Essay on Moral Skepticism Response

Submitted By Courtney-Harlan
Words: 1319
Pages: 6

Ethical Relativism What constitutes right and wrong behavior is a highly debated concept, which differs among diverse cultures, societies, traditions, and beliefs when determining specific rules about those actions. Ethical relativism is the theory that some moral standards are true, but their truth is relative to societies/cultures or each individual person and thus those standards will only apply within a culture or to an individual. The theory is subject to a number of objections, two of which concern moral progress and moral equivalence. Despite these objections, the ethical relativist still attempts to defend this theory by responding with the concept of the ideal observer. In this paper I will discuss the theory of ethical relativism, outline the two aforementioned objections to the theory, and show how the relativist tries to respond to these objections. According to ethical relativism, there are no objective moral truths. Objective truths are those in which the truth is located in the object itself and is true regardless of what any individual believes (Haramia). These truths apply to everyone and provide a standard; such truths include the fact that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and the modern English alphabet has twenty-six letters. These are good examples of objective truths because these truths will still be true even if someone denies them, do not know they are true, or do not believe them to be true. Ethical relativism, on the other hand, asserts that there are some moral claims that are true, but are only true relative to the beliefs of a given individual or society and because certain people at a certain place and a certain time believe things in a certain way.
The theory can be further dissected to reveal two types of ethical relativism: ethical subjectivism and cultural relativism. “Ethical subjectivism claims that moral standards are true relative only to the beliefs of each individual person (Chafer-Landau, 293).” According to this claim, an act would be morally acceptable simply because an individual approves of that act or the values he stands for allow for it. An act would be wrong only when the individual disapproves of it or his values do not allow for it. As a result of this, each individual’s moral standards are equally plausible. Conversely, cultural relativism claims that the correct moral standards are relative to each of the various cultures or societies. According to cultural relativism, an act is morally acceptable because it is allowed by the traditions/ideals of the society and immoral because it is forbidden by those same ideals (Chafer-Landau, 293).
Ethical subjectivism and cultural relativism differ in that ethical subjectivism claims moral standards apply only to the individual given that the individual endorses that standard, whereas cultural relativism claims that moral standards apply only to a culture given that the culture endorses that standard. Though ethical subjectivism asserts that moral claims are true relative to each individual and cultural relativism asserts that moral claims are true relative to each culture, both ethical subjectivism and cultural relativism assert that the correct moral standards are relative, not objective truths.
Ethical relativism is met with a number of objections. Two of these concern moral equivalence and moral progress. Moral equivalence means that each individual or society’s moral views have equal claim to the truth. According to ethical relativism, moral truth depends on each individual or society, making each individual or society right. Thus, this theory leads to moral equivalence because each individual or society must be right if their moral claims are true, since the only rule for their claims to be true is that they sincerely believe them. From this view, the relativist would have to conclude that Hitler’s beliefs are just as plausible as the beliefs of Mother Theresa because they both sincerely held certain beliefs, thus