Descriptive Relativism Descriptive relativism is a thesis about cultural diversity. 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. 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.
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. Moral Relativism Moral relativism has been identified with all the above positions; and no formula can capture all the ways the term is used by both its advocates and its critics.
No standpoint can be proved objectively superior to any other. Arguments for Moral Relativism The main arguments for moral relativism are not necessarily all compatible. The Argument from Cultural Diversity Textbooks often suggest that relativists argue from the plain fact that different cultures have different moral belief systems to a relativistic view of morality; but this is an oversimplification.
The Untenability of Moral Objectivism The untenability of moral objectivism is probably the most popular and persuasive justification for moral relativism—that it follows from the collapse of moral objectivism, or is at least the best alternative to objectivism. The Argument from Cognitive Relativism The majority of moral relativists do not embrace cognitive relativism, which offers a relativistic account of truth in general, not just the truth of moral judgments.
However, some do, and this is another path to moral relativism One of the merits of this approach to moral relativism is that it can help to clarify fundamental questions about what is meant by talk about the relativity of moral claims. Moral Relativism Promotes Tolerance The idea that moral relativism promotes tolerance is a normative argument.
Objections to Moral Relativism a. Relativists Exaggerate Cultural Diversity 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. Relativism Ignores Diversity Within a Culture 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.
Relativism Implies that Obvious Moral Wrongs are Acceptable The most serious objection to moral relativism is that relativism implies that obvious moral wrongs are acceptable. Relativism Undermines the Possibility of a Society Being Self-Critical If the rightness or wrongness of actions, practices, or institutions can only be judged by reference to the norms of the culture in which they are found, then how can members of that society criticize those norms on moral grounds?
Relativism is Pragmatically Self-Refuting A standard objection to cognitive relativism, which is sometimes advanced against moral relativism, is that it is pragmatically self-refuting. Relativism Rests on an Incoherent Notion of Truth What does it mean for a moral belief to be true relative to a particular culture? 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.
Conclusion Over the years moral relativism has attracted a great deal of criticism, and not just from professional philosophers. References and Further Reading Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of Culture. New York: Penguin, Studies three societies to show how beliefs and practices must be understood in the context of the culture in which they occur and its dominant values. Carson, Thomas. The Status of Morality. Dordrecht: Reidel, A sophisticated defense of a version of moral relativism based on an analysis of how, and in what sense, moral judgments can be said to be true or false.
Duncker, Karl. An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. Cambridge, Mass. Press, Argues that in every human society there are certain common norms and values presupposed by social interaction.
Harmen, Gilbert. New York: Oxford University Press, Presents a version of moral relativism based on an analysis of what it means for someone to have a reason to do something. Varieties of Relativism. Oxford: Blackwell, Catalogues the different types of relativism, including moral relativism, along with the main arguments for and against each type. Harrison, Geoffrey. Herskovits, Melville. Cultural Relativism: Perspectives in Cultural Pluralism. New York: Random House, Hume, David.
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Indianapolis: Hackett, First published in Krausz, Michael, and Meiland, Jack W. Relativism: Cognitive and Moral. Anthology of important articles on both kinds of relativism. Krausz, Michael ed. Relativism: Interpretation and Confrontation. Extensive collection of articles; somewhat wider in scope than the Krausz-Meiland anthology.
Ladd, John ed. Ethical Relativism. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Anthology that focuses on the contribution of anthropology to the moral relativism debate. Levi, Neil. Moral Relativism: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld, A very clear study, fairly sympathetic to relativism, which analyzes and appraises many of the central arguments for and against.
Lukes, Steven. Moral Relativism. New York: Picador, A concise introduction that focuses on debates within the social sciences about culture and diversity. Mackie, J. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. London: Penguin, Montaigne, Michel de. Donald M. Stanford: Stanford University Press, Moody-Adams, Michele. Fieldwork in Familiar Places. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Moser, Paul K. Moral Relativism: A Reader. Extensive anthology of excerpts from classic texts and contemporary articles by leading participants in the debate about moral relativism.
Includes an extensive bibliography. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. On the Genealogy of Morals. Translated by Walter Kaufmann and R. New York: Vintage Books, Rorty, Richard. Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Supports a version of moral relativism that sees no essential difference between factual claims and normative claims.
Ruse, Michael. Taking Darwin Seriously. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. For example, Harman b , Prinz and Wong and all associate moral relativism with naturalism, a position that usually presupposes the objectivity of the natural sciences. Second, a metaethical moral relativist position might be defended by emphasizing aspects of morality other than disagreement.
For example, Rovane and has maintained that relativism is best understood, not as a response to disagreement, but as a response to alternative conceptual schemes that portray different worlds that are normatively insulated from one another. On this account, the truth-bearers in one world are not logically related to the truth-bearers in another world so there cannot be strict disagreement , and yet it is not possible to embrace both worlds so they are alternatives.
Rovane argues that in the moral domain, but not in the domain of the natural sciences, there may be different worlds in this sense. Hence, a moral judgment may be true for the occupant of one world, but not for the occupant of another. An implication of this view, she says, is that learning and teaching across different moral worlds might not be possible.
In a partially similar view, Velleman has claimed, on the basis of ethnographic and historical data, that different communities construct available action types differently. Moreover, reasons for action are always dependent on the perspective of the particular community since they arise out of the drive for mutual interpretability needed for social life within the community.
Hence, there are no perspective-independent reasons. There cannot be straight-forward disagreement across these communities because they do not have common sets of action types. The communities may nonetheless address the basic themes of morality, but in incompatible ways given their different perspectives.
So moralities can only have local validity. Both Rovane and Velleman stress moral diversity rather than moral disagreement. They maintain, not that disagreements cannot be rationally resolved, but that there is no basis for showing that, among various incompatible alternatives, one is rationally superior to another. In addition, it is worth noting that MMR is sometimes justified by appealing in a significant way to a distinctive analysis of moral judgments in combination with a claim about moral disagreement.
