Moral relativism

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This article attempts to confine itself to discussion of relativism in morals and ethics. For other manifestations of relativism, see relativism.:Compare aesthetic relativism, social constructionism, cultural relativism, and cognitive relativism.

In philosophy moral relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. Moral relativists hold that no universal standard exists by which to assess an ethical proposition's truth. Relativistic positions often see moral values as applicable only within certain cultural boundaries (cultural relativism) or in the context of individual preferences (individualist ethical subjectivism). An extreme relativist position might suggest that judging the moral or ethical judgments or acts of another person or group has no meaning, though most relativists propound a more limited version of the theory. In moral relativism there are no absolute, concrete rights and wrongs. Rather, intrinsic ethical judgements exist as abstracta, differing for each perception of an ethical outlook.

Some moral relativists — for example, the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre — hold that a personal and subjective moral core lies or ought to lie at the base of individuals' moral acts. In this view public morality reflects social convention, and only personal, subjective morality expresses true authenticity. (i.e. "Following one's conscience".)

Moral relativism differs from value pluralism — which acknowledges the co-existence of opposing ideas and practices, but accepts limits to differences, such as when vital human needs are violated. Moral relativism, in contrast, grants the possibility of moral judgments that do not accept such limits. As well, moral relativism should not be taken as the more extreme stance of moral nihilism, which completely denies the existence of any objective morality.[citation needed]


[edit] History

Moral relativism encompasses views and arguments that people in some cultures have held for a very long time, such as the ancient Jaina Anekantavada principle of Mahavira (c. 599 – 527 BC).

History records relativist positions over several thousand years. Protagoras' assertion (c. 481 – 420 BC) that "man is the measure of all things" might provide an early philosophical precursor to modern relativism, but it is not clear whether Protagoras has in mind moral relativism or something else. 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 ancient philosophers also questioned the idea of an objective standard of morality.

In the early modern era Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677) notably held that nothing is inherently good or evil, but it is important to point out that his moral relativism did not make it necessary for Spinoza to become greedy or short-sighted; in fact, he lived a very peaceful, scholarly, and humble life. It follows that the life of Spinoza serves as a counterexample against claims that there is a necessary connection between moral relativism (a higher order or second order term) and a destructive way of living (a first order phrase). 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.

It is controversial whether the late modern philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is an anti-realist or a realist about morality. One scholar, supporting an anti-realist interpretation, concludes that "Nietzsche's central argument for anti-realism about value is explanatory: moral facts don't figure in the 'best explanation' of experience, and so are not real constituents of the objective world. Moral values, in short, can be 'explained away.' "[1] It is certain that Nietzsche criticizes Plato's prioritization of transcendence as the Forms. The Platonist view holds that what is 'true', or most real, is something which is other-worldly while the (real) world of experience is like a mere 'shadow' of the Forms, most famously expressed in Plato's allegory of the cave. Nietzsche believes that this transcendence also had a parallel growth in Judaism, which prioritized life-denying moral qualities such as humility and obedience through the church. (See Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals The Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, etc.)

Anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict (1887 – 1948) cautioned observers against ethnocentricism — using the standards of their own culture to evaluate their subjects of study. Benedict said that morals do not exist — only customs do; and that in comparing customs, the anthropologist "insofar as he remains an anthropologist . . . is bound to avoid any weighting of one in favor of the other". To some extent, the increasing body of knowledge of great differences in belief among societies caused both social scientists and philosophers to question whether any objective, absolute standards pertaining to values could exist. This led some to posit that differing systems have equal validity, with no standard for adjudicating among conflicting beliefs. The Finnish philosopher-anthropologist Edward Westermarck (1862 – 1939) ranks as one of the first to formulate a detailed theory of moral relativism. He portrayed all moral ideas as subjective judgments that reflect one's upbringing. He rejected G.E. Moore's (1873 – 1958) ethical intuitionism — in vogue during the early part of the 20th century, and which identified moral propositions as true or false, and known to us through a special faculty of intuition — because of the obvious differences in beliefs among societies, which he said provided evidence of the lack of any innate, intuitive power.

