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Absolutism and Relativism

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Gemma Hartnell

on 9 September 2015

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Transcript of Absolutism and Relativism

'Murder is wrong'
Agree or disagree?
The problem with ethics...
It can be difficult to establish a genuine ethical theory and follow it. It might feel as though some morals should be innate in all and followed by everyone at all times. Perhaps this is what you believe. However, if you do believe in such absolute morals and rules, can there really be no room for alterations? Individual circumstances?

If, on the other hand you think that there are no absolute rules then how can you possibly judge another persons moral behaviour?
Which way would you go?
Ethical Relativism
There are no universally valid moral principles. All values and principles are relative to a particular culture or age.
I.e. there are no 'intrinsic goods' or objective truths.
Subjectivist: Moral beliefs are subjective feelings, not facts.
No standpoint is uniquely privileged over another.
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (very influential ancient Greek philosophers) believed that there were absolute moral laws and truths. Aristotle based his own ethical theory, virtue ethics on the idea that humanity ought to do what is most virtuous. However, by the 6th century BCE there was no longer any moral certainty. Greece was becoming less insular, other civilisations were observed and found to be different. Also, as the city gates expanded it became less clear what a person's role in society was and thus more difficult to know how to live a virtuous life.

Things began to change...
A group of wise men in Greece (called Sophists) came forward to argue that morality is in fact relative. Protagoras famously said, 'man is the measure of all things'. i.e. truth is a variable concept.
Cultural Relativism
Can you think of any examples?
Diversity thesis: No true morality as it changes so much across and within cultures
Dependency thesis: What is right/wrong depends on the nature of the society. There are no universals.
Different societies have different moral codes.
No objective moral standard can judge one culture better than another.
Our own moral code is just one among many.
There are no universal truths.
Moral codes are just right for the society to which they apply.
We cannot judge the conduct of other societies- we must be tolerant.
Subjective Relativism
(less common)
This type of morality does not depend on a societal value but the views of the individual alone.
It is all about internal consistency. 'Am I being true to myself?'
Rorty says that a relativist framework is essential for maximising individual freedoms. Humans can have different views and live in harmony with tolerance.
Rorty claims that individuals live, at the same time, in different micro-societies. E.g. personality when around friends, colleagues, grandparents all changes. Doesn't mean one micro society is better than another, just the way it is.
An ethical absolute is a command that is true for all time, in all places and situations. Objective moral truth. Intrinsic rightness and wrongness.
For a theist these absolutes come from God. i.e. ten commandments. Many Xians today believe there is a hierarchy of absolutes. This is called 'graded absolutism'.
For an agnostic/ atheist it is more complex. They just seem apriori in nature.
Sometimes called: Universalists, realists, absolutists.

Moral absolutists claim that there are objective moral truths, they are just not able to be 'proved' yet. Often likened to other truths proved right. E.g. the shape of the earth- many had different assumptions however there is an objective reality. A spherical planet.
In pairs, discuss which is
more coherent; absolutism
or relativism?
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