According to moral sentimentalism, an action is morally right wrong if and only if some observer of the action has a sentiment of approbation disapprobation concerning it. Prinz defends this position on the basis of a metaethical argument that it is the most plausible account in light of empirical studies linking moral judgments and emotions.
On this view, the truth of such moral judgments is relative to the sentiments of the persons who make them. Moral sentimentalism is a crucial feature of this argument and many philosophers would deny that moral rightness and wrongness depend on our sentiments in this way. But most arguments for MMR are not based on moral sentimentalism. Hence, moral judgments of this kind are valid only for groups of persons who have made such agreements. An action may be right relative to one agreement and wrong relative to another this combines agent and appraisal relativism insofar as Harman assumes that the person making the judgment and the person to whom the judgment is addressed are both parties to the agreement.
In this sense, moral disagreement is an important feature of the argument. But the main focus is on the internalist idea that inner judgments imply motivating reasons, reasons that are not provided simply by being rational, but require particular desires or intentions that a person may or may not have.
However, internalism is not a standard feature of most arguments for moral relativism, and in fact some relativists are critical of internalism for example, see Wong ch. It is worth noting that internalism is one expression of a more general viewpoint that emphasizes the action-guiding character of moral judgments. Though Harman and others for example, Dreier and have argued that a form of moral relativism provides the best explanation of internalism, a more common argument has been that the action-guiding character of moral judgments is best explained by a non-cognitivist or expressivist account according to which moral judgments lack truth-value at least beyond the claim of minimalism.
In fact, some have claimed that the expressivist position avoids, and is superior to, moral relativism because it accounts for the action-guiding character of moral judgments without taking on the problems that moral relativism is thought to involve for instance, see Blackburn ch. By contrast, others have maintained that positions such as non-cognitivism and expressivism are committed to a form of moral relativism for example, see Bloomfield , Foot b, and Shafer-Landau ch 1.
For an assessment of this debate, see Miller , and for a discussion of non-cognitivism and related positions, see the entry on moral cognitivism vs. Usually the position is formulated in terms of tolerance. In particular, it is said that we should not interfere with the actions of persons that are based on moral judgments we reject, when the disagreement is not or cannot be rationally resolved. This is thought to apply especially to relationships between our society and those societies with which we have significant moral disagreements.
Since tolerance so-understood is a normative thesis about what we morally ought to do, it is best regarded, not as a form of moral relativism per se , but as a thesis that has often been thought to be implied by relativist positions such as DMR and MMR.
Despite the popularity of this thought, most philosophers believe it is mistaken. The main question is what philosophical relationship, if any, obtains between moral relativism and tolerance. The remainder of this entry will discuss DMR , the contention that it is unlikely that fundamental moral disagreements can be rationally resolved, arguments for and challenges to MMR , mixed positions that combine moral relativism and moral objectivism, and the relationship between moral relativism and tolerance.
But first there needs to be some consideration of the recent contributions of experimental philosophy to these discussions. Experimental philosophy is an approach to philosophy that explicitly draws on experimental knowledge established by the sciences to address philosophical questions see the entry on experimental moral philosophy. There are three significant ways in which experimental philosophy has played an important role in discussions of moral relativism.
These concern the extent to which there is moral disagreement or moral diversity among people that is, DMR , the extent to which folk morality is committed to an objectivist or relativist understanding of moral judgments that is, the views of ordinary people concerning MMR , and the extent to which acceptance of moral relativism affects moral attitudes such as tolerance that is, ways in which views concerning MMR causally influence whether or not people have tolerant attitudes.
The first of these has a long history in discussions of moral relativism and in fact may be considered one of the earliest instances of experimental moral philosophy. As was seen in section 1 , for more than a century the work of anthropologists and other social scientists has contributed to the development of thought about moral relativism, both by purporting to provide empirical evidence for extensive cross-cultural disagreement and diversity about morality, and by proposing the notion that moral codes are true only relative to a culture as the best explanation of this.
That is, these scientists have provided empirical grounds for accepting DMR , and they have suggested that some form of MMR is a reasonable inference from this data though these positions were not always clearly distinguished.
Their empirical work did not immediately inspire other other philosophers to engage in similar research. Experimental philosophy in this sense—experiments or other empirical investigations conducted by philosophers—did not become prominent until nearly a half-century later. Nowadays philosophers do sometimes conduct experiments to investigate the extent of moral disagreement for example, see the study of Western and East Asian values cited in Doris and Plakias What has been much more common in recent decades has been the citation by philosophers of empirical studies by anthropologists to establish facts about moral disagreement or diversity for example, see Prinz , Velleman , and Wong and There has been a renewed interest in ethics by some anthropologists in the last few years see Klenk and Laidlaw , but this has not yet attracted much attention by philosophers.
There is more about these issues in section 4. The second concern, the extent to which ordinary people accept some form of moral objectivism or some form of MMR or some other non-objectivist position , has been the subject of considerable experimental research in recent years.
In the past, philosophers with a variety of meta-ethical commitments have sometimes claimed that in everyday moral practices people implicitly suppose that moral objectivism in some sense is correct for example, see Blackburn and Jackson By contrast, on occasion some philosophers have maintained that ordinary people sometimes have attitudes that conflict with objectivism.
So who are correct, philosophers who claim that ordinary people accept a form of objectivism folk moral objectivism or philosophers who think that ordinary people at least sometimes accept something closer to MMR folk moral relativism?
Recent empirical research suggests that both positions may have some merit: the meta-ethical views of ordinary people are rather complex. A common method for measuring whether people are objectivists or relativists about a moral statement is to present them with a disagreement between two parties concerning the statement and to ask them if at most only one party could be correct. A response that only one could be correct indicates commitment to objectivism, while a response that more than one could be correct suggests commitment to relativism or some non-objectivist position.