[edit] Evolutionary perspectives

Some evolutionary biologists believe that morality is a natural phenomenon that evolved by natural selection acting at the individual level, and through group selection. Consequently many view morality as being relative, constituting any set of social behaviors that promoted the survival and successful reproduction of humans. [2]

[edit] Philosophical views

Moral relativism generally stands in marked contrast to all forms of moral universalism (including all forms of moral realism such as moral naturalism), all of which maintain the universality or objectivity of moral values: values that entities can both know and judge, whether through some process of verification or through intuition. Other moral universalists believe that humankind can derive moral knowledge from external sources such as a deity or revealed doctrines. Some hold that moral facts inhere in nature or reality. In each case, however, moral facts remain invariant, though the circumstances to which they apply may differ. Moreover, each of these schools of thought sees moral facts as objective and determinable.

Moral relativism rejects the idea of an objective or universal morality, but its proponents do not all agree as to the nature of morality.

[edit] Descriptive relativism

So-called descriptive relativists (for example, Ralph Barton Perry [1876 - 1957]) accept the existence of fundamental disagreements about the right course of action even when the same facts obtain and the same consequences seem likely to arise. However, the descriptive relativist does not necessarily deny the existence of a single correct moral appraisal, given the same set of circumstances. Other descriptivists believe that opposing moral beliefs can both hold true simultaneously, though their critics point out that this leads to obvious logical problems. The later descriptivists (for example, several leading Existentialists) regard morality as entirely subjective and personal, and beyond the judgment of others. In this view moral judgments resemble aesthetic considerations and remain resistant to rational analysis.

[edit] Meta-ethical relativism

Meta-ethical relativists maintain that all moral judgments have their origins either in societal or in individual standards, and that no single objective standard exists by which one can assess the truth of a moral proposition. While he preferred to deal with more practical real-life ethical matters, the British philosopher Bernard Williams (1929 – 2003) reluctantly came to this conclusion when he wrote from a meta-ethical standpoint. Meta-ethical relativists, in general, believe that the descriptive properties of terms such as "good", "bad", "right", and "wrong" do not stand subject to universal truth conditions, but only to societal convention and personal preference. Given the same set of verifiable facts, some societies or individuals will have a fundamental disagreement about what one ought to do based on societal or individual norms, and one cannot adjudicate these using some independent standard of evaluation. The latter standard will always be societal or personal and not universal, unlike, for example, the scientific standards for assessing temperature or for determining mathematical truths.

Some philosophers maintain that moral relativism dissolves into emotivism or another type of Non-cognitivism, the movement inspired by logical positivists in the early part of the 20th century. (Leading exponents of logical positivism include Rudolph Carnap (1891 – 1970) and A. J. Ayer (1910 – 1989).) Going beyond Hume, positivists regard a proposition as meaningful only if one can verify it by logical or scientific inquiry. Thus metaphysical propositions, which one cannot verify in this manner, are not simply incorrect, they are meaningless, nonsensical. Moral judgments are primarily expressions of emotional preferences or states, devoid of cognitive content; consequently, they are not subject to verification. As such, moral propositions are essentially meaningless utterances or, at best, express personal attitudes (see, for example, Charles L. Stevenson [1908–1979]). Not all relativists would regard moral propositions as meaningless; indeed, many make any number of assertions about morality, assertions that they undoubtedly believe meaningful. However, other philosophers have argued that, since we have no means of analyzing a moral proposition, it is essentially meaningless, and (in their view) relativism is therefore tantamount to emotivism. The proposition that one cannot verify moral judgement by empirical means (and that it remains therefore meaningless) presents, according to many philosophers, a self-contradiction. In this view, the statement, "X is meaningless if it isn't subject to verification" cannot be verified by the very criterion set forth by the proposition.

