Relativists argue that there is no absolute law that gives guidance as to what is right or wrong. What is ethical or unethical depends on the individual or their culture such that what is unethical to one person can be ethical in another person’s culture. With relativism, one cannot pass judgment on another person’s moral standards using their own standards; they can only accommodate the other person’s point of view as everything is right and ethical relative to a particular culture or even an individual (“Ethics and social responsibility”2010). Goodman (2010) argues that relativism cannot and should not be a standard for morality. Some things are simply wrong regardless of an individual’s beliefs or even culture. Every society determines its rules and compromises and absolute laws cannot be made without compromising some cultures ethical stands; however, principles are principles and some things cannot be relative. Goodman (2010) gives a few areas where the question of ethics should not be left to relativism but a universal standard of ethics should be adopted.
These areas include: genocide, politically induced famine and germ warfare; terrorism, hostage taking and child warriors; slavery, polygamy and incest and rape and female genital cutting. Goodman (2010) argues that murder is wrong, simply because it puts an end to a person’s life. Genocide is a moral atrocity and completely wrong not only because it involves elimination of many people but also because it is driven by hatred towards a particular group people. It dehumanizes such people and gives the perpetrator authority to determine who lives and who dies. Some use famine and germ warfare to eliminate humanity. It is an injustice that all of us should stand up and speak against because failing to do so makes us party to the crime. Terrorists target innocent civilians in a bid to make an impact and prove their point. The success is measured by the extent of devastation, damage, and the level of inhumanity in the terroristic act.
Their sympathizers argue that it is a necessary response to desperation. Terrorism though, is a crime and it is wrong in every imaginable way. It violates human dignity by treating human beings as objects and a means to an end. Singer as cited in Goodman (2010) estimates that there are 300,000 child solders. They are recruited or kidnapped from a young age of 9 or 10 years old. Some are drugged, tortured, and some are even used and sold as sex slaves. They are forced to commit atrocities thus being emotionally and even physically scarred for life. Slavery is still very abundant in today’s world. Slavery does not kill a person but strips them of their dignity as a human being. The U.S. State Department estimates that between 700,000 and four million people are trafficked annually across borders with the promise of better jobs and a better life only to end up in prostitution and unpaid domestic and construction work as cited in Goodman (2010). Human beings should not be used as a commodity. Some people try to escape the horrors of suppression only to find an even worse fate.
Polygamy too strips women of their dignity as most polygamous men marry many women as a display of wealth and power thus making their wives mere objects. Incest too is a breach of a person’s privacy and dignity especially for daughters. Relativists argue that polygamy is entered into freely and romantic love is a recent invention. They also argue that different cultures have different laws on polygamy and incestuous relationships and each society should be left to regulate it. Marriage and sexual relationships should be a choice not something thrust forced upon an individual. Rape is wrong because it’s violent, exploitative and treats a person like an object. It not only causes physical harm but also mental and emotional anguish. Rape is just wrong regardless of the culture or circumstances involved. Everybody should have the right to say what happens to their bodies. Clitoridectomy removes the organ that is responsible for a woman’s sexual pleasure thus denying them the right to enjoy sex. Some cultures think that a woman feeling pleasure from sex will make them promiscuous and adulteress.
Clitoridectomy is a mutilation of a women’s body that should not be tolerated in the world today. Some view relativism as the easy way out in making ethical decisions; a way of avoiding confrontation but in matters like mass murder or rape, arguing that rape is wrong in my culture but okay in other is hardly sufficient in condemning such a heinous crime (“Ethics and social responsibility”2010.). It is not possible to set universal and absolute ethical standards in everything. In some areas what is right or wrong depends on the culture or the individual. In some cases; however, what is right or wrong cannot be left to different societies or individuals. When it comes to human life and dignity, some standards must be set. Killing, rape, and mutilation for example violate human dignity and treats human beings as objects or possessions.
It is not okay to tolerate such acts just because a certain cultures permit it. When a certain group of people rise up and plot to eliminate a certain race or religion, it is our duty as the human race to stand up against it and protect the rights of the minority. Life and freedoms should not be granted to certain people just because of their ethnicity or religion. It should be a right for all born into this great world. Who are we as individuals to take away another’s rights and ambitions?
Relativism helps create tolerance when relating with people from different cultures or religious views but fails when it comes to condemning practices that are simply wrong in the name of respecting another’s culture and opinion. We cannot fully dismiss relativism in dealing with ethics but at the same time we cannot fully embrace relativism. In the cases presented before you today, there should be an absolute standard set. Life, dignity, and the right to freedom should not be a hope but a given to all no matter what cultural, religion, or ethnic background.
Goodman, L.E. (2010). Some moral minima. The Good Society, 19(1), 87-94. Mosser, K. (2010). Introduction to ethics and social responsibility. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu.
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