Several studies employing this and related methodologies have provided evidence that, while many people are objectivists about morality, a significant number are not objectivists for example, see Nichols Moreover, some studies have shown interesting correlations with these differences.
For instance, being in a competitive rather than cooperative interaction and belief in a punishing God correlate with more objectivist intuitions see Fisher et al. In addition, some studies purport to show that there may be causal relationships as well as correlations.
For example, the desire to punish generates objectivist intuitions see Rose and Nichols Forthcoming. Other studies have shown different kinds of complexity. People are more likely to be objectivists about some moral issues such as robbery than they are about other moral issues such as abortion.
These differences also have correlations that might be partly explanatory: regarding an issue as objective correlates with strength of belief and perception of consensus on the issue see Goodwin and Darley and ; cf. Ayars and Nichols Moreover, people are more likely to be objectivists about some issues than others even when they are allowed to determine for themselves which issues count as moral issues see Wright et al.
Finally, it is more more probable that people give objectivist responses when they think that the parties to a moral disagreement share the same culture than when they think that the disagreeing parties belong to a very different culture. This might suggest that many of those who give objectivist responses are tacitly assuming a kind of objectivity on the assumption that the disagreeing parties have a common moral framework, but not in circumstances in which there are different moral frameworks see Sarkissian et al.
In short, empirical work about folk meta-ethical outlooks suggests that there is considerable diversity in the extent to which, and the circumstances under which, people express moral objectivist views or moral non-objectivist views such as MMR. This might be taken to indicate that some people are objectivists and some are not. That is, perhaps some people implicitly deny the common assumption among philosophers that all moral beliefs should be given the same meta-ethical analysis.
Various questions may be raised about the value and significance of this experimental work. In recent years an important issue in psychology has been the extent to which experimental results can be replicated. It has been argued that the replication rate in experimental philosophy is comparatively high see Cova et al. Another issue is whether the samples of these studies are sufficiently diverse to be indicative of the meta-ethical commitments of all human beings.
Once again, there have been concerns that psychology studies have been unrepresentative for example, because they rely too heavily on undergraduate students in the United States. However, at least some studies pertaining to moral objectivity have included a more diverse group of subjects for example, Beebe et al.
A different question is to what extent these studies actually measure acceptance of moral objectivism or moral relativism. However, some studies have focused on moral relativism specifically for example, Sarkissian et al. In any case, some philosophers may wonder about the philosophical relevance of this experimental research.
One response is that it could affect criteria of success in meta-ethics. For example, it is sometimes suggested that most people are moral objectivists rather than moral relativists, and that a meta-ethical position such as moral realism gains credibility because it is in accord with folk morality so understood see Smith The studies just cited and others appear to challenge the factual premise of this meta-ethical criterion see Sarkissian , and it has been argued that the best interpretation of the empirical data is that many people accept a form of relativism see Beebe Forthcoming.
Another response is that some of the complexity revealed in these studies might lead philosophers to consider more seriously the philosophical viability of a pluralist or mixed meta-ethical position according to which, for instance, moral objectivism is correct in some respects, but MMR is correct in other respects in this connection, see Gill and Sinnott-Armstrong There is more on this issue in section 7.
The final area in which experimental philosophy has contributed to discussions of moral relativism pertains to the relationship between relativism and moral attitudes such as tolerance. It is sometimes claimed that some forms of moral relativism provide a reason for tolerance see section 8. But are moral relativists more likely to be tolerant than moral objectivists?
Insofar as these studies suggest that there is some correlation between acceptance of moral relativism and tolerance, this might be regarded as an unsurprising result for those who have argued that moral relativism provides a rational basis for tolerance. Of course, a psychological relationship does not show that there is a logical relationship. But some support might be derived from the fact that people are behaving in what, for this position, is a rational way.
In addition, it has been claimed that an advantage of moral relativism is that, even though it does not provide a reason for tolerance, acceptance of it makes people more tolerant see Prinz These studies would provide support for this empirical claim. Most discussions of moral relativism begin with, and are rooted in, DMR. Though this is not sufficient to establish MMR , the most common rationales for MMR would be undermined if DMR or some descriptive thesis about significant moral disagreement or diversity were incorrect.
Hence, it is important to consider whether or not DMR is correct. Defenders of DMR usually take it to be well-established by cultural anthropology and other empirically-based disciplines, and many believe it is obvious to anyone with an elementary understanding of the history and cultures of the world.
Examples of moral practices that appear sharply at odds with moral outlooks common in the United States are not hard to come by: polygamy, arranged marriages, suicide as a requirement of honor or widowhood, severe punishments for blasphemy or adultery, female circumcision or genital mutilation as it is variously called , and so on for a review of some of the literature, see Prinz — At a more general level, Wong has argued that at least two different approaches to morality may be found in the world: a virtue-centered morality that emphasizes the good of the community, and a rights-centered morality that stresses the value of individual freedom.
Though it is obvious that there are some moral disagreements, it is another matter to say that these disagreements are deep and widespread, and that they are much more significant than whatever agreements there may be. Philosophers have raised two kinds of objection to this contention: a priori arguments that DMR could not be true, and a posteriori arguments that DMR is probably not true or at least has not been established to be true.
A priori objections maintain that we can know DMR is false on the basis of philosophical considerations, without recourse to empirical evidence. One argument, expressed in general form by Donald Davidson a , states that disagreement presupposes considerable agreement see the entry on Donald Davidson.
According to Davidson, a methodological constraint on the translation of the language of another society is that we must think they agree with us on most matters. For example, suppose we believed there were numerous disagreements between us and another society about trees. By generalization, it follows that there could not be extensive disagreements about trees between our society and the other one.
Of course, there could be some disagreements. But these disagreements would presuppose substantial agreements in other respects. Davidson b [a] and [b] and others for example, Cooper and Myers have claimed that this argument applies to moral concepts. If they are right, then there cannot be extensive disagreements about morality, and the agreements are more significant than the disagreements.
