Relativism between Societies Essay

Relativism between Societies Essay

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The meta-ethical theory of relativism claims that there is no universal moral standard that can be used to evaluate the practices and beliefs of other cultures. For the relativist, 'true' only means 'true for my culture', while at the same time, what someone in another culture deems as true, regardless of the contrast, can be equally so (Williams 1976: 34). This means that the criterion for what is deemed acceptable for a given society, is reflective of the views of the prevailing culture. I disagree with this meta-ethical view. At first glance, the theory of relativism might appear as one of respect and tolerance, however, after closer analysis it leads to sharp division between different societies (Midgley 1993: 175), which in an increasingly integrated and globalised world, cannot really hold. A relativist division between cultures can only be managed if we don blinkers and ignore situations that through sound understanding are proven to be wrong. There are claims that are better than others, and if a moral claim is based on incorrect understanding, it should be challenged and shown to be problematic (Dawkins 2004: 17-22).

Relativism isn't inherently focused on consequences. It is a theory that stems from the fact of vast variation in ethical views that are found across humanity (Wong 1993: 443), which proponents of the theory have seen this fact as a source of strength for relativism. Furthermore, it has been claimed that from this, because different groups hold different moral claims, they should do so, because such divergence shows that there are no universal standards that regulate what is correct (Furrow 2005: 35). For the relativist, moral judgement is to be relegated to within one's own culture. Judgements outside of t...


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...nt to those of the prevailing order. In a global world we should strive to develop greater social and ethical cohesion. Relativism is a hindrance to such an endeavour, a limiting theory that places great restraints and boundaries upon judgement, criticism, and interaction, which therefore limits the development of ethics.



Works Cited

Dawkins, R. (2004) A Devil's Chaplain. London: Phoenix.

Furrow, D. (2005) Ethics; Key Concepts in Philosophy. London: Continuum.

Midgley, M. (1993) 'Trying Out One's New Sword', in Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life. Sommers & Sommers (eds.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace.

Singer, P. (1993). Practical Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Williams, B. (1976) Morality; an Introduction to Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wong, D. (1993) 'Relativism', in A Companion to Ethics. Singer (ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.

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