People are what they believe, what norms and customs, and laws governing them, people are their culture. Morality is the set of principles or system of conducts in society that distinguish between right and wrong or bad and good behaviors. The morality of society varies with the customs and the beliefs of the family. Ethical relativism is one of the philosophical theories that assert that the vindication of morality is relative to one’s culture. The fact that whether an action or value is morally upright is dependent on the norm of the society. The action proven as morally upright in one society can be proven as wrong or right with another.
This underscores a critical discussion on the theory of ethical relativity according to Pojman. The philosophy around the whole issue of ethical relativism is the fact that all viewpoints are equally valid. The determination of what is real and valid is dependent on the individual’s understandings and beliefs. The theory of relativism ascertains that what is true varies from one person to another. It is also true to say that although truth varies from one culture to the next some common values and principle systems stay the same across cultures and ethnic groups in the world.
Since this philosophy refuses status quo, and that it allows the change and evolution of social and moral values respectively, then the most concrete and immediate example to affirm this is the slavery. The realization of change and evolution as stated in this theory because of societal change engineered by technological advancement and increase in knowledge. Slavery becomes a good example here because the value of the life of all human beings is recognized the world over.
Some actions and values are believed all across the earth because all people are equal. Most have common social preferences, experiences and rules that bring good benefits. Cultural relativism explains the plain fact that in the world there exist various distinct culture and that each culture has their unique way of thinking, behaviors and feelings. Some of the concrete proofs articulated in this view include the fact that people eat differently, dress differently, speak different languages, have different dances and music, different songs and customs.
Addtionally, normative ethical relativism is another theory for the concept of relativism, that points out that universal morals or system of principles do not exist. The theory also says the fact that morally wrongness or rightness of a practice or an action is relative and dependent. Although the theory is not supported by any scientific or cultural research, the theory’s main claim is that people’s thinking about basic principles of morality differs from one group to another and this will remain and not change.
In ethical relativism, culture in the supreme authority, it dictates what is considered the moral truth to an individual. It supports the notion that one’s belief and understanding of moral principle is determined by the culture from which a person comes from. Conventional ethical relativism places the culture of a social at the core of the whole issue of morality without religion. An anthropologist has pointed out that some practices that are considered as good and morally accepted in some societies but poorly unaccepted or condemned in other societies.
These include practices such as polygamy, sexism, torture, and infanticide. This fact supports the view or the philosophy of ethical relativism. On the other hand, many critics have been cited against this theory as many ethicists reject the argument. Other philosophers and critics assume that practices regarded as morally upright may vary from one society to another, but the basic underlining principles that underlay the action do not change.
For instance, in some cultures killing one parent when they get to a certain age was rampant based on the belief that people were in well place the peace of mind and more ppropriate for their afterlife when they were still physically vigorous and active. Although the practice may seem grievous and unbearable to anther society based on other beliefs and customs. The death of their parent at an early stage while still physically active appropriate because of the underlying fact of care for the elderly. Therefore, the main concept that is underpinning in this story is the fact that societies may differ in how they carry out to apply their beliefs and feelings but the basic moral principle is the same.
It is also argued that, the fact that some practices being relative to a society does not make all the other practices relative. Practices such as norms regarding decency and dressing may be localized to a given area since they are dictated by people’s thoughts and belief. Conversely, other practices such as political repression, torture, and slavery may be judged wrong universally despite the different beliefs that exist among the many diverse cultures. Other philosophers claim that the wrongness or rightness of an action or practice is governed by the norm and customs of society.
That implies that the members of that society are prisoners to the custom. They continue to say that this kind of a scenario enhances social conformity whereas it eliminates moral opinions and social consensus. For example, in society, people differ ideologically on what is wrong or right a good example is the lack of social consensus on the topic of abortion. Most importantly, from what seems to be the strongest critic of ethical relativism is that universal moral standards exist regardless of the difference in the beliefs and moral practices among cultures.
People can still acknowledge the presence, the different beliefs, culture, and their influence and again acknowledge that practices are morally wrong. The philosopher Luis Pojman addresses the question of wrongness and rightness in three categories positive morality, moral philosophy and moral ethics. He assumes that positive morality is a great and actual constraint to behavior whereas, ethics is combined domain of moral philosophy and positive morality. He explains the moral philosophy as the systematic theoretical reflection on the set of principles that dictates what is right or wrong.
Pojman illustrates his point by relating his notion of law and governance. He claims that for any prior understanding regarding authority there will be an agreement over the same if the people that authority depending on their reasons. This means people are not always ready to follow precepts or norms since there are rules but because of the compelling reasons, they articulate to the same. He criticizes ethical relativism by saying that the belief that law and morality are connected is necessarily wrong since the two cannot be identical.
He gives an example of modern day laws of driving in Canada and argues that practices that are enforced by the law are matters of indifference. morally hence coordination problem as a result of the law requirement does not favor etiquette. Luis in most of his argument he refers to the norms and customs of the society as law since on the viewpoint of ethical relativism the customs dictates people morals. He asserts that some practices inscribed in the law are literally immoral and he gave an example of the slavery and forced sterilization of the disabled.
He also ascertains that the norms and customs that govern people may have conflicting moral and legal duties. In this case, the subjects of a particular cultural group may defy the norm based on social consensus or difference in moral opinions. Personally, my take on this discussion would be very negative towards ethical relativism stating that morality is determined the by the people norms and culture. It is true that people across the globe have cultural differences as specified by the many anthropologists.
These difference make societies have different perspectives and views on issues. It may also be true that due to this difference such as differences in language, dressing and decency, music and dances, foods and customs and even in beliefs. However, due to the equality of human beings regardless of race or language or tribe, we share many things. Some of these things are natural and they include emotions, feelings, thinking, and experiences. These unifying factors make us feel and think the same way and force us to have similar or agreeing viewpoints in some matters.
People may resort to different ways to carry out certain things due to different ideology and reasoning but the motive behind the action is the same. This is referred to as basic moral principal. Somethings might be considered wrong with a particular ethnic group, but that does not hinder the same thing to be considered wrong universally. This is the strongest critic of the philosophy of ethical relativism. In conclusion, different cultures have different ways of doing things based on their cultural customs and beliefs.
The morality of a practice is dictated by what a particular ethnic group thinks is wrong or right. Any action or practice is only considered true if it is within the confines of the community’s customs and norms. This is what the theory of ethical relativism states. The theory has faced a lot of critics from different philosophers such as Luis Pojman saying that the fact that a practice or an action is considered wrong by an individual ethnic does not hinder the same practice to be declared wrong universally since basic principle applies to all people.