Theory: Moral Relativism

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Essay 5: On Moral Relativism
Yifei Wu

1. Introduction
People sometimes differ greatly in their views about moral issues. Some claim that abortion is permissible while others consider it morally unacceptable. Some believe cannibalism was essential to survival while others find it offensive. Recognizing the great extent of moral disagreements, some contemporary philosophers start to wonder whether morality is absolute in its nature. They propose a theory known as Moral Relativism, which holds that “moral statements are true or false only relative to some standard or other” (Dreier, p.1); no absolute moral fact exists independently of those standards. The opposite theory of Moral Relativism is Moral Absolutism---the idea that moral proposition is determined by absolute, unvarying moral facts. In this paper, I will argue that Moral Relativism is not a suitable theory in explaining the nature of morality. I will start by introducing two famous arguments in favor of Moral Relativism and explain why they are flawed arguments. I will later address some problems with the theory itself.
Two forms of Moral Relativism are Subjectivism and Cultural Relativism. Subjectivism holds that what is morally right and wrong depends on individual’s opinions. A person’s approval of something makes it morally right; a person’s disapproval of something makes it morally wrong. Cultural Relativism claims that what is morally right and wrong depends on the moral codes of certain cultures. In order for an individual to be moral, he must act in accord with the moral codes of the society to which he belongs. Even though there are great distinctions between these two theories, they both emphasize that moral standard cannot be determined without referring to s...

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...t or wrong?
4. Conclusion
Moral Relativism, despite its popular appeal, lacks inductive strength as a meta-ethical theory. Arguments in favor of Relativism are not completely convincing, and the theory itself demands contradictions and entails many unacceptable implications. Given all these problems, Moral Relativism should be rejected.

Works Cited

Dreier, James. ""Moral Relativism and Moral Nihilism"." In The Oxford handbook of ethical theory. New York (N.Y.): Oxford University Press, 2006. 1.
Harman, Gilbert, and Judith Jarvis Thomson. ""Moral Relativism"." In Moral relativism and moral objectivity. Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell, 1996. 8.
Rachels, James. ""The Challenge of Cultural Relativism." In The elements of moral philosophy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986. 17-18.
Dreier, James. ""Moral Relativism and Moral Nihilism"."242.
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