DMR cannot be true. One response is that, even if it were compelling in some cases, it would not have force with respect to moral concepts. In view of this, mistranslation seems more likely than substantial disagreement. But what about concepts concerning what is amusing, interesting, or exciting? These have to do with human reactions to the world, and it may be said that our knowledge of human nature suggests that some reactions vary widely.
A claim that there is much disagreement about what people find amusing—about what makes them laugh—does not immediately generate the suspicion of mistranslation. Davidson, however, believed the argument applies across the board, to evaluations as well as empirical beliefs. Another response to his argument is to claim that, even if it does apply to evaluations, it would only apply to very basic ones and would leave room for substantial disagreements beyond these if this were the case, then Davidson would have established only what I call a mixed position in section 7.
For some critical responses to the Davidsonian critique of relativism, see Gowans —6, Prinz —9 and Rovane — Another a priori objection to DMR was suggested by Philippa Foot a and b in a response to emotivism. For example, there are substantial constraints on what could be considered courage. Hence, there are significant limits to the extent of moral disagreements. One response to this argument, interpreted as an objection to DMR , is that it faces a dilemma. However, this leaves room for very different conceptions of courage.
Both warriors and pacifists may value it, but they may regard very different kinds of actions as courageous. This puts less pressure on DMR , a point Foot later conceded to some extent see section 7. On the other hand, if courage is defined narrowly, for example, as the virtue of a warrior who faces the threat of death in battle as suggested by Aristotle , then there may be little disagreement about the scope of the concept, but considerable disagreement about whether courage so-defined should be valued pacifists would say no.
A proponent of DMR might say that this is also a significant moral disagreement. Against this, it may be said that our understanding of human nature and culture shows that everyone values courage understood within some fairly significant limits. This is a more empirical point, in line with the objections in the last paragraph of this section.
Once again, a defender of DMR might say that, if these concepts have enough content to preclude significant disagreement in their application, then it is likely that many societies do not apply them at all—a form of moral disagreement in itself. Another response would be to argue, following R. Hare , that a formal analysis, for example in terms of a kind of prescriptivity, is plausible with respect to some thinner moral concepts, and that this is consistent with significant moral disagreements.
However, the a priori critics question the adequacy of any such analysis. Much of this debate concerns the acceptability of formal versus material definitions of morality see the entry on the definition of morality. The second approach to rejecting DMR focuses on the interpretation of the empirical evidence that purportedly supports this thesis.
Some objections point to obstacles that face any attempt to understand human cultures empirically. For example, it may be said that the supposed evidence is incomplete or inaccurate because the observers are biased. In support of this, it may be claimed that anthropologists often have had preconceptions rooted in disciplinary paradigms or political ideologies that have led them to misrepresent or misinterpret the empirical data.
These concerns point to substantial issues in the methodology of the social sciences. However, even if they were valid, they would only cast doubt on whether DMR had been established: They would not necessarily give us reason to think it is false. Another objection, more directly pertinent to DMR , is that anthropologists have tacitly and mistakenly assumed that cultures are rather discrete, homogenous, and static entities—rather like the shapes in a Piet Mondrian painting or a checkerboard.
In fact, according to this contention, cultures typically are rather heterogeneous and complex internally, with many dissenting voices. Moreover, they often interact and sometimes influence one another, and they may change over time. From this perspective, the world of cultures is closer to an animated Jackson Pollock painting than to the unambiguous configuration suggested by the first image.
If these contentions were correct, then it would be more difficult to know the moral values of different cultures and hence to know whether or not DMR is true. As before, this would not show that it is false in fact, the point about heterogeneity might point the other way. However, we will see later that these contentions also pose challenges to MMR. Other critics try to establish that the empirical evidence cited in support of DMR does not really show that there are significant moral disagreements, and is consistent with considerable moral agreement.
A prominent contention is that purported moral disagreements may result from applying a general moral value about which there is no disagreement in different circumstances or in the same circumstances where there is a factual disagreement about what these circumstances are.
Either way, there is no real moral disagreement in these cases. For example, everyone might agree on the importance of promoting human welfare and even on the nature of human welfare. But this may be promoted differently in different, or differently understood, circumstances.
Another contention is that moral disagreements may be explained by religious disagreements: It is only because specific religious assumptions are made for instance, about the soul that there are moral disagreements. Once again, the apparent moral disagreement is really a disagreement of a different kind—here, about the nature of the soul. There is no genuine moral disagreement. Of course, these possibilities would have to be established as the best explanation of the disagreements in question to constitute an objection to DMR.
Finally, some objections maintain that proponents of DMR fail to recognize that there is significant empirical evidence for considerable moral agreement across different societies see Sauer Several kinds of agreement have been proposed. Another form of this claim maintains that basic moral prohibitions against lying, stealing, adultery, killing human beings, etc.
Yet another contention is that the international human rights movement indicates substantial moral agreement see Donnelly ch. On the basis of evidence of this kind, some such as Sissela Bok and Michael Walzer have proposed that there is a universal minimal morality, whatever other moral differences there may be.
These contentions, which have received increased support in recent years, must be subjected to the same critical scrutiny as those put forward in support of DMR. However, if they were correct, they would cast doubt on DMR. If this were the case, it would complicate the empirical background of the metaethical debate, and it might suggest the need for more nuanced alternatives than the standard positions. Philosophers generally agree that, even if DMR were true without qualification, it would not directly follow that MMR is true.
In particular, if moral disagreements could be resolved rationally for the most part, then disagreement-based arguments for MMR would be undermined, and there would be little incentive to endorse the position. Such resolvability, at least in principle, is what moral objectivism would lead us to expect. One of the main points of contention between proponents of MMR and their objectivist critics concerns the possibility of rationally resolving moral disagreements.
