Concept of ethical relativism

Categories: Ethics

Ethical relativism is the theory that there are no universalized moral standards to apply to all people all the time. The relativity of ethics refers to the ethics may be different in different societies. The same situation and behavior may be morally acceptable in one society but morally unacceptable in another. However, this theory is rejected by most ethicists. First of all, some claim that while the moral practices of societies may differ, the fundamental moral principles do not.

Different nations, even the same nation in different times, often pursue different or even inverse ethics.

However, the differences can only explain that moral has diversity but cannot deny that moral is universal and general. There is no doubt that ethics such as fairness, honest and self-esteem are applicable and essential to all societies at any time which is ignored by ethical relativism. Furthermore, ethical relativism promotes social inner conformity and causes no room for moral reform or improvement in a society.

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In addition, members of the same society may hold different views on practices. When the whole society lack of common agreement on certain issues, it’s really hard to declare which is the right behavior. When cross-cultural communication, ethical relativism may provide support for individualism and cause a situation that different social groups only focus on themselves so that go against the agreement with each other. History development is introduced Ethical relativism encompasses views and arguments that people in various cultures have held over several thousand years.

For example, the ancient Jaina Anekantavada principle of Mahavira (c.

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599 – 527 BC) states that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth; and the Greek philosopher Protagoras (c. 481 – 420 BC) famously asserted that “man is the measure of all things”. The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484 – 420 BC) observed that each society regards its own belief system and way of doing things as better than all others. Various other ancient philosophers also questioned the idea of an objective standard of morality.

In the early modern era Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) notably held that nothing is inherently good or evil. The 18th-century Enlightenment philosopher David Hume (1711–1776) serves in several important respects as the father both of modern emotivism and of moral relativism, though Hume himself did not espouse relativism. He distinguished between matters of fact and matters of value, and suggested that moral judgments consist of the latter, for they do not deal with verifiable facts obtained in the world, but only with our sentiments and passions.

But Hume regarded some of our sentiments as universal. He famously denied that morality has any objective standard, and suggested that the universe remains indifferent to our preferences and our troubles. The levels and types of western ethical relativism. Ethical relativism is an important inclination of thinking. It has many levels and types. Its causes are also very complicated. The experience lesson of western, ethical relativism in theoretical thinking may promote our research of ethics; it has both negative significance and positive significance in practice.

Western Ethical Relativism is a completed social and ethical situation. From the development of western thinking, the performances of the Ethical relativism are various. The diversity of the western ethical Relativism can be analyzed from two aspects. First: he levels of western Ethical Relativism In general: The ethical relativism can be divided in three levels: t The ethical relativism in standard level believes that: the accuracy of ethical norm is relative. It doesn’t exist any ethic which is always right. The moral standard is right when in the areas people all think it is right.

The ethical relativism in standard level is not always relative; the ethical principles may be relatively or absolutely. The ethical relativism in standard level means that the moral principles we obey in our life is not single, but numerous. The ethical relativism in hierarchy system means that the different ethical systems can explain the same social life in same degree. It advocate that the different or opposite ethical systems are morally. The ethical system that is always right and covers all of the society does not exist.

The ethical relativism in principle level is always have the closely connection with the ethical relativism in hierarchy. We can hardly make a distinction between them. Second: The types of western ethical relativism. The ethical relativism can be divided in three types: The cultural ethical relativists believe that the different cultural systems need different moral. Different cultural has its own criterion of right or wrong, goodness or badness. We can’t use unique cultural criterion to judge the behavior of people in other culture.

The cultural ethical relativism can be divided into three forms describe, standard and cognitive. The experiential ethical relativism advocates the variable and relative of the moral is not our concept, but the fact. It believes that the different people in different groups have different moral experiences, so the uses of moral principle and moral norm should be vary with each individual. Subjective ethical relativism advocate that the moral is only subjective cognizance of people, and it is also the result of expression of the personal attitude or emotion, psychological requirement.

Ethical relativism of two kinds of basic theory form So far, people on the ethical relativism theory form are not form a unified opinion. In examining the many ethical relativism forms have basis, we according to the ethical relativism of the basis of the methodology of shall be classified, put it into culture ethical relativism and normative ethics relativism two basic theory form the theory. 1, culture ethical relativism Culture ethical relativism (also called the description relativism) is just a cultural relativism claims in the moral field expands.

Its message is moral beliefs because of cultural different and different, the thesis is descriptive, namely to anthropology that special case study for the foundation. 2, the standard ethical relativism regulating the relativism also think that only a moral standard by group or individual when accept is only effective; The effectiveness of the standard limited to certain scope, and moral code itself also limit in a particular area, as most etiquette principles and customs limited to specific areas.

The basic characteristics of the ethical relativism Any kind of ethical relativism theory, performance forms in theory has its own characteristic, however, from the overall opinion; all have the following three basic characteristics, separate the moral of universality and particularity dialectical unity, deny that moral; absolute and relative in dialectical unity , ignoring the moral subjectivity and objectivity in dialectical unity.

The perverted moral values On the other hand, the moral, as dependent on and decided to part of the cultural organism, which will moral points, thought moral as materials is substantive, no existence people from the common features, human relationship, and people in the moral existence, validity and value shows the subjectivity of the out side.