[edit] Error Theory

J. L. Mackie describes his argument for moral relativity as an error theory: a theory that holds that even though Kantian-like objective values are part of the meaning of moral language and thought, they (objective values) are false. In the first part of Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, he uses several arguments to support his claim that objective values are false. He argues that some aspects of moral thought are relative, and that objective morals require an absurd intrinsic action-guiding feature. Most of all, he thinks it is very unclear how objective values could supervene on features of the natural world (see the Argument from Queerness). Fourth, he thinks it would be difficult to justify our knowledge of "value entities" or account for any links or consequences they would have. And, finally, he thinks it is possible to show that even without any objective values, people would still have reason to firmly believe in them (hence, he claims that it is possible for people to be mistaken or fooled into believing that objective values exist).

[edit] Debate on moral relativism

[edit] What constitutes a society?

Some[specify] detractors of the theory of moral relativism believe that moral relativists are ambiguous as to what constitutes a society. For example, if one examines the contemporary United States, then it is possible to identify numerous different cultural backgrounds and even sub-cultures. People who identify as Goths may consider themselves a separate "society". Gay people may view themselves as a distinct society. Whites, blacks, Southerners, New Englanders, the middle class, the well-educated, etc. could all perceive themselves to be unique social communities. Thus, it can be said that the definition of a society is relative. Keeping this in mind, a moral relativist says that societies define themselves.

[edit] Other cultures

Those who support positions of absolutism often criticize moral relativism[specify]; sometimes equating it with moral nihilism or amorality. They argue that various historical and cultural events and practices (including the Holocaust, Racism, Stalinism, Apartheid in South Africa, genocide, unjust wars, genital mutilation, slavery, terrorism, Nazism, etc.) present difficult problems for relativists, because these acts, which are condemned by the "majority of people" everywhere, are not absolutely "bad" from a relativist perspective. This is, in fact, exactly what moral relativism states, and there is no self-contradiction in it. But what the critique points to is the contradiction between moral relativism and the wrongness of the Holocaust, which is taken to be indisputable. The counter argument could be that the Holocaust was not absolutely wrong, and that it is a matter of opinion. The argument cannot be resolved by straightforward logic, since each party makes assumptions the other does not share, employing different axioms. However, the validity of an assumption can itself be questioned. The point of the Holocaust argument is to urge the rightness or wrongness of some ethical claims as being more self-evident, and therefore more properly axiomatic, than the meta-ethical assumptions of relativism. "Self-evidence" however either implies an objective standard, from the absolutist view, or implies subjective assessment from the relativist view.

Even if a moral relativist utters the phrase "never again", when confronted with topics such as the Holocaust, they can only state that the Holocaust was wrong in relation to their own moral framework, and not claim any 'objective' wrongness. A relativist can always respond by asking "why necessarily should moral absolutes be based upon humane actions?" A relativist would of course acknowledge that in the real world, humans commonly make moral judgements on the basis of a shared humanity. If one analyzes global reactions to attacks of 9/11 or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, then such feelings seemed readily apparent. Still, the burden and onus would be on the absolutist to rationally demonstrate why moral absolutes should be based upon a sense of humanity. In truth, moral absolutism as a theory can be founded on any kind of principle, even value systems which in an everyday sense many people would find unethical, odious or obnoxious.

[edit] Agreed Upon Rule of Right and Wrong

C.S. Lewis argued that the existence of agreed upon rules of right and wrong is evidence for a universal morality. His point is illustrated in the following hypothetical scenario that demonstrates the claim, "That's my seat. I was there first."

Suppose a man is on a train and chooses a seat. This man leaves to go to the restroom and in the meantime, another man occupies his seat. When the first man returns, he will make the claim that the seat belongs to him because he was there first. The second man will not disagree with the claim that the man returning from the restroom was in the seat first. Rather, the second man will argue that the first man's claim does not apply in this case. Rather than rejecting the first man's moral claim, the second man agrees and is arguing for an exception to this claim. In the same vein, the scenario resulting from the statement "Give me some of yours. I gave you some of mine." follows a similar train of logic.

