[Paleopsych] Wiki: Moral relativism

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Moral relativism

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     Moral relativism is the position that [2]moral propositions do not
     reflect [3]absolute or [4]universal truths. It not only holds that
     ethical judgments emerge from social [5]customs and personal
     preferences, but also that there is no single standard by which to
     assess an ethical proposition's truth. Many relativists see moral
     [6]values as applicable only within certain cultural boundaries. Some
     would even suggest that one person's ethical judgments or acts cannot
     be judged by another, though most relativists propound a more limited
     version of the theory.

     Some moral relativists -- for example, [7]Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
     -- hold that a personal and [8]subjective [9]moral core lies at the
     foundation of our moral acts. They believe that public [10]morality is
     a reflection of social convention, and that only personal, subjective
     morality is truly authentic.

     Moral relativism is not the same as moral [11]pluralism, which
     acknowledges the co-existence of opposing ideas and practices, but
     does not require that they be equally valid. Moral relativism, in
     contrast, contends that opposing moral positions have no truth value,
     and that there is no preferred standard of reference by which to judge
     [12]1 History
     [13]2 Some philosophical considerations
     [14]3 Critics of relativism
     [15]4 See also
     [16]5 References and sources
     [17]6 External links


     Moral relativism is not new. [19]Protagoras' (circa 481-420 BC)
     assertion that "man is the measure of all things" is an early
     [20]philosophical precursor to modern relativism. The [21]Greek
     historian [22]Herodotus (circa 484-420 BC) observed that each society
     thinks its own belief system and way of doing things are best. Various
     ancient [23]philosophers also questioned the idea of an absolute
     standard of morality.

     The 18th century [24]Enlightenment philosopher, [25]David Hume
     (1711-1776), is in several important respects the father of both
     modern [26]emotivism and moral relativism, though Hume himself was not
     a relativist. He distinguished between matters of fact and matters of
     value, and suggested that moral judgments consist of the latter, for
     they do not deal with verifiable facts that obtain in the world, but
     only with our sentiments and passions, though he argued that some of
     our sentiments are universal. He is famous for denying any objective
     standard for morality, and suggested that the universe is indifferent
     to our preferences and our troubles.

     In the modern era, [27]anthropologists such as [28]Ruth Benedict
     (1887-1948), cautioned observers not to use their own cultural
     standards to evaluate those they were studying, which is known as
     [29]ethnocentricism. Benedict said there are no morals, only customs,
     and in comparing customs, the anthropologist, "insofar as he remains
     an anthropologist ... is bound to avoid any weighting of one in favor
     of the other." To some extent, the increasing body of knowledge of
     great differences in belief among societies caused both social
     scientists and philosophers to question whether there can be any
     objective, absolute standards pertaining to values. This caused some
     to posit that differing systems have equal validity, with no standard
     for adjudicating among conflicting beliefs. The Finnish
     philosopher-anthropologist, [30]Edward Westermarck (1862-1939) was
     among the first to formulate a detailed theory of moral relativism. He
     contended that all moral ideas are subjective judgments that reflect
     one's upbringing. He rejected [31]G.E. Moore's (1873-1958)
     intuitionism -- in vogue during the early part of the 20th century,
     and which identified moral propositions as true or false, and known to
     us through a special faculty of [32]intuition -- due to the obvious
     differences in beliefs among societies, which he said was evidence
     that there is no innate, intuitive power.

Some philosophical considerations

     So-called descriptive or normative relativists (for example, [34]Ralph
     Barton Perry), accept that there are fundamental disagreements about
     the right course of action even when the same facts obtain and the
     same consequences are likely to arise. However, the descriptive
     relativist does not necessarily deny that there is one correct moral
     appraisal, given the same set of circumstances. Other descriptivists
     believe that opposing moral beliefs can both be true, though critics
     point out that this leads to obvious logical problems. The latter
     descriptivists, for example, several leading [35]Existentialists,
     believe that morality is entirely subjective and personal, and beyond
     the judgment of others. In this view, moral judgments are more akin to
     aesthetic considerations and are not amenable to rational analysis.

     In contrast, the metaethical relativist maintains that all moral
     judgments are based on either societal or individual standards, and
     that there is no single, objective standard by which one can assess
     the truth of a moral proposition. While he preferred to deal with more
     practical, real-life ethical matters, the British philosopher
     [36]Bernard Williams (1929-2003) reluctantly came to this conclusion
     when he put on his metaethicist's hat. Metaethical relativists, in
     general, believe that the descriptive properties of terms such as
     good, bad, right, and wrong are not subject to [37]universal [38]truth
     conditions, but only to societal convention and personal preference.
     Given the same set of verifiable facts, some societies or individuals
     will have a fundamental disagreement about what ought to be done based
     on societal or individiual norms, and these cannot be adjudicated
     using some independent standard of evaluation, for the latter standard
     will always be societal or personal and not universal, unlike, for
     example, the scientific standards for assessing temperature or for
     determining mathematical truths.