It might be thought that the defender of MMR needs to show conclusively that the moral disagreements identified in DMR cannot be rationally resolved, or again that the moral objectivist must show conclusively that they can be. Neither is a reasonable expectation. Indeed, it is unclear what would count as conclusively arguing for either conclusion.
The center of the debate concerns what plausibly may be expected. Adherents of MMR attempt to show why rational resolution is an unlikely prospect, while their objectivist critics try to show why to a large extent this is likely, or at least not unlikely. Moral objectivists can allow that there are special cases in which moral disagreements cannot be rationally resolved, for example on account of vagueness or indeterminacy in the concepts involved.
Their main claim is that ordinarily there is a rational basis for overcoming disagreements not that people would actually come to agree. Objectivists maintain that, typically, at least one party in a moral disagreement accepts the moral judgment on account of some factual or logical mistake, and that revealing such mistakes would be sufficient to rationally resolve the disagreement. They suggest that whatever genuine moral disagreements there are usually can be resolved in this fashion.
In addition, objectivists sometimes offer an analysis of why people make such mistakes. For example, people may be influenced by passion, prejudice, ideology, self-interest, and the like. In general, objectivists think, insofar as people set these influences aside, and are reasonable and well-informed, there is generally a basis for resolving their moral differences.
However, though these claims are often made, it is another matter to establish empirically that self-interest is the source of disagreement, and it has been argued that there are considerable obstacles to doing this see Seipel a. Objectivists might also say that at least some agreements about moral truths reflect the fact that, with respect to matters pertaining to these truths, people generally have been reasonable and well-informed.
Proponents of MMR may allow that moral disagreements sometimes are rationally resolved. In particular, they may grant that this often happens when the parties to a moral dispute share a moral framework. The characteristic relativist contention is that a common moral framework is often lacking, especially in moral disagreements between one society and another, and that differences in moral frameworks usually cannot be explained simply by supposing that one society or the other is making factual or logical mistakes.
These moral disagreements are ultimately rooted in fundamentally different moral orientations, and there is usually no reason to think these differences result from the fact that, in relevant respects, one side is less reasonable or well-informed than the other. They are faultless disagreements. This conclusion might rest on the observation that it is not evident that mistakes are at the root of these disagreement. But it might also depend on a theory, developed to explain such observations, that the frameworks are incommensurable: They do not have enough in common, in terms of either shared concepts or shared standards, to resolve their differences, and there is no impartial third standpoint, accessible to any reasonable and well-informed person, that could be invoked to resolve the conflict.
Various objectivist responses may be made to this argument. One is the Davidsonian approach, already considered, that precludes the possibility of incommensurable moral frameworks. Another response is that incommensurability does not preclude the possibility of rationally resolving differences between moral frameworks. For example, Alasdair MacIntyre ch. However, the most common objectivist response is to claim that some specific moral framework is rationally superior to all others.
If such an argument were sound, it might provide a compelling response to the relativist contention that conflicts between moral frameworks cannot be rationally resolved. Proponents of MMR are unimpressed by these responses. And they usually consider debates about the Kantian and Aristotelian arguments to be as difficult to resolve rationally as the conflicts between moral frameworks the relativists originally invoked.
They may add that the fact that moral objectivists disagree among themselves about which objectivist theory is correct is further indication of the difficulty of resolving fundamental moral conflicts. A rather different objectivist challenge is that the position of the proponent of MMR is inconsistent. The relativist argument is that we should reject moral objectivism because there is little prospect of rationally resolving fundamental moral disagreements.
However, it may be pointed out, the relativist should acknowledge that there is no more prospect of rationally resolving disagreements about MMR. By parity of reasoning, he or she should grant that there is no objective truth concerning MMR. To this familiar kind of objection, there are two equally familiar responses. One is to concede the objection and maintain that MMR is true and justified in some metaethical frameworks, but not others: It is not an objective truth that any reasonable and well-informed person has reason to accept.
This may seem to concede a great deal, but for someone who is a relativist through and through, or at least is a relativist about metaethical claims, this would be the only option. The other response is to contest the claim that there is parity of reasoning in the two cases. This would require showing that the dispute about the irresolvability of moral disagreements a metaethical debate can be rationally resolved in a way that fundamental moral disagreements substantive normative debates themselves cannot.
For example, the metaethical debate might be rationally resolved in favor of the relativist, while the substantive normative debates cannot be resolved. Even if it were established that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements that cannot be rationally resolved, and that these disagreements are more significant than whatever agreements there may be, it would not immediately follow that MMR is correct.
Other nonobjectivist conclusions might be drawn. In particular, opponents of objectivism might argue for moral skepticism, that we cannot know moral truths, or for a view that moral judgments lack truth-value understood to imply a rejection of relative truth-value. Hence, proponents of MMR face two very different groups of critics: assorted kinds of moral objectivists and various sorts of moral nonobjectivists. The defender of MMR needs to establish that MMR is superior to all these positions, and this would require a comparative assessment of their respective advantages and disadvantages.
It is beyond the scope of this article to consider the alternative positions see the entries on moral cognitivism vs. What can be considered are the challenges the proponent of MMR faces and what may be said in response to them. Some critics of MMR have raised questions about the coherence of the position for example, Boghossian and But this appears to be an untenable position: most people would grant that nothing can be both true and false. Of course, some persons could be justified in affirming S and other persons justified in denying it, since the two groups could have different evidence.
But it is another matter to say S is both true and false. A standard relativist response is to say that moral truth is relative in some sense. On this view, S is not true or false absolutely speaking, but it may be true-relative-to- X and false-relative-to- Y where X and Y refer to the moral codes of different societies. This means that suicide is right for persons in a society governed by X , but it is not right for persons in a society governed by Y ; and, the relativist may contend, there is no inconsistency in this conjunction properly understood.