The counterargument of a moral relativist would be that C.S. Lewis' scenario is necessarily relegated to British society and extends to Western society. As such, the moral relativist makes the claim that this behavior is merely a societal norm. But it is difficult for the moral relativist to contend with the notion that societies separated geographically and temporally also adhere to the same rules of right and wrong. Civilizations have disagreed over whether one wife or four are appropriate but no civilization has ever condoned a man to have any woman he wants. The same logic follows with the notion that no civilization has ever condoned putting oneself first though there have been debates over putting one's family or one's country first. If the moral relativist claim is taken to be true, the observation of civilizations agreeing with moral principles and merely disagreeing over details used to enforce these principles must be explained. Though it is quite possible these situations arose from statistical probability, said probability is small and negligible.

Furthermore, the presence of popular moral teachers lays further claim to an agreed upon system of morality. Jesus was known not for introducing a new system of morality to the Jewish people but for reminding them of the existing morality. In a similar light, Confucius and Gandhi also reminded their followers of an existing morality without inventing a new system.

[edit] Consequences

Some[specify] moral absolutists criticize moral relativism on the grounds that it may lead to what they would describe as "immoral acts" because it abandons an absolute standard of "right and wrong". This is a criticism directed against the consequences of relativism, and not against its truth. A common counter-criticism is that moral absolutism is as likely or more likely to lead to such "immoral acts" since a belief in absolute "right and wrong" can potentially be used to justify any number of acts that might generally be considered to be "atrocities". But by whose standards? If absolutism is correct as a meta-ethical stance, and if the absolutist has hit on the correct ethics, then what they do will ipso facto be morally right; so the counter-criticism must assume that the absolutist is wrong, at least about ethics; or, perhaps that the absolutism as a meta-ethical position would lead people to be over-confident about whether their ethical beliefs are actually true.

Absolutism per se does not entitle people to impose their beliefs on others; that may or may not be an objectively justifiable moral principle. Moreover, since absolutists believe there is only one correct set of moral principles, they must, if they are sincere, be careful in selecting what they are. Absolutism as a meta-ethical claim does not therefore constitute a rubber-stamp for approving or imposing any prevailing moral code. An absolutist who attempts that kind of manoeuvre may well be in the wrong — even objectively in the wrong — by their own standards.

Relativists are required to relativistically justify prevailing (personal or social) standards, but only within their context.

[edit] Defending relativism

Another critique of moral relativism which falls into this category postulates that anyone who claims that no moral absolutes exist undermines their ability to justify their own existence. According to this argument, if a moral relativist is intellectually honest, they have no right to claim that they should remain unharmed by other individuals who adhere to a subjectively determined or culturally-bound moral theory which does not regard causing harm to others, or at least moral relativists, as wrong. In this sense, it is difficult for a moral relativist to hold that they have a right to exist (and in doing so, formulate their own set of moral values) in the first place. Just as they are unable to argue that slavery, the Holocaust, etc. are ultimately immoral, moral relativists are unable to argue that the discontinuation of their own lives at the hands of another individual (who adheres to a different set of values) would be ultimately immoral, either. Moral relativists could respond by agreeing they have no objective right to live, but the subjective moral codes of most people would prevent them from harming the moral subjectivists anyway. Such a response would be seen as a gamble of varying risk. They could claim instead that it is wrong in the sense of being against their moral code, but what is important here is the behavior of the attacker; there is no necessary reason why their attacker should be swayed by someone else's personal or cultural beliefs. In this sense, it is argued, moral relativists suffer from an inability to defend their own interests, regardless of their own moral code. While this argument may not be compelling, opponents claim it shows some of the inherent shortcomings of the relativist philosophy.