Moral value of the lost

Ethical relativism moral existence and value will be to strengthen the relativity of extreme, and creativity are intentionally or unintentionally covered, forgotten and cancelled, this actually means that people is the starting point of the moral value purpose and end-result forgotten and cancel, 3? Moral principles using the dislocation First, the moral are reality wrong. Second, ignore the moral convergence. Third, application strategies are machinery. The Limitations and Enlightenment about Ethical relativism

Theory limitations have two main areas:

  • ethical relativism partition the moral of universality and particularity.
  • It denied the unification of the moral subjectivity and objectivity.
  • Ethical relativism misunderstood the relationship between the moral diversity and moral unity.

The limitations of the practical level: Ethical relativism can lead to the moral crisis in society practice of moral life. Different people, different regions, different countries, different culture and different social form have different moral each other.

When these various different levels of social group interact with each other, they are unavoidable produce conflict. But it is undeniable that ethical relativism provides us with much beneficial enlightenment: Ethical relativism contributes to cultivate moral freedom of the individuals and groups. It can make us take an open, flexible attitude and contributes to people of the different ethnic groups, cultures and social systems are forming the atmosphere of mutual respect, mutual understanding and mutual tolerance.

Ethical relativism deny the unity of subjectivity and objectivity of the moral From the point of view of philosophical epistemology, ethical relativism recognizes most of the subjectivity of morality denies the objectivity of morality; deny that morality is subjective and objective unity. Ancient Greece wise to send an outstanding representative of Protagoras that “man is the measure of all things,” the well-known proposition, it is deeply hidden affirmed the denial of moral objectivity and moral subjectivity.

Socrates “Virtue is knowledge” proposition more knowledge as a moral standard, the nature and source of Socrates, knowledge is not derived from practical experience, but from human reason, rational but the unique subjective cognitive ability, therefore, Socrates’ ethical thinking its deep implication is undoubtedly fragmented subjectivity and objectivity of morality. Skeptics of ancient Greece in the philosophical level, the objective existence of things and its nature in doubt, from the theoretical logic of prefabricated or pre-ethical thinking relativism, subjectivism direction of development.

Modern Rationalism philosophy advocates the universality and inevitability of knowledge does not come from external experience, but from the inherent rationality; Accordingly, the scope of the ethics, rational camp philosophers and ethicists advocates ethical guidelines and the moral principle of universality, necessity, and moral truth of the theory can not be obtained from the experience of moral life, but only from the rational, moral, rational or practical reason.

As Rationalism prominent representatives of Immanuel Kant, deontological ethics reflect the significant nature of absolutism, but his ethics and provides us with a real practical guide for the contents of his ethics should be said that formalism, empty, empty form that contains the possibility of changing to keep the subjectivism and relativism.

In short, Modern Empiricism and Rationalism ethicists whether morality comes down to experience, emotion or reason, these are all subjective things of the spirit of their original purpose of trying to construct a new social objective, universal moral system, the result is returned to the person’s subjective mental world; actually hope to establish the objectivity of the efforts by the subjectivity, not only fail to achieve their goals, but its subjectivity digestion objectivity.

Different social form or cultural system have the requirement of different moral inevitably, and ethical is relative to the social or cultural system. Culture ethical relativism mostly connected with the study of anthropology or compared culture. Anthropologists are usually very suspect the possibility of founding common moral principle, because they have seen mostly the great differences of moral life practice of different nationalities, different regions and different social.

Culture ethical relativism advocates “customs control everything”, “moral vision changed with the geography “. Different cultures have their own standard about right or wrong and good and evil, so they cannot use a culture standard of right or wrong, good and evil to measure the behavior of people in another culture life, and can’t stand in the standpoint out of a culture (other cultural standpoint) to judge a culture. All social formation which belongs to different culture often has very different things which they agree or oppose in the moral.

But in an internal social, most of the people in the social have the moral conscience— common of moral, which is the general knowledge about right and wrong in moral. In a broad sense, culture ethical relativism think the entire moral standard is just the reflection of social habits or social customs; it is means that the moral behavior is just the behavior which is recognized by habits in a specific cultural system. ?? Ethic relativism comes from cultural differentiation and also protect the existence of different culture.

For example, as to the popular topic of Western hegemonism. Since modern times, western society first come into capitalist market economy. The development of the market economy will be addressing different country and each nation into the process of integration of world economy. Along with the economic integration, the western countries in a dominant and control status in the aspect of world culture, to other country or nation of culture . Even the western country make penetration of the cultural or conduct hegemonism to other culture or nation.

According to the theory of ethical relativism judgment, western culture, ethic standardization and concept of value are outcomes of the interaction and integration of family, social history, cultural, economic, political and other factors among western people. Although these western culture, ethic standardization and concept of value affecting other nation to some degree, western culture could not absolutely beyond boundary to replace local culture. Because every culture have right to exist and protect independence from others.

Because ethical relativism support that every culture in the world is equal, we can protect our local culture from the aggression of western culture and hegemonism. Conclusion: Through the above analysis, although ethical relativism has certain limitation, but different society has different moral standards and moral beliefs, and every social moral belief are all deeply influence of the culture. Ethical relativism encourages us to explore it. This enables us to maintain a kind of open mind and not blindly rejects other ethical system or foreign culture. We still support the ethical relativism.

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Concept of ethical relativism. (2018, Oct 05). Retrieved from

Concept of ethical relativism

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