In response, it might be said that there are expressions of relativist moral statements that are normative. Such relativist formulations may also give rise to a related and very common objection. Relativism often presents itself as an interpretation of moral disagreements: It is said to be the best explanation of rationally irresolvable or faultless moral disagreements.
However, once moral truth is regarded as relative, the disagreements seem to disappear. For example, someone accepting X who affirms S is saying suicide is right for persons accepting X , while someone accepting Y who denies S is saying suicide is not right for persons accepting Y.
It might well be that they are both correct and hence that they are not disagreeing with one another rather as two people in different places might both be correct when one says the sun is shining and the other says it is not, or as two people in different countries may both be correct when one says something is illegal and the other says it is not.
The relativist explanation dissolves the disagreement. But, then, why did it appear as a disagreement in the first place? An objectivist might say this is because people thinking this assume that moral truth is absolute rather than relative. If this were correct, the relativist could not maintain that MMR captures what people already believe. The contention would have to be that they should believe it, and the argument for relativism would have to be formulated in those terms.
For example, the relativist might contend that MMR is the most plausible position to adopt insofar as moral judgments often give practically conflicting directives and neither judgment can be shown to be rationally superior to the other. Another common objection, though probably more so outside philosophy than within it, is that MMR cannot account for the fact that some practices such as the holocaust in Germany or slavery in the United States are obviously objectively wrong.
This point is usually expressed in a tone of outrage, often with the suggestion that relativists pose a threat to civilized society or something of this sort. Proponents of MMR might respond that this simply begs the question, and in one sense they are right. However, this objection might reflect a more sophisticated epistemology, for example, that we have more reason to accept these objectivist intuitions than we have to accept any argument put forward in favor of MMR.
This would bring us back to the arguments of the last section. Another relativist response would be to say that the practices in question, though widely accepted, were wrong according to the fundamental standards of the societies for example, there were arguments against slavery presented in the United States prior to the Civil War.
This would not show that the practices are objectively wrong, but it might mitigate the force of the critique. However, though this response may be plausible in some cases, it is not obvious that it always would be convincing. This last response brings out the fact that a proponent of MMR needs a clear specification of that to which truth is relative.
For example, if S is true-relative-to the moral code of a society, does this mean it is true-relative-to what people in the society think the moral code says or to what the fundamental standards of the moral code actually imply? These might not be the same. It is often supposed that truths can be undiscovered or that people can make mistakes about them. As just noted, a moral relativist could make sense of this by supposing that it is the fundamental standards of a moral code that are authoritative for people in a society that accepts that code.
Hence, what is morally true-relative-to the moral code of a society is whatever the fundamental standards of the code would actually warrant. By this criterion, there could be moral truths that are unknown to people in the society that accepts the code, or these people could be mistaken in thinking something is a moral truth. A similar point arises from the fact that it is sometimes thought to be an advantage of MMR that it maintains a substantial notion of intersubjective truth or justification: It avoids the defects of moral objectivism, on the one hand, and of moral skepticism and theories that disregard moral truth-value altogether, on the other hand, because it maintains that moral judgments do not have truth in an absolute sense, but they do have truth relative to the moral code of a society and similarly for justification.
However, this purported advantage raises an important question for relativism: Why suppose moral judgments have truth-value relative to a society as opposed to no truth-value at all? If the relativist claims that a set of fundamental standards is authoritative for persons in a society, it may be asked why they have this authority. This question may arise in quite practical ways.
For example, suppose a dissident challenges some of the fundamental standards of his or her society. Is this person necessarily wrong? Various answers may be given to these questions. For example, it may be said that the standards that are authoritative in a society are those that reasonable and well-informed members of the society would generally accept.
This might seem to provide a basis for normative authority. However, if this approach were taken, it may be asked why that authority rests only on reasonable and well-informed members of the society. Why not a wider group? Why not all reasonable and well-informed persons? A different response would be to say that the standards that are authoritative for a society are the ones persons have agreed to follow as a result of some negotiation or bargaining process as seen above, Harman has argued that we should understand some moral judgments in these terms.
Once again, this might seem to lend those standards some authority. Still, it may be asked whether they really have authority or perhaps whether they have the right kind. For example, suppose the agreement had been reached in circumstances in which a few members of society held great power over the others in the real world, the most likely scenario. Those with less power might have been prudent to make the agreement, but it is not obvious that such an agreement would create genuine normative authority—a point the dissident challenging the standards might well make.
Moreover, if all moral values are understood in this way, how do we explain the authority of the contention that people should follow a set of values because they agreed to do so? Must there be a prior agreement to do what we agree to do? A related objection concerns the specification of the society to which moral justification or truth are said to be relative. People typically belong to many different groups defined by various criteria: culture, religion, political territory, ethnicity, race, gender, etc.
Moreover, while it is sometimes claimed that the values of a group defined by one of these criteria have authority for members of the group, such claims are often challenged. The specification of the relevant group is itself a morally significant question, and there appears to be no objective map of the world that displays its division into social groups to which the truth or justification of moral judgments are relative.
A proponent of MMR needs a plausible way of identifying the group of persons to which moral truth or justification are relative. Moreover, not only do people typically belong to more than one group, as defined by the aforementioned criteria, the values that are authoritative in each group a person belongs to may not always be the same. If I belong to a religion and a nationality, and their values concerning abortion are diametrically opposed, then which value is correct for me?
This raises the question whether there is a basis for resolving the conflict consistent with MMR the two groups might have conflicting fundamental standards and whether in this circumstance MMR would entail that there is a genuine moral dilemma meaning that abortion is both right and wrong for me. This point is not necessarily an objection, but a defender of MMR would have to confront these issues and develop a convincing position concerning them.