[edit] Intervention and inaction

A related criticism, in the sense that it essentially attacks relativism for being too weak, is that relativists cannot justify intervening in other cultures' practices, since that would be "to impose their own morality". In fact, this objection cannot be applied to all relativists, since not all hold non-imposition as a basic tenet. (Likewise, not all absolutists reject the principle. There is no obvious contradiction in the claim that "it is absolutely wrong to impose one's morality on others"). However, those who do hold to non-intervention as a primary virtue have to accept the criticism that they may be culpably unwilling to resist evil in some cases — cases which moral absolutists would call evil, and which they too might call evil if it occurred in their own society, assuming said absolutists don't hold a similar non-interventionist ethic.

[edit] Argument from intolerance

A further counter-criticism might be that moral absolutism is as likely or more likely to lead to such "immoral acts" since a belief in absolute "right and wrong" can potentially be used to justify any number of acts that might generally be considered to be "atrocities". For example, many people were burned to death in Europe during the second millennium simply because they disbelieved in the religion of the prevailing monarch, and this disbelief was held to be absolutely wrong and deserving of execution; few people today would accept this as being correct, and this fact supports the argument that it is difficult to demonstrate that the consequences of believing in moral absolutism or objectivism are necessarily less "immoral" than the consequences of believing in moral relativism.

However, this line of argument needs to show that moral objectivists necessarily hold that they have the right to impose their views on others. There is no obvious reason why this should be the case. It is quite conceivable that they could hold the opposite to be the case — that it is objectively wrong to impose one's morality on others. A moral objectivist who is only interested in defending objectivism as a meta-ethical position could simply choose to favor tolerance in order to evade the criticism. One could also argue that any position of tolerance for 'what is wrong' from the point of view of objectivism is simply moral weakness, assuming that objectivism really does require, or, at least, justify the imposition of one person's ethical principles on another.

[edit] Moral improvement and innovation

Many people in other times and places thought slavery, for example, acceptable, even good; while most today view it as a great evil. Many writers and thinkers have held that one can justify any number of evils based on subjective or cultural preferences, and that morality requires some universal standard against which to measure ethical judgments. A moral relativist might respond that this criticism is only valid if one already accepts that such acts are indeed fundamentally evil - a position which the moral relativist would deny - and that the objection is therefore nothing other than an uncritical statement that morals are in fact absolute.

However, if it is their society that has, for instance, rejected slavery, they presumably agree that it is wrong, at least if they are cultural relativists. This presents a meta-ethical problem in explaining what happens when a society has a collective change of heart. Consider the case of someone who has minority moral views within their society, and yet is vindicated (even relativistically) by future developments. If "right" and "wrong" literally mean "what my society accepts/rejects" then a social moral relativist in a slave-owning society of the past who says "slavery is wrong" is effectively saying "slavery is not approved of by my society", which is false — factually false. Yet, the relativist of the present is committed to agreeing with the relativist of the past, since they both oppose slavery.

The argument was phrased in terms of cultural relativism, but a similar argument applies to subjectivism. It is difficult for a moral subjectivist to claim that they have undergone any personal moral improvement, or that an attitude they used to hold was wrong, when it was obviously what they felt was right at the time. For them, there is no external standard to judge against, so while their attitudes change, they cannot be said to improve or decline. It therefore seems that there is a difference in what can be expressed or justified between an objectivist and a relativist, although whether it involves the loss of anything worthwhile is open to debate.

A personal moral relativist can however reassess previous decisions based on new knowledge or circumstance and realign their moral choices accordingly, achieving subjective improvements in the process, such as less ambiguity, or less contradiction in their morals. But these are of course value judgments which will be made in the light of the individuals present preferences. Thus there is a circularity on the process of judging ones values according to ones values. These criteria for improvement need not be held as universal "goals", but merely as "good" or "right" for the moral relativist alone — or, rather, good and right for the individual and by their current thinking.