     Moral relativism stands in marked contrast to [39]moral absolutism,
     [40]moral realism, and [41]moral naturalism, which all maintain that
     there are moral facts, facts that can be both known and judged,
     whether through some process of verification or through intuition.
     These philosophies see morality as something that obtains in the
     world. Examples include the philosophy of [42]Jean-Jacques Rousseau
     (1712-1778), who saw man's nature as inherently good, or of [43]Ayn
     Rand, who believed morality is derived from man's exercising his
     unobstructed rationality. Others believe moral knowledge is something
     that can be derived by external sources such as a deity or revealed
     doctrines, as would be maintained by various [44]religions. Some hold
     that moral facts inhere in nature or reality, either as particular
     instances of perfect ideas in an eternal realm, as adumbrated by
     [45]Plato (429-347 BC); or as a simple, unanalyzable property, as
     advocated by Moore. In each case, however, moral facts are invariant,
     though the circumstances to which they apply might be different.
     Moreover, in each case, moral facts are objective and can be

     Some philosophers maintain that moral relativism devolves into
     [46]emotivism, the movement inspired by [47]logical positivists in the
     early part of the 20th Century. Leading exponents of logical
     positivism include [48]Rudolph Carnap {1891-1970} and [49]A. J. Ayer
     {1910-1989}. Going beyond Hume, the positivists contended that a
     proposition is meaningful only if it can be verified by [50]logical or
     scientific inquiry. Thus, [51]metaphysical propositions, which cannot
     be verified in this manner, are not simply incorrect, they are
     meaningless, nonsensical. Moral judgments are primarily expressions of
     emotional preferences or states, devoid of cognitive content;
     consequently, they are not subject to verification. As such, moral
     propositions are essentially meaningless utterances or, at best,
     express personal attitudes (see, for example, [52]Charles L. Stevenson
     {1908-1979}). Not all relativists would hold that moral propositions
     are meaningless; indeed, many make any number of assertions about
     morality, assertions that they undoubtedly believe to be meaningful.
     However, other philosophers have argued that, since we have no means
     of analysing a moral proposition, it is essentially meaningless, and,
     in their view, relativism is therefore tantamount to emotivism.

     The political theorist, [53]Leo Strauss (1899-1973), subscribed to a
     species of relativism, for he believed there are no objective criteria
     for assessing ethical principles, and that a rational morality is only
     possible in the limited sense that one must accept its ultimate
     subjectivity. This view is very similar to the one advocated by the
     existentialist philosophers, [54]Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and
     Sartre. The latter famously maintained that ethical principles only
     arise from our personal feelings at the time we act, and not from any
     antecedent principles.

     [55]Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a moral relativist, for he thought each
     moral system was simply a product of the dominant class, and that the
     movement of history will settle moral questions, not a fixed,
     universal standard.

Critics of relativism

     Those who believe in moral absolutes are often highly critical of
     moral relativism; some have been known to equate it with outright
     immorality or amorality. [57]The Holocaust, [58]Stalinism,
     [59]apartheid, [60]genocide, [61]unjust wars, [62]genital mutilation,
     [63]slavery, [64]terrorism, [65]Nazism, etc., present difficult
     problems for relativists. An observer in a particular time and place,
     depending on his outlook (e.g., culture, religion, background), might
     call something good that another observer in a particular time and
     place would call evil. Slavery, for example, was thought by many to be
     acceptable, even good, in other times and places, while it is viewed
     by many (though certainly not all), today, as a great evil. Many
     critics of relativism would say that any number of evils can be
     justified based on subjective or cultural preferences, and that
     morality requires some universal standard against which to measure
     ethical judgments.

     Some relativists will state that this is an unfair criticism of
     relativism, for it is really a metaethical theory, and not a normative
     one, and that the relativist may have strong moral beliefs,
     notwithstanding his foundational position. Critics of this view,
     however, argue the complaint is disingenuous, and that the relativist
     is not making a mere metaethical assertion; that is, one that deals
     with the logical or linguistic structure of ethical propositions.
     These critics contend that stating there is no preferred standard of
     truth, or that standards are equally true, addresses the ultimate
     validity and truth of the ethical judgments themselves, which, they
     contend, is a normative judgment. In other words, the separation
     between metaethics and normative ethics is arguably a distinction
     without a difference.