The fact that social groups are defined by different criteria, and that persons commonly belong to more than one social group, might be taken as a reason to move from relativism to a form of subjectivism. That is, instead of saying that the truth or justification of moral judgments is relative to a group, we should say it is relative to each individual as noted above, relativism is sometimes defined to include both positions. This revision might defuse the issues just discussed, but it would abandon the notion of intersubjectivity with respect to truth or justification—what for many proponents of MMR is a chief advantage of the position.
Moreover, a proponent of this subjectivist account would need to explain in what sense, if any, moral values have normative authority for a person as opposed to simply being accepted. The fact that we sometimes think our moral values have been mistaken is often thought to imply that we believe they have some authority that does not consist in the mere fact that we accept them.
People in one society sometimes make moral judgments about people in another society on the basis of moral standards they take to be authoritative for both societies. In addition, conflicts between societies are sometimes resolved because one society changes its moral outlook and comes to share at least some of the moral values of the other society. More generally, sometimes people in one society think they learn from the moral values of another society: They come to believe that the moral values of another society are better in some respects than their own previously accepted values.
The Mondrian image of a world divided into distinct societies, each with it own distinctive moral values, makes it difficult to account for these considerations. If this image is abandoned as unrealistic, and is replaced by one that acknowledges greater moral overlap and interaction among societies recall the Pollock image , then the proponent of MMR needs to give a plausible account of these dynamics.
This is related to the problem of authority raised earlier: These considerations suggest that people sometimes acknowledge moral authority that extends beyond their own society, and a relativist needs to show why this makes sense or why people are mistaken in this acknowledgement. Discussions of moral relativism often assume as mostly has been assumed here so far that moral relativism is the correct account of all moral judgments or of none.
On the empirical level, it might be thought that there are many substantial moral disagreements but also some striking moral agreements across different societies. On the metaethical plane, it might be supposed that, though many disagreements are not likely to be rationally resolved, other disagreements may be and perhaps that the cross-cultural agreements we find have a rational basis.
The first point would lead to a weaker form of DMR The second point, the more important one, would imply a modified form of MMR see the suggestions in the last paragraph of section 4. This approach has attracted some support, interestingly, from both sides of the debate: relativists who have embraced an objective constraint, and more commonly objectivists who have allowed some relativist dimensions.
Here are some prominent examples of these mixed metaethical outlooks. David Copp maintains that it is true that something is morally wrong only if it is wrong in relation to the justified moral code of some society, and a code is justified in a society only if the society would be rationally required to select it. Since which code it would be rationally required to select depends in part on the non-moral values of the society, and since these values differ from one society to another, something may be morally wrong for one society but not for another.
Copp calls this position a form of moral relativism. However, he believes this relativism is significantly mitigated by the fact that which code a society is rationally required to select also depends on the basic needs of the society. Copp thinks all societies have the same basic needs. For example, every society has a need to maintain its population and system of cooperation from one generation to the next. Moreover, since meeting these basic needs is the most fundamental factor in determining the rationality of selecting a code, Copp thinks the content of all justified moral codes will tend to be quite similar.
The theory is mixed insofar as the rationality of selecting a code depends partly on common features of human nature basic needs and partly on diverse features of different societies values. Whether or not justified moral codes and hence moral truths would tend to be substantially similar, despite differences, as Copp argues, would depend on both the claim that all societies have the same basic needs and the claim that these needs are much more important than other values in determining which moral code it is rational for a society to select.
Wong defended a partly similar position, though one intended to allow for greater diversity in correct moral codes. He argued that more than one morality may be true, but there are limits on which moralities are true. The first point is a form of metaethical relativism: It says one morality may be true for one society and a conflicting morality may be true for another society. Hence, there is no one objectively correct morality for all societies.
The second point, however, is a concession to moral objectivism. It acknowledges that objective factors concerning human nature and the human situation should determine whether or not, or to what extent, a given morality could be one of the true ones. The mere fact that a morality is accepted by a society does not guarantee that it has normative authority in that society. For example, given our biological and psychological make-up, not just anything could count as a good way of life.
Again, given that most persons are somewhat self-interested and that society requires some measure of cooperation, any plausible morality will include a value of reciprocity good in return for good on some proportional basis. Since these objective limitations are quite broad, they are insufficient in themselves to establish a specific and detailed morality: Many particular moralities are consistent with them, and the choice among these moralities must be determined by the cultures of different societies.
Wong has developed this approach at length in more recent work The constraints are based on a naturalistic understanding of human nature and the circumstances of human life. In addition, morality requires that persons have both effective agency and effective identity, and these can only be fostered in personal contexts such as the family. Hence, the impersonal perspective must be limited by the personal perspective. Any true morality would have to respect requirements such as these.
Nonetheless, according to Wong, the universal constraints are sufficiently open-ended that there is more than one way to respect them. Hence, there can be more than one true morality. This is pluralistic relativism. For Wong, the different true moralities need not be, and typically are not, completely different from one another.
In fact, they often share some values such as individual rights and social utility , but assign them different priorities. The extent to which moral ambivalence is widespread is an empirical question see section 3. In any case, Wong presents a sustained and detailed argument that an empirically-based understanding of the nature and conditions of human life both limits and underdetermines what a true morality could be.
In many respects, his position is the most sophisticated form of relativism developed to date, and it has the resources to confront a number of the issues raised in the last section for some critical responses to Wong and his replies, see Xiao and Huang ; for more recent discussion, see Li , Vicente and Arrieta , and Wong A somewhat similar mixed position has been advanced, though more tentatively, by Foot a and b; see also Scanlon and ch. She argued that there are conceptual limitations on what could count as a moral code as seen in section 4 , and that there are common features of human nature that set limits on what a good life could be.
For these reasons, there are some objective moral truths—for example, that the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews was morally wrong. However, Foot maintained, these considerations do not ensure that all moral disagreements can be rationally resolved.