[edit] Drawing boundaries

There are also difficulties in putting a boundary upon "society" or "culture" - what people feel to be their social or cultural groupings may well not align with legal and national groupings. The person holding "minority moral views within their society" may consider their "culture" more aligned with that minority than with the larger state or national society which determines what is lawfully acceptable. This can be seen, for instance, where religious communities within a nation or state hold views on the morality of issues such as abortion or homosexuality which differ from the current legal position on those issues. This flexibility could lead to the objection that cultural moral relativism is "anything goes", since one could find — or found — a society that condones whatever one wishes to do.

The equivalent of such gerrymandering in subjective or personal moral relativism would be for an individual to adopt different principles at different times, which would lead to a very acute form of "anything goes", unless forestalled by a meta-ethical principles that individuals need to be self-consistent. It could be argued[weasel words] that jumping ship in this way is dishonest, but the ethical acceptability of honesty is presumably as relative as anything else if relativism is true. This makes relativism more complicated and difficult to navigate, but one could just as well argue that the drawing of immovable boundaries is oversimplistic and not reflective of reality.

[edit] Meta-ethics

Some relativists[specify] regard the accusation that it amounts to "anything goes" as an unfair criticism of relativism; they argue that their approach actually becomes a descriptive, or meta-ethical, theory and not a normative one; and that relativists may have strong moral beliefs, notwithstanding their foundational position. Critics of this view[specify], however, see it as disingenuous, and argue that the relativists do not merely make meta-ethical observations. These critics contend that stating there is no preferred standard of truth, or that standards are equally true, addresses the ultimate validity and truth of the ethical judgments themselves, which, they contend, consists of a normative judgment. In other words, the separation between meta-ethics and normative ethics arguably becomes a distinction without a difference. Relativists, however, would regard the notion that no preferred standard of truth exists as a straw man argument. Richard Rorty (1931 - 2007), for example, argued that relativist philosophers believe "that the grounds for choosing between such opinions is less algorithmic than had been thought", but not that any belief is equally as valid as any other.[3]

[edit] R. M. Hare

Some philosophers, for example R. M. Hare (1919 – 2002), argue that moral propositions remain subject to human logical rules, notwithstanding the absence of any factual content, including those subject to cultural or religious standards or norms. Thus, for example, they contend that one cannot hold contradictory ethical judgments. This allows for moral discourse with shared standards, notwithstanding the descriptive properties or truth conditions of moral terms. They do not affirm or deny that moral facts exist, only that human logic applies to our moral assertions; consequently, they postulate an objective and preferred standard of moral justification, albeit in a very limited sense. Nevertheless, according to Hare, human logic shows the error of relativism in one very important sense (see Hare's Sorting out Ethics). Hare and other philosophers also point out that, aside from logical constraints, all systems treat certain moral terms alike in an evaluative sense. This parallels our treatment of other terms such as less or more, which meet with universal understanding and do not depend upon independent standards (for example, one can convert measurements). It applies to good and bad when used in their non-moral sense, too; for example, when we say, "this is a good wrench" or "this is a bad wheel". This evaluative property of certain terms also allows people of different beliefs to have meaningful discussions on moral questions, even though they may disagree about certain "facts".

[edit] Is relativism really nihilism?

Another family of criticisms aims to show that relativism is not really a positive moral theory at all: that it falls short of certain criteria its proponents believe any moral theory must fulfill. These criteria may include:

  • Any moral theory should be normative, but descriptive relativism is not. It is only at best an error theory.
  • Morality, whatever it is, is thought to be[specify] something different from law and custom. Cultural moral relativism holds that it is exactly societal custom, and is therefore a reduction amounting to elimination.
  • Morality, whatever it is, is thought to be[specify] something different from personal taste and preference. Subjectivism holds that it is exactly personal taste and preference, and is therefore a reduction amounting to elimination.

