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Philosophy 101: Ethical Relativism

Updated on June 15, 2015
tHErEDpILL profile image

Alem has an A.S. in Digital Film Making. He started writing at 8 years old, selling hand-made comic books to classmates.

I believe the logic behind the theory of "ethical relativism" to be very accurate based on what we see in the world today. Further more, when you sit down and try to oppose the theory as "Objectivist" do, the answers you end up are hard to accept. For example, an American may say that an older man having sex with a 12 year old girl was wrong simply based on our society or based on that person's own belief (which is in turn most likely an effect of our society). On the other hand another American who has traveled all of their life and might have possibly lived in some other countries where this type of behavior is normal may say that they see nothing wrong with it. This person has made a decision based on personal beliefs that they have constructed after living in other societies. The objectivists job here is to try to make both of these people connect somehow in a scenario that concludes with a universally valid moral principle. I cannot think of one, can you?

Another reason why I am leaning toward the side of ethical relativism is the arguments that support the idea. "Diversity of thought" argues that there is no real universal morals or values. Moral uncertainty suggest that people are conflicted when faced with the challenge of doing the right thing or the wrong thing, and their decision can depend on the person's personal judgments, the circumstances of the situation, and lastly, different situational circumstances. This idea suggest that the difference in environment whether social or physical has an effect on the actions of the people within that environment. I like this argument the most, here's why.

Take America and China for example. In America we are allowed to have as many children as we'd like, doctors can't even stop you from having your tenth child even if it were going to kill you unless you were deemed legally incompetent. On the other hand China has a one child policy. The government over there has the ability to regulate how many children you have. Most American's who hear about this policy immediately frown upon it because we have been brought up in democratic society where we are allowed to do certain things and having as many kids as we please is one of them, but in China the country is over populated and this one child policy is attempting to ensure the survival of its people based on resources and space. I bet if you were to sit down and ask those who frown or scoff at this policy what they suggest the government do to elevate their situation I'm pretty sure you wouldn't get too many answers that made a whole lot of sense. You might even get answers that are even more extreme than the policy such as kill all people who are over 70 (they lived a long life already right?).

In the end I do not subscribe to the notion that objectivist are wrong and there is no universally moral compass that we all use to navigate our journey through life, but I do need a better argument or more concrete proof to convince me that the idea of ethical relativism is flawed, especially when it comes down to different situational circumstances.


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    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Possibly the closest thing we see to a universally accepted morality or ethical concept is the golden rule; Do unto others as you would they do unto you.

      Even this grand idea, though, is not truly accepted. While most people would agree with it in principle, few really try to apply it.

      In addition, most societies must set ethical standards that they can afford. We want all children well educated, with great medical care and well fed. We just can't afford to assure that each and every child in the country has these things. We can't always afford the ethics we would like to have.

      Because of such things, relativism is a fact we must live with. Not everyone will agree with our personal concept of morality and ethics, not all of those that do agree will follow them and we can't always have the ethics we would like to have.

    • penofone profile image

      Anish Patel 5 years ago

      I don't think ethical relativism is especially relevant to wants of society in general we adhere to the highest moral philosophies that govern the body of the constitution, i.e. environmental factors lead to an ethical society in all of its benign factors enveloped...

      God exists without constraints of what was realized in a ethical society...


      Anish Patel

    • petersavage profile image

      petersavage 5 years ago from Australia

      Great read. Voted up.

    • tHErEDpILL profile image

      Alem Belton 5 years ago from New York

      Thank you. People like you keep me writing.

    • Nordy profile image

      Nordy 5 years ago from Canada

      Fascinating, love your stuff & your profile is gripping. Can't wait to read more from you! Rated up and interesting from your new fan!