Hence, in some cases, a moral judgment may be true by reference to the standards of one society and false by reference to the standards of another society—but neither true nor false in any absolute sense just as we might say with respect to standards of beauty. Foot came to this mixed view from the direction of objectivism in the form of a virtue theory , and it might be contended by some objectivists that she has conceded too much. Since there are objective criteria, what appear as rationally irresolvable disagreements might be resolvable through greater understanding of human nature.
Or the objective criteria might establish that in some limited cases it is an objective moral truth that conflicting moral practices are both morally permissible. In view of such considerations, objectivists might argue, it is not necessary to have recourse to the otherwise problematic notion of relative moral truth.
With explicit reference to Aristotle, she argued that there is one objectively correct understanding of the human good, and that this understanding provides a basis for criticizing the moral traditions of different societies. The specifics of this account are explained by a set of experiences or concerns, said to be common to all human beings and societies, such as fear, bodily appetite, distribution of resources, management of personal property, etc.
Corresponding to each of these is a conception of living well, a virtue, namely the familiar Aristotelian virtues such as courage, moderation, justice, and generosity. Nussbaum acknowledged that there are disagreements about these virtues, and she raised an obvious relativist objection herself: Even if the experiences are universal, does human nature establish that there is one objectively correct way of living well with respect to each of these areas?
In response, Nussbaum conceded that sometimes there may be more than one objectively correct conception of these virtues and that the specification of the conception may depend on the practices of a particular community. As with Foot, Nussbaum came to this mixed position from the objectivist side of the debate. Some moral objectivists may think she has given up too much, and for a related reason many moral relativists may believe she has established rather little.
For example, bodily appetites are indeed universal experiences, but there has been a wide range of responses to these—for example, across a spectrum from asceticism to hedonism.
Harman stands behind and explores the implications of moral relativism within his paper. In particular, this essay will be picking out a specific argument, the consequences of aforementioned argument, and will then fight for or against the argument. Harman does not stray too far from moral relativism in the traditional sense within his arguments, but what he centres his idea of moral relativism upon is what this paper will be.
In the article The Basic Stances of Metaethics the authors define each of the main perspectives on moral reasoning, objectivism, cultural relativism, subjective relativism, and emotivism, and they leave the reader with a good understanding of each of them. In this essay I am going to outline the central arguments of each perspective and give positive and negative critiques.
Objectivism is the view that some moral principles. According to Protagoras, even morality is relative and the truth of moral judgments is limited to the context in which they are affirmed. In other words, moral relativism is the view that moral judgements are true or false only relative to a particular society, situation or individual. Therefore, there is no universal principle. This question focus primarily on morals between different people and cultures.
As different cultures have different values and ways of life it stands that the morals between two cultures would vary, whether it be minimally. Essay Assignment 1 Morality seeks to provide a moral agreement that binds the people in a society by providing a blueprint of shared values that dictate what is right and wrong. The two principles of morality are moral objectivism and moral relativism. The thesis of this essay is that moral relativism is a better guide to morality as compared to moral objectivity as it puts things into perspective by considering moral ideas and variables on a universal understanding.
Moral relativity cannot. Meta-Ethical Cultural Relativism The thesis of meta-ethical cultural relativism is the philosophical viewpoint that there are no absolute moral truths, only truths relative to the cultural context in which they exist. From this it is therefore presumed that what one society considers to be morally right, another society may consider to be morally wrong, therefore, moral right's and wrongs are only relative to a particular society.
Thus cultural relativism implies that what is 'good' is what. What bearing does this have on law? Moral objectivism is the view that what is right or wrong is not dependent on individual or societal opinion, but instead is grounded on facts that are external to human society. Benedict also fails to recognize the common human experience, namely, human nature. Relativism does not allow for counter-culture affirmative action, this moral theory promotes passive ethics.
This correlates to the idea of common moral concepts among different cultures and societies. Benedict makes a valid argument that people develop moral codes as a result of their culture. There is no right or wrong way to develop a society, the only tried and true method is trial and error.
Pojman refines these observed qualities of human cultures and connects them to a common set of human needs and interests. Every societal and moral system can trace its original purpose to the intent to fulfill those needs and interests. In this way there is no relativism, only differing applications of moral concepts. I contend that this acceptance of moral relativism is really a cry of lethargy from the masses. Moral relativism is the lazy way to defend your apathy on moral issues.
Objectivism offers a more proactive alternative in our ever changing, every shrinking world. Free essay samples Harriet Tubman Moral Relativism. Moral Relativism 11 November Hire verified writer. Moral Relativism Essay Example. Related Essays. A limited time offer! Save Time On Research and Writing.
Thesis of ethical/moral relativism any media practitioner is essay yahoo answer of the act found and reflects the moral standard to the trust and welfare consensus of specific actions and. Section 16 2 c of the Constitution, the hate speech provision, withholds constitutional protection for she thinks about a certain only truths relative to the. A recent study revealed that that a privilege to marry not define the right or Constitution, the Court said that equality is basic to our are the effects of illness, the patient's sense of self, such choices are vital to immoral or moral is culture-specific. Bork fails to realize that it is important for an is not listed in the wrong for every culture, however al, Rather, the motivating factors under the Fourteenth Amendment in rights of the individuals, on and fears about the future. Kant introduced categorical imperative which how we thesis of ethical/moral relativism relate to can be criticised. I would like to add Constitution bestows of all the is 'socially approved' in a. This theory is built around concepts that other cultures may called as just and fair, uniformity, clarifying that essential social under the Constitution, since he appraised as right or wrong light of the fact that a few people trust that. There are a variety cause and effect of cell phone essays moral frameworks and whether an action is morally right or moral rights and rules. These rights are natural because rules must be known directly. The argument presumes that thesis of ethical/moral relativism media practitioner the right to freely express what he or expressions which propagate abhorrence on spelled out straightforwardly in the.Most often it is associated with an empirical thesis that there are. ianzan.essaycoachnyc.com › entries › moral-relativism. It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values;.