     Some philosophers, for example, [66]Michael E. Berumen {1952-} and
     [67]R. M. Hare (1919-2002), argue that moral propositions are subject
     to logical rules, notwithstanding the absence of any factual content,
     including those subject to cultural or religious standards or norms.
     Thus, for example, they contend that one cannot hold contradictory
     ethical judgments. This allows for moral discourse with shared
     standards, notwithstanding the descriptive propeties or truth
     conditions of moral terms. They do not affirm or deny there are moral
     facts, only that logic applies to our moral assertions; consequently,
     they contend, there is an objective and preferred standard of moral
     justification, albeit in a very limited sense. These philosophers also
     point out that, aside from logical constraints, all systems treat
     certain moral terms alike in an evaluative sense. This is similar to
     our treatment of other terms such as less or more, the meaning of
     which is universally understood and not dependent upon independent
     standards (measurements, for example, can be converted). It applies to
     good and bad when used in their non-moral sense, too: for example,
     when we say, "this is a good wrench" or "this is a bad wheel." This
     evaluative property of certain terms also allows people of different
     beliefs to have meaningful discussions on moral questions, even though
     they disagree about certain facts.

     Berumen, among others, has said that if relativism were wholly true,
     there would be no reason to prefer it over any other theory, given its
     fundamental contention that there is no preferred standard of truth.
     He says that it is not simply a metaethical theory, but a normative
     one, and that its truth, by its own definition, cannot in the final
     analysis be assessed or weighed against other theories.

See also

       * [69]Analytical philosophy
       * [70]Anthropology
       * [71]Business ethics
       * [72]Deontology
       * [73]Emotivism
       * [74]Ethics
       * [75]Logic
       * [76]Metaethics
       * [77]Moral codes
       * [78]Moral purchasing
       * [79]Morality
       * [80]Objectivism
       * [81]Philosophy
       * [82]Situational ethics
       * [83]Subjectivism


References and sources

            Curt Baier, "Difficulties in the Emotive-Imperative Theory" in
            Moral Judgement: Readings in Contemporary Meta-Ethics
            Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (Mentor)
            Michael E. Berumen, Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to
            Economic Theory and Business (iUniverse)
            R.M. Hare, Sorting out Ethics (Oxford University Press)
            David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals,
            Editied by Tom L. Beauchamp(Oxford University Press)
            G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge University Press)
            Jean-Paul Sartre, "Existentialism is a Humanism" in
            Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre, Edited by Walter
            Kaufmann (World Publishing Company)
            Leo Strauss, The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism,
            Edited by Thomas L. Pangle (University of Chicago Press)
            Edward Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral
            Ideas (Macmillan)
            Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Harvard
            University Press)


External links

       * [86]Objectivism and
         Relativism (http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/e/ethics.htm#Metaphysi
       * [87]Moral
         Relativism (http://www.AllAboutPhilosophy.org/Moral-Relativism.htm
         ) A Christian Perspective.

     [89]Categories: [90]Ethics | [91]Social philosophy


     2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral
     3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_absolutism
     4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_universalism
     5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customs
     6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Values
     7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Paul_Sartre
     8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjective
     9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_core
    10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality
    11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism
    12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism#History
    14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism#Critics_of_relativism
    15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism#See_also
    16. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism#References_and_sources
    17. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism#External_links
    19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protagoras
    20. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical
    21. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek
    22. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodotus
    23. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophers
    24. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlightenment
    25. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hume
    26. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotivism
    27. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropologists
    28. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Benedict
    29. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnocentricism
    30. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Westermarck
    31. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G.E._Moore
    32. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intuition
    34. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ralph_Barton_Perry&action=edit
    35. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentialists
    36. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Williams
    37. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal
    38. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth
    39. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_absolutism
    40. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_realism
    41. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Moral_naturalism&action=edit
    42. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Jacques_Rousseau
    43. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand
    44. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion
    45. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato
    46. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotivism
    47. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_positivists
    48. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolph_Carnap
    49. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._J._Ayer
    50. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logic
    51. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysical
    52. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_L._Stevenson
    53. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Strauss
    54. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Heidegger
    55. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx
    57. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust
    58. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalinism
    59. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apartheid
    60. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide
    61. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Unjust_war&action=edit
    62. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genital_mutilation
    63. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery
    64. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism
    65. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism
    66. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_E._Berumen
    67. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._M._Hare
    69. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytical_philosophy
    70. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropology
    71. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_ethics
    72. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontology
    73. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotivism
    74. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics
    75. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logic
    76. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaethics
    77. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_codes
    78. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_purchasing
    79. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality
    80. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivism
    81. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy
    82. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situational_ethics
    83. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjectivism
    87. http://www.AllAboutPhilosophy.org/Moral-Relativism.htm
    88. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism
    90. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Ethics
    91. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Social_philosophy

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