The essence of the criticism is that moral relativism is "really" moral nihilism or an error theory. As such, it may in fact be correct — the arguments do not tell us that it is not — but this criticism argues that it is being misrepresented as a positive theory.

[edit] Normative moral relativism

One might argue that if one assumed the complete truth of relativism — epistemologically as well as in the moral sphere — one would have no reason to prefer it over any other theory, given its fundamental contention that no preferred standard of truth exists. With this objective view of relativism it obviously becomes not simply a meta-ethical theory, but a normative one, and its truth — by its own definition — remains (in the final objective analysis) outside assessment or beyond weighing against other theories. Relativism and objectivism thus can become the opposite sides of an argument about the existence (or not) of objective truth.

[edit] Relativism and amoralism

For an individualist asking for the content of and reasons for moral norms, relativists must introduce an absolute norm: "Be a conformist!" Amoralists think, that relativists have given no sufficient reason, why one should always just do what society wishes. They argue that majority views of today were just minority views of yesterday such as Christianity, human rights, secularism, freedom of religion or atheism, democracy or female emancipation. Amoralists might share the relativist view, that majority opinions upon morality are different from one culture to another, they claim that relativists fail to draw the logical consequence, that morality can be totally dismissed by individuals, e.g. in favor of rational egoism or instrumental rationality.

[edit] Walter Terence Stace

"Ethical Relativity" is the topic of the first two chapters (pp 1-68) of The Concept of Morals in which Walter Terence Stace wrote:

"I shall reject ethical absolutism. But I shall also reject ethical relativity. Morality, I shall try to show, is relative in the sense that it is relative to the universal needs of human nature. But it is not relative to the particular needs of particular nations, ages, or social groups. Consequently it does not vary from place to place or from time to time. Morality is universal, but it is not absolute."[4]

[edit] Religious critiques of moral relativism

The findings of moral relativism inevitably conflict with tenets of absolute morality as taught by almost all world religions.

[edit] Roman Catholicism

Catholic and some secular intellectuals attribute the perceived post-war decadence of Europe to the displacement of absolute values by moral relativism. Pope Benedict XVI, Marcello Pera and others have argued that after about 1960, Europeans massively abandoned many traditional norms rooted in Christianity and replaced them with continuously-evolving relative moral rules. In this view, sexual activity has become separated from procreation, which led to a decline in the importance of families and to depopulation. As a result, currently the population vacuum in Europe is filled by immigrants, often from Islamic countries, who attempt to reestablish absolute values which stand at odds with moral relativism.[5] The most authoritative response to moral relativism from the Roman Catholic perspective can be found in Veritatis Splendor, an encyclical by Pope John Paul II.

Many of the main criticisms of moral relativism by the Catholic Church relate largely to modern controversies, such as elective abortion.

[edit] Buddhism

Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American Buddhist monk, wrote:

“By assigning value and spiritual ideals to private subjectivity, the materialistic world view, threatens to undermine any secure objective foundation for morality. The result is the widespread moral degeneration that we witness today. To counter this tendency, mere moral exhortation is insufficient. If morality is to function as an efficient guide to conduct, it cannot be propounded as a self-justifying scheme but must be embedded in a more comprehensive spiritual system which grounds morality in a transpersonal order. Religion must affirm, in the clearest terms, that morality and ethical values are not mere decorative frills of personal opinion, not subjective superstructure, but intrinsic laws of the cosmos built into the heart of reality.”[6]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Brian Leiter, "Nietzsche's Moral and Political Philosophy" article link at Stanford Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Shermer, Michael. "Transcendent Morality". The Science of Good and Evil. ISBN 0805075208. 
  3. ^ Rorty, Richard (1982). Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-1064-9. 
  4. ^ Stace, Walter T. (1937, Reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc.). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company. pp. 67. ISBN 0-8446-2990-1. 
  5. ^ Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Marcello Pera, "Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam" (Basic Books, 0465006345, 2006).
  6. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi, "A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence" article link at Access to Insight

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] External links

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